Substitute Law being Stretched?

Wind the clock back to the 4th Test at Trent Bridge during the last Ashes series. Gary Pratt, substituting for Simon Jones, executed a brilliant run-out to remove Australian Captain Ricky Ponting. Frustrated at losing his wicket at such a crucial moment, Ponting engaged in a volcanic exchange with Matthew Hoggard and Ashley Giles. This continued as he reached the pavilion and saw a smirking England coach Duncan Fletcher.

Indeed the sight of Ponting ‘losing it’ was enough to make Fletcher burn his toast, while for Ponting it was the last straw, which ended up costing him 75 percent of his match fee.

Some think this was the turning point in the battle for the Ashes.

Ponting later remarked that in a number of one day and test matches in the series, England had used the tactic of bringing on reserve fieldsmen specifically to replace bowlers just prior to their bowling spells. The bowlers would then have been able to talk to coaches about tactics, rest and receive treatment prior to bowling their next spell.

The England camp disagreed that this was a premeditated practice to circumvent the substitution law, and replied that this was merely a comfort break for those players.

Was this in the spirit of the game, and will Australia mimic this tactic during the next Ashes series?

This was not the first Ashes series that the use of substitute fieldsmen has been an issue. In 1981, Australian fast bowler Dennis Lillee left the field on a number of occasions after finishing a bowling spell to shower and change his clothing. English captain Mike Brearley complained, and the rules were subsequently changed.

In 2000 the MCC laws were rewritten. Law 2, paragraph 1(b) states that “the umpires shall have the discretion, for other wholly acceptable reasons, to allow a substitute for a fielder or a runner for the batsman at the start of the match or at any subsequent time”. However, this seems to contradict paragraph 1(e) which does not permit a substitute for a fieldsman to change his shirt or boots. This raises several points. First, what do the umpires see as ‘wholly acceptable reasons’ and secondly, what if the player changes his clothing while off the ground with the umpire’s blessing?

Further, Law 2 paragraph 2 denies the right of the batting captain to object to the use of substitute fieldsmen in specialist positions except for bowler, ‘keeper or captain.
It seems that as long as the umpires found the English bowlers to have ‘wholly acceptable reasons’, England were able to use Law 2, paragraph 1(b) quite legitimately. Is it time for another revision to the Laws of Cricket to give less discretion to the umpires and remove the grey areas regarding substitution?

So, as the Laws currently stand, Australia could make use of this tactic during the forthcoming Ashes series. The name that first springs to mind, if he isn’t selected would be outstanding fieldsman Andrew Symonds. Australia is not averse to using specialist substitute fieldsmen. Last season against the West Indies, Australia used Ryan Le Loux as a substitute when Shane Watson was injured in the First Test against the West Indies.

So perhaps it’s wise to watch the Australian domestic competitions this summer to see which agile State player might be strolling past their local cricket ground just as one of the Australian Test players asks the umpire if they can leave the ground for ‘wholly acceptable reasons’ and then be invited to don the baggy green for their 15 minutes of fame.

What about Gary Pratt? Will he be seen in Australia this summer? Pratt last week made his debut for Crook Town in the English non-League football competition. He is hoping to play the rest of the season for Crook Town to keep his fitness levels up for the next English cricket season.

Ricky Ponting can breathe a sigh of relief!

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