Should Bouncers Be Banned?

The series between Australia and India has been something of a bloodbath. India have had to field a team in the fourth Test consisting of many players who weren’t even in contention for a place in the first game. The injuries which have befallen them fall into two categories: Strains, perhaps in part caused by restricted training due to quarantines, and broken bones caused by bouncers.

India have had five players either unavailable for selection or had to leave the pitch due to injuries sustained from very fast, short-pitched bowling. Mohammed Shami and Ravindra Jadeja were hit in the hand by the Australian bowlers, missing the following games, whilst a blow to the elbow kept Rishabh Pant off the field for an innings. In addition, KL Rahul and Mayank Agarwal were unavailable for selection after injuries in the nets whilst they were (correctly) preparing for a barrage of bouncers from the Australians. If you count every time the Indian physio has had to treat a batsman who has been struck on the helmet or body by a short ball, I’m not sure a single Indian has been unscathed. Cheteshwar Pujara in particular suffered, taking 14 blows to the head and body in the series according to CricViz. He was hit on the head, hand and ribs four times just on the last day at the Gabba.

Given the apparent high risk of injury and teams’ inability to substitute an injured player (outside of a suspected concussion), you probably won’t be surprised to learn that there is a law regarding this kind of bowling. Specifically, Law 41.6.1:

“The bowling of short pitched deliveries is dangerous if the bowler’s end umpire considers that, taking into consideration the skill of the striker, by their speed, length, height and direction they are likely to inflict physical injury on him/her. The fact that the striker is wearing protective equipment shall be disregarded.”

This law is also included in the ICC’s playing conditions for international cricket. Despite this, I don’t believe that I have ever seen it enforced. If the umpires aren’t going to warn or penalise a bowler even after an actual injury has occurred, as has happened multiple times in this series, they probably never will.

One fallacy around this law is that it is intented to protect tailenders, whose lack of skill leaves them more vulnerable to this kind of bowling. Certainly the law mentions “the skill of the striker”, but that is only meant to be only one of several factors in the umpire’s decision. As the list of Indians injured on this tour demonstrate, with three batsmen and an allrounder, it is typically the players with the most batting ability who are injured in this way. The same pattern follows for players needing concussion substitutes in international cricket. Ravindra Jadeja, Rishabh Pant, Liton Das, Dean Elgar, Darren Bravo, and (of course) Steve Smith have all had to leave the game after blows to the head since 2019. None of these are unskilled batsmen. The only specialist international bowler to have needed a concussion substitute which I could find was Bangladesh’s Nayeem Hassan.

The simple explanation is that batsmen face significantly more balls than bowlers, and therefore are more likely to face these dangerous deliveries. It does also seem to demonstrate that their skill level in no way protected them from injury. Most of the bowlers involved in the incidents are capable of reaching over 90mph, at which speed even the best batsmen evidently can’t always cope.

The reluctance of the cricketing authorities to reduce the number of injury-causing deliveries seems incredibly strange to me. In every other sport I watch, every effort seems to be made to actively discourage players from injuring each other. In football, two-footed tackles or head-high kicks are a straight red card with a suspension afterwards. In rugby union, tackles which either hit the head or cause the tackled player to land on their head are a straight red card with a suspension afterwards. In baseball, pitchers are ejected from the game after either two accidental or one intentional pitches in the direction of the batter. Even in American football, which is more or less a full-contact sport, blows to the head (and many other ‘dirty’ techniques) are a penalty and often also result in fines and suspensions. It is a curious anomaly that cricket, which considers itself a gentlemanly and gentile sport, allows a bowler to send an unlimited number of 90mph bouncers at the ribs of opposition batsmen with absolutely no restraints whatsoever.

Making cricket safer for batsmen isn’t necessarily an easy problem to resolve. If you ban bouncers aimed at the batsmen altogether, that also potentially eliminates the pull and hook shots from the game and much of the incentive for having fielders on the leg side with it. You may be left with most deliveries pitching wide outside the off stump with packed off-side fields, which sounds like a very boring tactic for spectators to watch. Extending the concussion substitute so that replacements for any injured cricketer can bat and bowl as needed has the potential for abuse. Many Australians were up in arms when Chahal replaced Jadeja in a T20I last month because they felt that it had strengthened India’s team. Some even seemed to imply that Jadeja had feigned a concussion in order to allow the substitution to take place. If any injury allowed such a substitute, these controversies could crop up in almost every game.

