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Fake news! Should the MCC reconsider its stance on dummy fielding?

MATT ROLLER: The fake fielding Law is ambiguous, needless, and seems to punish the sort of work in the field that can help bring a game to life

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Graham Wagg of Glamorgan was penalised for fake fielding

The recent T20 Blast match between Glamorgan and Gloucestershire was memorable for many reasons: Craig Meschede’s pinch-hitting pyrotechnics; a rare off-day for king-of-the-slower-ball AJ Tye; and a thrilling finish which saw Timm van der Gugten hold his nerve to seal a two-run win for the home side.

But it will go down in the record books for another reason, as Graham Wagg became the first county cricketer to be penalised under Law 41.5, the ‘fake fielding’ law.

As Michael Klinger and Miles Hammond set off for a single, Wagg dived to stop the ball, failed to do so, but pretended to have the ball in his hand and to throw it towards the keeper. It caused a moment of hesitation for the batsmen, who then completed the run.

But umpires Nick Cook and Neil Bainton were alert to the new law, introduced at the end of last year, which states that “it is unfair for any fielder wilfully to attempt, by word or action, to distract, deceive or obstruct either batsman after the striker has received the ball”, and awarded Gloucestershire five penalty runs, much to the bemusement of the crowd.

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Wagg fell foul of a new Law introduced by MCC

The decision was entirely correct according to the new law, but confusion abounds over its introduction and its purpose.

The following night, Ben Cox, the Worcestershire wicketkeeper, ran out Nottinghamshire’s Steven Mullaney at Trent Bridge in a televised game. Mullaney had pushed the ball towards Ed Barnard on the midwicket boundary, and called Jake Libby through for two.

As Mullaney ran back towards the keeper’s end, Cox feigned complete disinterest before suddenly switching on and completing the run-out to the surprise of Mullaney, who had assumed from Cox’s demeanour that the throw was to the non-striker’s end.

Should Cox have been penalised for ‘fake fielding’? It was clear that he was attempting to deceive the batsman - which is banned under the law - but the run-out stood.

When asked about MS Dhoni’s regular use of the same tactic, Fraser Stewart, the MCC’s Laws of Cricket manager, told ESPNCricinfo: “If Dhoni is deliberately trying to make it look like he has missed the ball when he has it in his hands for a stumping, it is an attempt to deceive the batsman and would fall foul of the law. However, transferring it onto the stumps in a subtle way after receiving the ball would be acceptable. It is for the umpires on the field to decide if it is deception or not.”

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Worcestershire keeper Ben Cox went unpunished for something similar

This example demonstrates the problems with the law. It is ambiguous, needless, and seems to punish the sort of work in the field that can help bring a game to life.

Cox’s run-out was clever, cunning, and skilful, and yet under a stricter interpretation of the law, it could easily have been given not out and seen him penalised.

Similarly, several apparent breaches in international cricket - by Dhoni, Tim Paine, and Craig Overton to name just three - have not been penalised since the law’s introduction.

The MCC say the law was introduced because “fielders were deliberately pretending to have the ball as a means of fooling the batsmen, thereby preventing them from taking further runs”, and some would argue that doing so is not within the spirit of the game. But preventing players from deceiving their opponents opens a can of worms: by the same logic, should slower balls and switch-hits not also be banned?

In essence, the ‘fake fielding’ law is a prime example of what alienates casual fans from the game: it is unclear, unfamiliar, and unnecessary.

At a time when the ECB is considering how to simplify cricket, it could do much worse than arguing the case against this pointless addition to the sport.

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