The new rules of cricket - a clampdown on big bats and bad-boy behaviour

April 11, 2017

The new English domestic cricket season is now underway, with the first weekend of the LV= County Championship season providing weather worthy of the finest day in June or July.

Fans will have lots to look forward to this summer, not least the first ever day-night Test match to be staged in England as the West Indies visit Edgbaston in August. 

Pink balls might be a fairly new innovation, but in England and around the world, this year will see a few subtle changes to the rules, although their expected introduction will not occur until October, after the English season ends. 

However, the International Cricket Council is expected to rubber-stamp a few changes suggested by the guardian of the game's laws - the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) - in its annual review of the laws.

These are not drastic alterations; the lbw law remains the same, the new ball will still be available after 80 overs and the follow-on remains optional, for example (all these laws have been different in the past). 

Perhaps the most notable of these concerns the size and thickness of bats. While the width and length of the bat has been covered by the laws since before the first ball was ever bowled in a Test match, the thickness has not been subject to any restriction - until now. This has led to modern bat-makers producing blades with ever-thicker amounts of wood, pressed hard and providing a weapon that is denser and far lighter for its size than used to be the case, well below the three-pound clubs that in the past could only be yielded by strong men like Sir Ian Botham.

The result of this has been the ball flying faster and harder to all parts, with more sixes being hit and even thick edges flying to the boundary. This has led to concerns that the game has swung too much towards the batsman and the MCC has decided to act. It now proposes the dimensions of the bat for first-class games be limited to 108mm in width and 67mm in depth with 40mm edges. 

MCC head of cricket John Stephenson said: "The bat size issue has been heavily scrutinised and discussed in recent years. We believe the maximum dimensions we have set will help redress the balance between bat and ball, while still allowing the explosive, big hitting we all enjoy."

Another rule change concerns player discipline. New sanctions will apply for offences like excessive appealing and dissent towards umpires, which can lead to a five-run penalty. More serious actions, such as acts of violence or intimidating an umpire, can lead to a batsman being "retired out" and violence from a fielder can lead to them being sin-binned, rugby style. 

Violent offences are seldom likely to be seen in first-class or international matches, with the sanctions mainly designed to protect umpires from incidents increasingly occurring at club level. 

There are a couple of other minor changes, including the reduction of the number of ways a batsman can be out from ten to nine. However, this has occurred through the expansion of the definition of 'obstructing the field' to encompass 'handled the ball'.

Dismissals for handling the ball are rare, although former England captains Michael Vaughan and Graham Gooch have both been out this way in Test matches.

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