On the other hand, the status quo may not be tenable either. If another high profile series is beset by avoidable injuries, the pressure to address this issue will continue to mount. Had India lost this series, for example, the BCCI might well have been pressing for some kind of action by the ICC. Perhaps the best way forward, at least in the beginning, is to enforce the laws that are already in place. Allow international umpires to make the decision on what is or is not ‘dangerous’ bowling, except with guidance that this should be implemented more often.

If that doesn’t work then more stringent measures might have to be brought in, and cricket would be a poorer game for it.

If you have any comments about bouncers, or Australia’s losing streak at the Gabba, or anything else, please leave them below.

19 thoughts on “Should Bouncers Be Banned?

  1. pktroll (@pktroll) Jan 19, 2021 / 3:20 pm

    There certainly needs to be better enforcement in bowlers overdoing the short stuff. Many bowlers can go ‘rib ticklers’ which are shoulder height or below but not regarded as short balls. There seems to be little discretion used by umpires to suggest to bowlers to ease off it. I wouldn’t be minded to eradicate short pitch bowling, especially as a youth when I was actually able to bowl them!

    I do see the downside of banning them such as limiting the bowler and shot play available to the batsmen, but as I say, the modern umpire seems to be inept and managing the game, be it overdoing the short stuff or the verbals.

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  2. Bazza Jan 19, 2021 / 3:23 pm

    No, teach batsmen to play short ball and ensure umpires apply existing limitations.

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  3. dArthez Jan 19, 2021 / 4:14 pm

    The problem is that umpires don’t enforce the existing rules (and one could argue that home umpires in Australia may have contributed that. A Bangladeshi or Sri Lankan umpire, who is more used to spin bowling, might have decided sooner that this was too much. Also, since it was the home side dishing it out, they might have found it easier to swallow than if say Umesh Yadav made Tim Paine sing a few registers higher. But that is speculation on my part.

    Part of the reason is that umpires get blamed for everything, even if the demands on umpires are unrealistic (eg. the front foot no balls have to be checked, but also lbw at the same time; I really welcome the third umpire taking charge of that). This has led to a situation where umpires avoid making controversial calls as much as possible. Add in toxic masculinity (real men know how to play the short ball otherwise they should just dress up in pink dresses or something of the sort), and you can see why there is a reluctance to intervene. The culture of the sport has a lot to do with it as well.

    One issue is that enforcement is a bit of a joke – and that is beyond the umpires; match referees and the ICC also have a role to play. People get banned for falsely claiming a catch, but when some cricketers deliberately break someone’s hand with a cricket ball by throwing it at a batsman who is already in the crease, it is deemed perfectly okay.

    Injury substitutions are tricky. Obviously it is right that that concussion substitutes can be made, but I also find it unacceptable that the team fielding first can be massively rewarded for breaking opposing bowlers’ bowling hands. Allowing substitutes in such cases may be beneficial.

    South Africa’s first Test win against Sri Lanka came on the back of several injuries to key players from Sri Lanka – effectively Sri Lanka’s bowling attack was halved in size. To be fair to South Africa, most of those injuries seem to have been caused by lack of fitness on the part of Sri Lankans, rather than hostile bowling. But the injuries killed the Test off, more than particularly brilliant play by South Africa.

    The other thing to bear in mind is that pitch quality is important – and that is beyond the batsman too. If you have unpredictable bounce, due to cracks, you can end up in all kinds of nasty situations, even if you played the ball correctly (assuming reasonable bounce for the ball as evidenced by balls bowled on the same length but not hitting such cracks). Dangerous pitches also need to be dealt with. Some of these things can happen due to wear and tear on Day 4 or 5, but we have had quite a few Tests in the past years where cracks were already a feature on Day 2.

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  4. Nicholas Clark Jan 19, 2021 / 4:35 pm

    No bouncers should not be banned, Christ they’ll be playing with a tennis ball next!

    Batsmen have a much easier time of it these days.

    Umpires should just enforce the law more often.

