This month’s ball of the century was delivered during the third Test between India and South Africa, on October 22, with Shahbaz Nadeem bowling to last man in and new man at the crease Lungi Ngidi. The South African number 11 thwapped it straight into the non-striker Anrich Nortje and the ensuing rebound was caught by Nadeem, ending the visitors’ dismal tour in a fittingly humiliating and absurd fashion.
It’s not the first time that deflections have resulted in a catch, of course. Most of the time, however, the rebounds are fielder-to-fielder interactions, often through clumsy hands in the slips cordon, but occasionally from terror-induced ricochets from a turtling close fielder.
There are also those cases where the ball is very deliberately parried from a boundary-flirting outfielder to a less forward teammate, who then goes on to barefacedly record the catch under their name. Such two-man catches are technically a form of deviation (in both senses of the word) and occur so often these days that in most modern T20 domestic tournaments you can get a full refund on your match ticket if you don’t get to witness one.
But catches aren’t the only form of dismissal in which rebounds can play a role. There are plenty of other ways in which a ricochet can result in a wicket. So many, in fact, that I’m tempted to coin the Elmer Fuddian portmanteau ‘wickochet’.
The most common example of such a wickochet is when a too eager non-striker is found stranded out of his ground after a deflection from the bowler’s fingertips. Or, if you’re the inimitable Adam Zampa, facetips.
More exotically, a batsman can be dismissed ‘obstructing the field’ in certain ball-deflecting situations. Mostly those situations are what would have been deemed ‘handled the ball’ had the latter form of dismissal not been wholly devoured two years ago by the gluttonous former. (RIP ‘handled the ball’ u will live on forever. Cant believe it. I wanna run to u. Really cant believe this. @)
But there have also been pure ‘obstructing the field’ wickochets that don’t wholly rely on that shameless takeover of the ‘handled the ball’ mode of dismissal.
Most famously, in 2015, Ben Stokes was given out after deflecting a ball that Mitchell Starc had thrown at the stumps. It was a redirection that immediately gave birth to the phrase ‘instinctively, but not wilfully’. Fittingly, ‘instinctively, but not wilfully’ is also a pretty good description for how most mothers give birth. Or so I’m assured.
But ricochets needn’t always go against the batsman, as Stokes himself so famously demonstrated during the World Cup final with his spectacular match-changing deflection from a return throw. A six-that-wasn’t-a-six in the final-over-that-wasn’t-the-final-over demonstrates the kind of expectation-busting opportunities open to the batsmen when they, too, add rebounds to their repertoire.
Historically, however, batsmen have been hesitant to embrace the potential of deflections. Indeed, like a too-cool teenage boy, they usually outright reject the embrace. In the case of the Stokes World Cup deflection, the proper etiquette had the ball not ricocheted all the way to the boundary, would have been to refuse any further runs.
There’s almost no doubt Stokes would have followed that convention – the despair on his face as he realises that the rebound is travelling too fast to be reeled in is clearly genuine. And that’s with two freakin’ balls remaining in a World Cup final that they almost certainly would have lost had he not been awarded the runs. A World Cup final, we shouldn’t forget, that England had targeted with sad, unwavering focus for four years.
Would Stokes, or any other batsman, refuse ricochet bonus runs from the last ball of a World Cup final, if those runs meant the difference between victory and defeat? That more clear-cut scenario would, presumably, be a tougher etiquette test. And yet I still suspect they would hold up the hand and ‘take the L’, as the younglings like to say. That’s the degree of abhorrence in which batsmen hold rebounds.
Ngidi’s wicket in this South African innings – which you may easily have forgotten is what’s ostensibly being discussed here – won’t help break down the rebound prejudice of batsmen. But the manner in which the non-striker was involved in the dismissal should at least serve as a stimulus to the more lateral-thinking and less ricochet-bigoted batsmen in world cricket.
For too long, bowlers have held sway in terms of trajectory alteration in the sport. Not just deflections either. They swing the ball and move it off the seam. They rip leg breaks around batsmen’s legs and finger-spin it in between bat and pad. Just about everything bowlers do is about adjusting the initial path of the ball.
Surely, it’s time for batsmen to get in on the act. If Steve Smith wants to take his batting to the next level then he should definitely start experimenting with pinballing his shots. And the Ngidi dismissal has provided the key.
Because while Smith can’t control where the fielders stand, he can ask his non-striker to adjust his position. He also knows where the square leg umpire will be standing. (Hint: it’s right there in his name.)
Bradman was apparently an excellent snooker player, allegedly capable of making a break of 100. (Or more likely knowing that old fool, 99.94.) But The Don never once brought that prowess into cricket. Here’s a chance for Smith to upstage the only man currently ahead of him in statistically-sound Test batting averages.
Don’t tell me you wouldn’t want to see a run chase where Smith started deliberately rebounding the ball off non-strikers and umpires into the helmet behind the wicket-keeper for five runs every ball.
That’s the gift that Lungi Ngidi has given us with his wicket. The prospect of Smith mixing his Jedi leaves with Captain America shield-hurling-style rebound plays in a fully Disney-endorsed innings. And that’s surely reason enough for it to be October 2019’s ball of the century.
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