A Gameplan for LBW

This article was written a number of years ago by the late Stu Daultrey

“Players are frequently adversely critical of umpires for the inconsistency of their lbw decision making. Some will comment that the umpire “didn’t have a game plan”. After I spent last May and June getting used to watching games from the boundary, and not from my accustomed position in the middle, I began to see more clearly that quite often such comments were justified.

Although I had spent six or seven years developing one, I didn’t know that I had a game plan for making lbw decisions. Even then, it was only in the late 1990s, following much exposure to Aussie cricketers and umpires, that I was able to articulate it. The first time I met Darrell Hair (1998) I was impressed by his distinction between an error and a mistake. It’s an error to give a batsman not out when he is, but it’s a mistake to give him out when he’s not. To err is human, and umpires are certainly that, but they should make as few mistakes as possible.

It was at a regular monthly meeting of the Western Australian CUA, held in the WACA ground in Perth, that I heard their training officer’s lbw advice to rookie umpires: “unless they’re back on their crease and it’s hitting all three halfway up, it’s not out”. A few seconds of thought made me agree that for Perth pitches this was a very good basis from which to develop a game plan.

All wickets are only 281/2 inches high and 9 inches wide, a very small target to hit with a ball that’s less than 3 inches in diameter. And Perth pitches are bouncy (although there’s not much lateral movement): even a full length ball will bounce over stump height, hence the need for the batsman to be on or in his crease before he can be given out.

Irish pitches are not so bouncy, which increases the chances of an lbw. But there are plenty of local pitches where a length ball will bounce over stump height, and there are even more where a length ball might – it’s only in Cabra where you know it won’t.

If a batsman plays forward to perfectly straight delivery of fullish length and it hits his pad halfway between boot and knee-roll in front of middle and off, is he out? Think about it. A decent stride take the front pad from the crease (4 feet from the wicket) a further 4 feet. The ball pitches 2 feet in front of that and rises 10 inches. If it keeps rising at that rate, it will clear the wicket by over 1 foot; it won’t keep rising at that rate – it will begin to level off – but it’s still going to clear the wicket.

So to give an lbw when the batsman has put in a good stride to a delivery where there’s no more than 2 feet of travelling distance between pitching and impact, the impact on the pad must be nearer to boot than to knee-roll.

Once there’s 3 feet or more of travelling distance, it’s much easier to judge the rate of change of the bounce (how quickly it’s flattening out), but a good stride is still 8 feet from the wicket, and the knee-roll is still about 20 inches high, so the rate of bounce must have decreased to no more than 1 inch per foot for the ball to go on from the height of the knee-roll to hit the wicket. To all intents and purposes, the bounce must appear to have flattened out completely.

I’ll let you do your own variations on these basic calculations, but what the umpire must know is how far the pad is in front of the wicket, and how much  travelling distance there has been between the ball pitching and hitting the pad. That means studying where the ball pitches and each batsman’s guard  position and subsequent movements every ball, from bowler’s end and from striker?s end, as well as the height at which an unintercepted delivery passes the wicket.

Once the umpire is satisfied that ball would not have bounced over the wicket, the greater amount of lateral movement offered by Irish pitches compared to Perth pitches decreases the chances of an lbw for a right-arm over bowler to a right-hand bat (and left- ditto). But it increases the chances for a right-arm round bowler to a left-hand batsman (and vice versa), and also for right-arm over bowler to a left-hand batsman (and vice versa), the latter subject to the condition that the ball must not have pitched outside the line of leg stump.

The calculations are similar to those for height.

Let’s start with right-arm over bowler to right-hand bat. And let’s have a fullish length ball with 2 feet of travelling distance to a decent forward stride (8 feet in front of the wicket). If the ball deviates 2 inches from off to leg and strikes the pad in front of off stump, and the height’s OK, is the batsman out? Probably.   The deviation over the remaining 8 feet will be 8 inches, so the ball will hit leg stump. Should the umpire give it out? Probably not.

If the deviation is 2.5 inches over the 2-foot travelling distance, the ball would go on to miss leg stump. The bat is 41/4 inches wide, so for the batsman to miss such a full-length ball without playing down the wrong line, the ball must have deviated more than 2 inches, and would therefore miss leg stump. Note that if the pad is hit in front of middle and off, the lateral deviation would have to be no more 1.5 inches for the ball not to be missing leg, and even that’s iffy!

Where the pitch is offering clear lateral movement, for the umpire to give an lbw the batsman must not be venturing very far forward and there must be plenty of travelling distance between pitching and impact for an umpire to be sure.

Unless, of course, it’s a left-arm round bowler to a right-hand bat, who must make the ball deviate laterally to have any chance of an lbw. Provided the batsman puts in a decent stride, a straight delivery from such an angle that hits the pad in front of off stump can only hit leg stump (if it’s hitting any stump at all).

To be sure the ball will not miss leg is usually to be unsure that the impact was not outside the line of off stump. Add in any doubts about height, and the decision is always “not out”. But if the left-arm round bowler can pitch the ball between wicket and wicket and make the ball deviate from leg
to off sufficiently that the ball will not miss leg stump, he’s in business. Unless, of course, he gives the ball such a rip that the only way he can hit the stumps is to pitch it outside the line of leg stump!

If the bowler can swing the ball he might be able to improve his chances of an lbw, particularly if he can move it in the air one way and off the pitch the other. Good bowlers will try to keep the batsman in doubt by varying the width of their foot position on the crease. The umpires must watch all these variations and work out their implications for lbw appeals. Umpires must also ignore the intensity and frequency of appeals, and be careful not to require lower standards of proof when the batsman plays across the line.

I worked out the geometry of lbw as the basis of my game plan long before I met many Aussies on a cricket field, but where our Antipodean friends helped me to crystallise my thoughts was their custom of asking the umpire why he had made his decision. When I replied “missing leg”, or “outside the line”, or “too high”, or “little bit of bat on it”, I didn’t care whether or not the bowler believed it, I cared whether I believed it.

As well as moving backward and forward from the guard position in response to the length of the ball, batsmen move laterally across their stumps to get in line with the ball, and the umpire should study these sideways movements very carefully. A lot of batsmen have quite marked movements, nearly always from leg to off, which don’t finish as they play (or miss) the ball.

Such a right-hander can miss a perfectly straight ball from a right-arm over bowler which hits the pad in front of middle and off but, by the time he finishes moving, his pad is well outside off stump, and he will be horrified to see you lifting the finger after you’ve decided that the height was OK. No amount of pints in the bar afterwards will convince him that he was in front of his stumps when hit.

But you’re also going to have problems when such a batsman faces a purveyor of straight-breaks, a bowler who might turn the ball half an inch from off to leg on a helpful track. Sammy Straightbreak bowls a ball pitching middle and leg which would comfortably have missed leg stump had it not hit the pad of Liam Lurcher as he travelled across his stumps.

Liam ends up in front of off stump, and no amount of drink will convince Sammy that the ball wasn’t hitting middle half way up. “How could you not give it out?”, asks Sammy, usually not very politely because quite frequently he is the batting pro who has to do his 10 overs because his pies are slightly less tasty than his team-mates’.

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