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  5. Mark Jan 19, 2021 / 5:57 pm

    It was the same with the Wi in the 1970s. The laws were on the books but I can’t remember many umpires stepping in to restrict short pitched bowling that much. Sometimes there were 4 bouncers per over. Perhaps occasionally a tail ender would be protected.

    The problem was made worse as this was the first time a team went into a test match with 4 very fast bowlers on a regular basis. There was no respite for the batsman.. …..all day……Listen, if you get the chance to Foxy Fowler talk on TMS about what it was like to open the batting for England against the WI in 1984. Pretty sobering.

    In addition, when you say players are being hit and injured on the hands is that a bouncer? Only if their hands are at head height. Most fingers are broken with back of the length bowling that crashes into their hands at waist height. How do you outlaw that delivery?

    When protective clothing became established it was claimed that batsman were not as threatened as they once where. Some commentators naively claimed batsman were better at playing fast bowling. That theory went up in smoke (as most of the pundits theories do) in 2014 when Mitchell Johnson destroyed England with 95 mile an hour bowling. England’s batsman had no answer even with crash helmets, arm guards, and chest protectors. Didn’t make any difference. Some want home, some retired before the end of the series. In fact many of them played poor shots, perhaps,ironically out of a feeling of being protected by kit.

    Don’t know what the answer is. But if you restrict short pitched bowling too much batsman will just be able to get on the front foot all day long. Very boring.

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    • dArthez Jan 19, 2021 / 7:43 pm

      “England’s batsman had no answer even with crash helmets, arm guards, and chest protectors.”

      No but they stuck to their diet, so all was well …

      Point being, sure the marginal stuff can help from time to time, but it is the stuff on the cricket field where the biggest gains can be made. In this case, that would have been dealing with hostile fast bowling. Or being able to deal with Brad Haddin as a bowling unit …

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  6. Northern Light Jan 19, 2021 / 10:08 pm

    There didn’t seem much of a culture change after the Phil Hughes tragedy so I don’t see why a few broken fingers would move any mountains……

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  7. Northern Light Jan 19, 2021 / 10:09 pm

    Oh, and it was nice to see Chris Silverwood throw his hat into the ring today as another “We’re literally in the middle of a series in Sri Lanka and have India up next but all I feel the need to say is how excited I am about the Ashes on the distant horizon” one-eyed berk.

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  8. Marek Jan 19, 2021 / 10:12 pm

    I’m not sure that the number of broken fingers, thumbs, wrists and arms in the last few weeks–which isn’t limited to the series in Australia: Babar Azam, Imam-ul-Haq and Karunaratne have all missed games–is much more than Covid-induced rustiness and lack of middle practice; it may not be coincidental that every single one apart from Pucovski was a touring player.

    But I too wonder at the idea of cricket being pretty much the only non-fighting sport that allows players to deliberately do things that could maim or kill their opponents. (Can’t really understand the “Christ they’ll be playing with a tennis ball” argument either–the rules are arbitrary anyway: if you want unfettered defending-yourself-with-a-bat combat, why not allow beamers?)

    I think the game-changer in the last few years has been not Hughes’s death per se–after all, it was a totally freak accident and the chances of being killed or maimed are fairly remote as a batsman, although the game was probably rendered a bit complacent by the luck involved in the Contractor and Chatfield cases especially. It’s been the medical knowledge surrounding concussion. So the biggest thing for batsman is not “will I die on the pitch?” but “am I taking years off my life or giving myself dementia?”–which is also something that could be very expensive for the governing bodies of the world if someone like Pucovski never makes it into old age and his family sue for workplace negligence.

    I would be tempted to ban bowling that is likely to hit the head in the same way that beamers are now. To stop things getting even more batsman-friendly, though, I would also return the maximum bat size to what it was 20 or 30 years ago.

    That’s also important because the biggest risk of immediate death from injury on the field is probably not to batsman but to close fielders, bowlers and umpires. In some ways the injury that we should be most worried about from the Australian summer is none of the ones that you’ve talked about, it’s the one to Cameron Green.

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    • dannycricket Jan 21, 2021 / 1:18 pm

      The cause for the increase in broken bones is immaterial, as far as the law is concerned. If the batsman’s ability to avoid injury is reduced, even if it’s because they have had less preparation than needed, then the threshold for the umpires to warn the bowlers is also reduced.

