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cricket news: The Lowdown on the Overthrow Problem In the 2019 World Cup Final

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In the 50th over of England's run chase in the 2019 World Cup final, England were chasing 15. Ben Stokes and Adil Rashid were at the wicket. Trent Boult was the bowler. Boult conceded nothing from the first two balls. Stokes hit the third for Six. The fourth was hit towards deep mid-wicket and Stokes raced back for the 2nd runs to keep strike. Martin Guptill's throw hit Stokes' bat as he made a dive into his crease for the 2nd run and rolled away to the boundary.

The umpire awarded six runs - they ran 2 and the four overthrows.

Under the laws of cricket, this is incorrect. It's worth reflecting on a couple of basic points about the laws. Boundaries and runs are different categories in the game. They are governed by different laws. Law 18 governs runs, Law 19 governs boundaries.

In the case of the run which is completed by the batsmen and the non-striker crossing over to the other end, the key moment is when the batsmen cross each other.  As specified under Law 18.1.1, A run is scored "so often as the batsmen, at any time while the ball is in play, have crossed and made good their ground from end to end." There are two significant elements in a run. First, the batsmen must cross, and second, each must make ground from end to end. The crossing is significant because it determines which batsman is run out at which end if they fail to make their ground. Further, if the batsmen cross and then return to their original ends, then, if the umpire determines that they did this deliberately, they get no runs (under Law 18.5). If the umpire determines that the batsman has failed to complete the run inadvertently, they signal one short.

Boundaries are 'declared' runs. If the batsman hits the ball and the ball crosses the boundary, then whether the batsmen run 0 or 1 or 2 or 3 before the ball crosses the boundary, it counts as 4 declared. 'Declared' runs are a fundamentally different category from runs which have been 'run'. However, if the batsmen complete 5 runs before the ball is grounded beyond the boundary line, then it is counted as 5 runs (as per 19.7.3). One important consequence of 'declared' runs is that the ball is no longer considered to be in play (i.e., the ball is "dead") once the ball is grounded beyond the boundary line.

For example, suppose there's a very long boundary to mid-wicket, and the only fielders posted on the leg-side are a short-leg under the helmet and a long leg on the boundary. Suppose the batsman hits an on-drive, and by the time the helmeted fielder reaches the ball and is about the haul it in, the batsmen have crossed five times (i.e. they've run four and have already crossed each other for the fifth). If the fielder misses the ball completely, this counts as 5 runs. If the fielder misfields in some way - let's say that in diving to haul the ball in, the ball hits the fielder and crosses the boundary line - its still 5 runs.

However, if the fielder hauls it in and tries to make a fancy relay throw and this throw goes wrong, then it is, technically, not a misfield, but a "willful act". This was a doubt I had back in 2009 when Suresh Raina made a diving stop on the long-off boundary and flicked the ball to Gautam Gambhir in one beautiful fluid motion, except, the ball missed Gambhir completed and went over the boundary. This should not have counted as a misfield. It should have counted as overthrows.

Overthrow runs are counted in the same way as normal runs. They accrue to the batsman, and the total number of runs completed before the ball becomes 'dead' are counted. However, if throw reached the boundary, then under Law 19.8, the total runs to be counted are the allowance for the boundary plus the number of runs completed by the batsman plus the run in progress if the batsmen have crossed by the time the throw is made.

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The point about the "willful" act distinguishes the misfield from the overthrow. 19.8 also refers to 18.12.2 which determines which batsman should end up at which end. 18.12.2 says the following:
"If, while a run is in progress, the ball becomes dead for any reason other than the dismissal of a batsman, the batsmen shall return to the wickets they had left, but only if they had not already crossed in running when the ball became dead. If, however, any of the circumstances of clauses 18.11.2.1 to 18.11.2.3 apply, the batsmen shall return to their original ends."
18.11.2.1 accounts for a boundary being scored. This governs to common fact that when a batsman hits a boundary, that batsman faces the next ball unless the boundary is scored from the last ball of the over.

In this case, when Martin Guptill made the throw, the batsmen (Stokes and Rashid) had not yet crossed in the course of their attempted 2nd run (see 2:20 in the video below). As a result, under the laws, the correct conclusion is that they scored 1 run and they got the boundary from the overthrows. A total of five. Furthermore, Stokes was to return to the non-striker's end. So, Adil Rashid was to be on strike on the next ball.



As it happened, the umpire wrongly awarded six runs to England and Stokes ended up at the striker's end. New Zealand should have been defending 4 from the final 2 balls with Adil Rashid on strike. Instead, they defended 3 from the final 2 balls with Ben Stokes on strike.

It's nearly impossible for the umpires on the field to monitor exactly when the throw is made because they have to check for short runs at each end while the batsmen are running. It would help them if the TV Umpire could intervene in these circumstances, but it's not clear that the third umpire would be allowed to initiate an intervention. Under the laws, the only situation in which the third umpire is explicitly permitted to initiate an intervention is in a situation where the on-field umpire miscounts the number of deliveries in the over. Apart from this, the TV Umpire is only involved when consulted from the field of play.

It will be tempting to condemn the umpires for this mistake. It did put New Zealand at a significant disadvantage in that final over, but it did not cause the Tie. The umpires have had an outstanding World Cup in general and Dharmasena, Erasmus and Dar are the three best umpires in the world. It cannot be denied that, as the former Test umpire Simon Taufel put it, they made "a clear mistake".

The Laws of Cricket are beautifully intricate and precise. They have an internal logic which rests on a handful of basic concepts (such as the concept of a run, declared runs, the ball being "in play", the ball being "dead", the concept of an appeal). They constitute a great game. In much the same way that Video Assistant Referee (VAR) has made laws like handball and off-side more precise. The margin of doubt has been shrunk. Video evidence is doing something similar in Cricket. It is the precision with which the conditions are applied to events on the field which has changed as much as the accuracy.

About 30 years ago, there probably wouldn't have been a drone camera which captured exactly when the throw was made and where the batsmen were when it was made in the same frame. Now that there is, the law has to be applied as precisely as the available evidence makes possible. Anything less will be considered an umpiring mistake. It is an unforgiving time for international umpires who are, regardless of what people say, experts who are outstanding at their job.
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