Popping creases and curious match incidents

No all-correct answers to the popping crease quiz so we will never know what the Editor’s prize was going to be!

It was at the beginning of the 1700s that shepherds whiled away their spare time by inventing a pastime which evolved into the game of cricket. They used a gate from a sheep pen as a target (wicket) and dug a small hole in the ground in front of it. To complete a ‘run’ the end of the bat had to be popped into the hole, If the fielder got there first and popped the ball into the hole, the batsman was Run out. (no ‘batters’ back then!)

Unsurprisingly, this rule did not last too long, because of the increase in badly bruised or even broken fingers arising from closely contested runs and/or dismissals. So plan B was to use a spade or stick and scratch a line in the grass where the popping hole was. Hence, the popping hole became the popping crease and the name has stood the test of time, and presumably will never change.

The bowlers had to be limited as to where they delivered the ball from, so the other two creases – bowling and return – were added many years later. It is only comparatively recently that the judgement of foot fault no-balls was transferred from the landing of the bowler’s back foot in part behind the bowling crease to the front foot landing in part behind the popping crease.

So, today the only practical purpose of the bowling crease is to indicate where the stumps are pitched. This last change meant that the Return crease had to be lengthened to begin at the popping crease instead of just the short marking back from the bowling crease. Of course it is all painted lines nowadays, but tradition – and the Laws – demand that they are still referred to as creases and so the original names remain.

Turning to curious match incidents, the first one that comes to mind is the Johnny Bairstow stumping. Unusual, certainly, but neither curious or controversial. It is not often a batter is stumped by a ‘keeper standing back, but Stumped he was. The only curious bit of the incident was It being referred to the TV umpire. The only two facts TV could verify were: Was the striker out of his ground and was the wicket fairly put down?

A blind man on a galloping horse could have said yes to both. It begs the question, were the on-field officials unsure of the Law and asking for help? Yes, it was the last ball of the over, but the ball remains in play until the bowler’s end umpire decides that both the fielding side and the two batters have ceased to regard it as in play and calls Over. And as the Law says, that is a matter solely for the umpires to decide.

Still with the Ashes. There were two ‘catches’ which were clearly rejected. An Aussie fielder sprinted round the fine leg boundary, dived full length and took a magnificent catch, but as he slid along the ground, he turned his hand over with the back of his hand upwards and the ball rubbing on the turf and therefore grounded. In control of the ball? Yes. In control of his own movements? No. Not out.

Then there was Ben Stokes attempted catch of Steve Smith. He jumped high and caught the ball one-handed. As he landed he appeared to try and throw the ball up in the air, and his hand struck his knee, with the ball falling to the ground. In control of the ball? Probably not. In control of his own movements? No. Not out.

In a recent County match, Middlesex batter Toby Roland-Jones hit the ball back over the bowler for a straight six. As he watched it sail into the stand he stepped back and twiddled his bat which just flicked one bail off the stumps. He was given out Hit Wicket. Wrongly in my opinion. The Law 35.2 Not Out Hit Wicket states that the striker is ‘Not out..if it occurs after the striker has completed any action in receiving the delivery..”

As a postscript to this, I can recall a televised match many years ago and certainly well before DRS came into being. The striker went on the back foot and pulled the ball over square leg for 6. His heel just brushed a stump and a bail dropped. All the players watched the ball sail into the crowd. The striker then turned around, saw the bail on the ground, nonchalantly picked it up and replaced it into the stumps while they waited for the ball to be returned from the spectators and for play to restart.

Finally, a really complicated scenario which only hi-tech cameras, slo-mo, freeze-frame etc could solve – and even then perhaps not. The final Ashes Test again and the possible Run Out of Smith.

The scenario was Smith diving full length to get his bat into safety. The throw to Bairstow arrived close to ground level. He took it on the bounce and put down the wicket. His glove might have hit a stump just before he gathered the ball. One spigot of the bail lifted and the other looked like it stayed in the middle of the stump groove. Then with the ball in his gloves, Bairstow broke the wicket.

If he had knocked off both bails before taking the ball then to further put down the wicket he would have to have had to knock or pull a stump out of the ground. While all these ifs and buts were being considered they had to be related to where Smith’s bat was for any of these options. 
Imagine trying to sort that lot out! Given Not out – the only possible verdict in the circumstances.