      The main impetus for all the sports I listed cracking down on injuries to their players is money. With head injuries, particularly in American football and rugby union, the threat of lawsuits from ex-players suffering from chronic traumatic encephalopathy, Parkinson’s disease and depression has potentially huge consequences to their revenue. There is also the potential loss of marquee players, which might be more of the reason in football. If a player like Cristiano Ronaldo is out for a season, a drop in TV viewing figures might be reflected in a reduced TV deal afterwards. Not to mention fewer ticket sales, fewer shirts sold, less merchandise, etc. Everyone wants to keep the top players healthy and productive as much as possible.

      You would think these motives would apply to cricket as well, but evidently not strongly enough for them to act so far.

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      • Mark Jan 21, 2021 / 7:14 pm

        So are you saying that the point of cricket and all sport is nothing more than raising revenue and selling merchandise?

        How many cricketers are hurt so badly that they end up with all the ills you point out in American football?……

        Let me be clear, I’m not advocating for injuring players of any sport. However, if sport is only a means of raising money by selling stuff then why not rig all the results so the most popular players always win, and then sell more shirts? There are already people who believe a lot of American sport is fixed precisely so. And we all know of the betting scandals which have been on the margins of many sports. Cricket amongst them.

        Should players not be allowed to tackle Cristiano Ronaldo in case they brake his leg? As someone above said….fielding at short leg is also dangerous. A short pitched long hop could lead to the batsman pulling the ball straight onto the fielders head.

        If you are advocating for umpires to enforce the rules about persistent short pitch bowling I’m in favour of that. But the authorities refuse to enforce the rules on over rates. But I don’t know what else you can do unless you change cricket so fundamentally to eliminate all risk. Same with all sports.

        Cricket has many formats now that it’s almost different sports under one umbrella. 20/20 batsman see little in the way of continued short pitched bowling. Many players play less and less longer forms of the game. So when they step up up to test est cricket the gulf in what they are used to could be vast.

        Perhaps we will all just be watching video game sport in a few years. Seems a shame, but no one will get hurt. Unless they end up with their thumbs and wrists worn out in old age.

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      • Marek Jan 21, 2021 / 9:34 pm

        Talking about over rates….one of the interesting things about the series in Australia was how potentially big Australia’s points deduction for a slow over-rate in Melbourne could be, even though it was a minuscule number of points.

        It’s only going to take the cancellation of the Aus-SA series for the points deduction to very likely be the difference between Australia qualifying for the WTC final or not.

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        • dArthez Jan 22, 2021 / 6:17 am

          And given how South Africa are struggling with COVID-19, the tour going ahead is far from certain.

          New Zealand’s series to BD got axed due to COVID, and though Bangladesh are no pushovers at home, New Zealand have decent results in Asia for most part. So for once I would not mind if lady luck blessed New Zealand so that people can see them in the WTC final.

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  9. angstbali Jan 20, 2021 / 12:40 am

    I’m pretty sure the West Indies attack (can’t remember which specific bowler) got warned when they were bombarding Hugh Morris one morning in 1991. The Windows were not happy.

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  10. angstbali Jan 20, 2021 / 12:42 am

    * Windies – bloody autocorrect.

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  11. dArthez Jan 22, 2021 / 12:05 pm

    No discernable massive delays due to injuries or rain in Sri Lanka.

    43 overs of pace, 44 overs of spin, England still did not get the 90 overs in for the day. Maybe England are desperate to give Australia a sniff, by finding ways to commit overrate offences in Sri Lanka?

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    • dannycricket Jan 22, 2021 / 12:22 pm

      It probably won’t be enough to trigger a penalty. The match referee typically finds some things (long drinks breaks, DRS reviews, the physio coming on, taking a few extra seconds to recover the ball, etc.) which are enough to account for 4-5 overs in the day. Of course, that’s what the extra half hour is there for, but still…

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  12. Goji Jan 22, 2021 / 11:40 pm

    The diminutive Shardul Thakur was given a first warning for dangerous bowling when he bowled a few 130k balls that pitched way too short and sailed harmlessly over Cummins’ head. But nothing was ever done when the Aussies repeatedly pounded the Indians continuously again and again in the series. The rules probably needed better defining and home umpires should never blight the game again.

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