Phil Smith Beyond the Boundary #16

Dead Ball

Law 23, ‘Dead Ball’, is an interesting beast. There’s a shedload of instances when the ball becomes automatically dead (when a boundary is scored, for example) and another shedload when the ball becomes dead on the call of the umpire (eg when the bowler fails to deliver the ball). So, in which instances is death (of the ball) automatic and in which is it necessary for one of the umpires to let everyone know about this extremely sad occurrence? As Big Bill Griffin always says, ‘If you know the reasoning behind the law, you’ll remember the law.’ As such, and to avoid all manner of future confusion, here’s the story (and the logic) behind ‘Ball becomes dead when trapped or lodges in the batsman’s clothing or equipment).

Most people have heard of the World War One 1914 Christmas Day truce, when eleven soldiers from the 1st Battalion of The Royal Welch Fusiliers played a football match against eleven men from the German Battalion 371 (which the Germans apparently won 2–1).

But fewer people have heard of a similar ceasefire which took place on 12th July 1915, when eleven infantrymen from the Royal Hampshire Regiment left their trench at two o’clock in the afternoon to play the first recorded T20 International against eleven horsemen of the 1st Royal Bavarian Heavy Cavalry – and it’s fair to say that this was a game which ended with more than a fair degree of controversy.

As Germany was considered to be nothing more than a ‘developing nation’ by the fledgling committee of the ICC, which had been founded just six years previously, England provided the umpires for this landmark event due to a perceived lack of appreciation of either the spirit of the game or indeed, most of the laws, by their Teutonic counterparts.

Nevertheless, after England had won the toss and elected to bat, the Bavarians bowled well on what was, in all fairness, a sticky – and somewhat under-prepared pitch and England laboured to a pretty ordinary 115-8 from their allotted twenty overs. ‘Damned outfield’s as slow as a butcher’s horse,’ lamented the England skipper, Brigadier William Michael Rutherford Addison on being caught at deep midwicket in the sixteenth over for an innings’ top score of twenty six. ‘But they’ve got to bat on the old dog yet,’ was his consoling thought as he removed the chunk of shrapnel that had been masquerading as an abdominal protector from the front of his mud-stained breeches.

And Addison’s prophecy regarding the difficulty of batting on a track that had a clutch of rifle cartridges peeking out of a length at both ends proved unerringly correct as the Germans stuttered to 89-9 going into the final over. Despite it seeming highly unlikely that the Bavarian last pair would take their team anywhere near the England total, Addison was in no mood to give anything away and summoned his renowned opening bowler, Infantryman Robert Bellew Adams to bowl the final over. ‘Ruffle his feathers with the first one,’ was Addison’s final instruction as he reset his field, placing seven men back on the boundary edge.

Now it isn’t altogether common cricketing knowledge, but the Germans were the first international players to wear protective helmets when batting, their World War One ‘Pickelhaube’ featuring a central spike of just under six inches (15 centimetres) in length. Well, Adams charged in, throwing down a ferocious delivery that reared off a length, the non-plussed German number eleven, Heinrich Heine, just having time to turn his head to one side before the ball clattered, with a sickening thud, into the very top of his helmet.

At the very same moment, there were three very distinct cracks that were heard by everyone on the ground. ‘One after the other,’ recounted Addison some years later, as he described the incident over a large gin & topic at the Hyde Park Officers Club.

The first crack was the ball impaling itself on the Pickel of Heine’s Pickelhaube. The second was the report of a sniper’s rifle, which resulted in the termination of Sergeant Laurence Dalrymple, the striker’s end umpire. And before the bowler’s end official, Lieutenant Beauchamp Doran could even utter the first ‘D’ of ‘Dead ball’ (injury to / death of a colleague), a third crack meant that he was prematurely terminated too.

‘Lauf!’ cried Friedrich Schicklgruber, the non-striker, on realising what had happened and without a moment’s hesitation, Heine ran. And ran and ran and ran. Addison was beside himself with fury, calling repeatedly to his trench to send out two replacement officials, but by the time a brace of heads had finally peered over the eight-foot earthen parapet, the German last pair had completed their twenty seventh leg bye and won the game by a single wicket.

‘It’s just not cricket!’ bellowed Addison, as the German team carried Heine and Schicklgruber shoulder high back to their trench and the familiar tones of ‘Wir haben ihnen ein lustiges Versteck gegeben!’ accompanied by the shrill wail of the victors’ Dudelsacks, soon filled the smoke-ridden air.

Addison returned to his tent, his final command of the day, ‘Let ‘em ‘ave it,’ meaning the scorers were denied the opportunity to collate the bowlers’ analyses before being forced to man their mortars as hostilities were restarted within a matter of minutes.

Meanwhile, Addison was putting together a full and extremely detailed report of the events that followed what turned out to be the match’s final delivery, the contents of the two and a half sides of A4 eventually finding their way by telegraph and carrier pigeon to the cherry-red walnut desk of Lord Martin Hawke, the interim Chairman of the MCC during the years of the Great War. Hawke’s outrage at the German’s violation of the Spirit of Cricket as he saw it, could be heard in every nook and cranny of St John’s Wood and he immediately set about compiling a strongly-worded letter that was personally addressed to The Kaiser himself.

To say Wilhelm II was singularly unimpressed by the MCC’s protestations is probably an understatement, as ‘Luftpost’ had already carried the headline, ‘Englische Besiegt’, while The Kaiser immediately installed himself as the head of the PCA (Prussian Cricket Association), buying himself a red, black & yellow tie and matching blazer in the process.

Meanwhile, back in blighty, the MCC’s red & yellow blazers sent out an SOS to the great and good and two days later, three things had occurred in double quick succession. Firstly, Mr Stanley Bennett arrived at HQ, having left a family holiday in Dursley without even finishing the opening paragraph of Lord Hawke’s one-line missive; secondly, an emergency meeting of the organisation’s law committee was convened around the end table in the Long Room and thirdly, Law 23, ‘Dead ball’, was finally amended.

‘It’s quite clear,’ explained SB, ‘that if either umpire in this sorry situation had remained alive for even five seconds more, ‘Dead ball’ would have been called and the outcome of the match would have been very different. With these so-called truce’s now becoming pretty commonplace and more T20 (Trench 20) internationals likely to be taking place, we need to guard against SUF (Sudden Umpire Fatalities) from this point onwards. As such, I suggest that if the ball becomes trapped or lodged in the batsman’s clothing, it should become automatically dead, and as such there will be no requirement for the umpire, whatever state he might be in, to call ‘Dead ball’ at all.

And so it came to pass that ‘trapped or lodged’ crawled out of the ‘Umpire calls dead ball’ list and relocated itself in the ‘Ball is automatically dead’ list. Because if the umpires suddenly find themselves to be dead, the ball must become dead also.

‘If you know the reasoning behind the law, you’ll remember the law itself,’ concluded Big Bill Griffin with a satisfied smile, nodding contentedly to the assembled throng. ‘Now let’s consider the story behind Law 37, ‘Obstructing the Field’. This, ladies and gentlemen, is a real corker….’

Glossary of terms

Pickelhaube: Military helmet bearing a central spike.

Lauf: Run!

Dudelsacks: The German equivalent of bagpipes.

Luftpost: German newspaper of the early 20th century.

Englische Besiegt: England beaten.

Wir haben ihnen ein lustiges Versteck gegeben!: We gave them a jolly good hiding!