January 2020 Ball of the Century: Rabada to Wood – NO-BALL

Ball of the Century
Mark Wood England South Africa PA

This month’s ball of the century was bowled during the third Test between South Africa and England. With the visitors 467/8 on the second day, Kagiso Rabada had Mark Wood caught in the deep and Joe Root waved a declaration.

Even had a check of the front foot not triggered the Root undeclaration that made this delivery a certainty for this decade’s first prestigious monthly Ball of the Century award, there was already enough there for it to be a solid candidate.

The very existence of Mark Wood remains outstanding, of course. A man with an imaginary horse who builds tiny forts from cricket kits and hides inside of them, presumably all as some kind of ongoing subtle homage to key moments of the Trojan War. A cricketer who deigns to plays Test cricket approximately once every eight months, who then takes as many wickets and thrashes as many runs as he pleases, before disappearing into the night like Batman or a drunk who keyed your car. A hero whose very name suggests that he’s about to inflict an edge that can only be detected via the judicious use of Hot Spot technology. More of this please, England.

Then, of course, there was Joe Root opting to declare the innings closed rather than send Stuart Broad in to bat. At first blush, a crime against comedy, especially given Broad’s heroic efforts already in the series to have himself bowled while somehow jamming his bat into his pad. But Root – the Stacy’s Mom of world cricket – wanted to get something else going on. As effortlessly brilliant as a Broad nonsense dismissal can be, Root yearned for more. By denying his veteran comedy seamer an opportunity to get in (and, hence, out) in this innings, he pushed Broad into fresh improv areas in the following Test, unlocking a 43 (28) innings featuring four sixes. If anything showcased the futility of South Africa’s series, it was that Broad innings.

But that was hilarity for a future date.

At the moment we’re discussing here, when the third umpire confirmed Rabada had overstepped and that Wood’s dismissal didn’t count, Root’s waving in of his team mates transformed into something else. It was the cricketing equivalent of going to shake somebody’s hand and then at the last moment withdrawing and instead running your fingers through your hair, making your purported handshake recipient look like the fool.

The umpires decided to allow the undeclaration, and Wood and Ollie ‘The Young’ Pope added 31 more runs before Wood was out again and Root therefore redeclared. Sadly, there wasn’t another no ball for this second dismissal and so the England innings was at an end. A major disappointment for fans of the comedy rule of three.

In a closer Test match, the decision of Root to undeclare may have triggered further controversy. Or at the very least, some more of the schoolyard swearing that this series inexplicably staked out as its trademark.

Certainly, closer inspection of the Laws of the game suggested that Root probably shouldn’t have been allowed to retract his declaration. The exact Law, which I’m far too unprofessional to be bothered googling, says something about how the decision to declare is final and that’s that.

Which doesn’t seem right. Captains are allowed to withdraw appeals, something I do wish they’d remember when the third umpire is getting bogged down, rock’n’rolling to check for the possibility of a feathered inside edge on an LBW review that the big screen clearly shows pitched half a foot outside leg stump. Withdraw that review, skipper, put the third umpire out of his checklisted misery and let’s get on with it.

But if a captain can withdraw an appeal, then surely they should be allowed to change their minds on declarations too. After all, a declaration is, at its heart, nothing more than a self-inflicted, pre-confirmed multi-appeal on the remaining batters in one’s own team.

How much fun would it be to see captains waving teams in and out, to the edge of the ground and back, making the opposition their plaything?

To be fair, probably not that much fun at all. After a brief moment of joy at the silliness of it all, it would almost certainly rapidly grow tiresome, like a Joe Denly innings or jokes about sandpaper.

So, instead, let’s go the other way. Let’s get declarations properly sorted out. No more of this vague gesturing nonsense that could easily be confused for spotting your brother Billy in the opposite stand and waving hello.


PREVIOUS BALLS OF THE CENTURY


Declarations should be actual statutory declarations, signed and witnessed by a Justice of the Peace. If nothing else, it would encourage touring parties to include a team chemist or postal worker in their extended squad to authorise all the paperwork. Never a bad thing.

It would also give professional cricketers another set of skills to hone in between net sessions, team weigh-ins and book deals. How quickly can the captain dictate their declaration to the team secretary, containing precise details of the date, number of runs and wickets on which one wants to declare, have it proofread, printed out, signed, authorised, witnessed, stamped and submitted to the umpires and the International Cricket Council? Can the captain lodge the relevant documentation before another run or wicket invalidates the entire legal standing of the declaration? You’d think it was impossible, but then again, scoring at a run a ball used to be thought of as unfathomably challenging.

And what if the captain is batting? Did they properly authorise the handover of the Power of Innings-Closure before they made their way to the crease? Was the paperwork witnessed and signed by the necessary coaches, selectors and most annoying members of the relevant supporters group? Who knows? Only the finest cricketing legal minds can say for sure.

If there’s one thing this month’s ball of the century has taught us it’s that we should make declarations as hard as possible to trigger. Especially if it means we get to see Stuart Broad bat more often.

By Dan Liebke

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