Is it the end for cricket's bouncer?

Is it the end for the bouncer? Cricket chiefs probe risks of serious injury to batsmen as they launch a consultation into whether bowlers should continue to be allowed to use short deliveries

  • The MCC has opened a consultation on whether the bouncer is still feasible
  • It comes at a time of growing litigation for serious injury in other global sports
  • The bouncer is an integral part of fast bowling that offers fans thrilling viewing

Fears of cricket authorities being sued in instances of serious injury are partly behind a review of the use of the bouncer across all levels of the game.

The MCC, the guardians of the sport’s laws, have embarked on a consultation process to discuss the short-pitched delivery and whether its permitted use should continue under its current guidelines — at a time when football and rugby face multi-million pound litigation from concussion victims.

Although cases of concussion tend to be on a lower scale than for contact sports, cricket has nevertheless worked hard over recent years in its duty of care to players in this area — with compulsory checks following strikes to the head, decisions on whether it is safe to continue solely in the hands of medics and concussion substitutes permitted in all professional matches under the jurisdiction of the ECB.

Indian batsman Washington Sundar (centre) takes evasive action in a Test against Australia

Similar protocols are common across the world game.

However, one of the problems for cricket is that the bouncer is enshrined in the game’s laws.

And those laws warn of its dangers which potentially leaves the lawmakers open to claims in the event of an individual incurring physical damage, particularly in a recreational match where protective equipment tends to be of lower quality and medical attention is not at hand.

The bouncer has always been a premier delivery in the fast bowler’s armoury, a weapon offering a sharp reminder should a batsman take the liberty of hopping onto the front foot, testing their ability to duck and weave and one offering a wicket-taking option against opponents confident to take on a hook off the back foot.

Steve Smith (centre) is floored after being hit on the head by Jofra Archer in the 2019 Ashes

It has long been accepted as part of the game and, at the very top level, has been a feature of some of the most enthralling passages of play in Test history, most memorably, in recent years, in 2019 during England fast bowler Jofra Archer’s Ashes duel with Steve Smith at Lord’s that led to the Australian being replaced by Marnus Labuschagne following a delayed concussion.

The quality of helmets has improved considerably, including the uniform wearing of neck protection, in the aftermath of the death of the Australian batsman Phillip Hughes, who was struck by a short ball in 2014.

The laws permit bouncers up to head height, with anything above a no-ball. Potential alterations to this will be one of the aspects debated during the review — which will include discussions with players’ representatives and governing bodies and be collated by the MCC’s cricket committee — along with how any amendments might harm the balance between bat and ball. ‘All sports are looking at their rules and laws and it is right that cricket does the same to make sure the game is played in a safe way,’ said a spokesperson for the MCC.

Sportsmail understands the issue is not currently on the ICC cricket committee’s agenda but the world body will be monitoring developments as they modify their own playing conditions based on the laws. The number of bouncers permitted in an over is limited in all forms of international cricket and also in county matches.

Law 41 also allows for on-field intervention upon interpretation from the officials: ‘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.’

In such scenarios, further instances will result in no-balls being called and potential removal from the bowling attack.

The MCC’s cricket committee has begun a consultation on whether to update the bouncer law 

Research such as this by MCC represents a crossroads in the sport’s history and will no doubt make those who faced the might of the West Indies’ revered pace attack in the 1970s baulk.

However, it remains at an early stage and one source suggested the possibilities for change were multitudinous — from taking no action at all, to amending playing regulations at certain levels of cricket or certain formats, or to outlawing it all together.

Even in the latter most extreme scenario it could remain as a tactic to keep batsmen ‘honest’ but would come at a cost of a no-ball and not lead directly to a dismissal.




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