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Must A Batsman Be Alive?

Several members of our club got together for a few (well, in some cases, more than a few) midwinter drinks recently. For reasons too obscure for me to even mention (or remember), the topic arose of whether a batsmen needed to be alive to appear at the crease. Let us ignore here the present fad for zombie shows on American TV (‘The Walking Dead’ or the Australian version, ‘The non-Walking Dead, we have an ump for a reason mate, so #### off’). And let us further pass over the notion that any side would actually go so far as to select a dead player – even in extremis in the Dog Days of a humid, hot New York area August, I doubt our selection committee would go that far to find the 11th man (although I have to say the occasional ‘selection’ has raised eyebrows as to whether there would be much of a difference between who turned out and an actual corpse). No, what we were considering here is whether someone who passed on during a game could actually ‘bat’ while in the condition of, how shall I put it, ‘being deceased’. Let us all, at this point, consider just how often we have all thought, or even commented on, that the shot selection of some of our teammates was suggestive of the onset of brain death. So, from some perspectives, we are discussing here a distinction without a difference… In a similar vein, let there be no confusion with the rather more common scenario of the batsman being non compos mentis through excessive consumption of alcohol. We are having a definite discussion here about death: “He’s not pissed, he’s passed on. This batsman is no more. He has ceased to be. He’s expired and gone to meet his bat-maker. He’s a stiff, bereft of life, he rests in peace. If you hadn’t have nailed him to the crease he’d be pushing up the daisies. He’s rung down the curtain and joined the choir invisible. This is an ex-batsman!”

So, ignoring all definitional points, and passing over any questions of ethics, good taste (this IS club cricket we’re talking about…), would it be within the Laws of the Game to send out a dead batsman? Could the ‘Spirit of Cricket’ have an entirely new meaning, not intended by its creators?

And the simple answer is that I could find no specific reason why this could not be done. In other words, there appears to be no specific statement in the Laws that a batsman must, in fact, be alive. It is merely generally assumed that he or she would be. Naturally, being, er, dead, the batsman could not ELECT to go out to bat, but unless there were grieving family members around to intervene, many players are so committed to the game that they would not object (well, how could they, being, er, dead) to being sent out to ‘take one for the team’ one final time.

Let us now consider the implications of a dead batsman appearing at the wicket. We shall imagine a scenario involving a vital league game in which a player dies while fielding in the first innings. We will call him Neil, bearing in mind that any resemblance to any actual person, living or dead, is purely coincdental.

Late in his spell of slow-medium “off breaks” (sic), Neil finally got one to turn and was so amazed to actually bowl someone though the gate that he dropped dead from sheer excitement, never realizing the ball had just cannoned off a slightly sub-surface stone. Aghast, but thrilled at the wicket, his team mates carry Neil off and place him tenderly in the clubhouse, next to his coffin (where else?), covering him lightly with what little ice can be spared from the pressing need to keep the beers cold. But “the game must go on”.

In the second innings, Neil’s side is cruising along, but there’s a sudden collapse (THIS scenario is perfectly plausible). Panic sets in as the wickets tumble. The ninth wicket falls with the team still one behind. What to do? Concede the match as Neil, the 11th batsman, is lying dead in the pavilion. No way! Neil was the kind of guy who would never ever concede defeat while there is breath in his body, and what’s a few oxygen molecules when all is said and done? So, Neil is brought out of (not very) cold storage, his pads are strapped on, his gloves forced onto his stiffening hands, his box left uninserted (why bother?). But what to do with the bat? A brainwave. The implement is forced (handle first of course) between the cheeks of his posterior and Neil is carried to the wicket. There, he is propped upright in a tripod position, the protruding bat forming the critical extra leg needed for balance. He has a runner (perfectly legal, this is club cricket, and the ‘incapacity’ happened during the game). So, what scenarios might arise here? Remember that Neil’s side need two runs to win.

The fielders cluster round Neil (not too close, as it’s been a couple of hours, and there wasn’t much ice…). The bowler steams in knowing that a straight ball would not just win the game but also bring him a wicket (a dead man being the ultimate bunny, after all). But, slightly rattled or just over keen, he fires the ball a bit down the leg side. The ball hits Neil’s butt-edged bat and cannons off through the ring of fielders and down to fine leg. The non-striker and the runner hare up and down to complete the winning runs. Jubilation! And even Neil’s corpse manages a death smile – at last, he has scored some runs; normally, a bat is as useful to him as a condom to a eunuch. But, wait, the impact of the ball on the bat has, not surprisingly, toppled the tripod. Neil is lying outside his crease, and an alert fielder whips off the bails and appeals for a run-out. However, Neil’s bat is still firmly wedged between his nether regions, and it is partly lying within the crease. Is Neil out? Does the run not count?

Answer: Not Out! Part of the bat is grounded behind the crease, so Neil is within his ground. The Law does not specify exactly how the batsman must be holding his bat. The runs score! Neil’s team wins!







An eventuality to consider would be if the ball had cannoned off Neil’s leg and not the wedged bat. In that case, no run could be scored as Neil cannot, by any stretch of the imagination, be deemed to have played a shot. Sadly, that restriction automatically removed Neil’s most productive run-scoring modality of kicking it backward of square but that’s just the price you have to pay for being dead, I guess.

But what would happen if, during the collapse of the tripod, Neil had toppled into the stumps? Would he then be out hit-wicket, losing the game and giving him one final duck? The Law is ambiguous on this point – reference is made only to actions of the batsman that cause the wicket to be broken. But a dead man, by definition, cannot be taking any action – his corpse toppling into the stumps is a purely passive process. Thus,he took no action at all before, or during the delivery of the ball that caused his stumps to be broken. Personally, I would rule Not Out, while accepting that this could be a controversial decision that might require an intense discussion in the bar after the game (the drinks being on Neil for his match-winning performance, with many a glass raised to his memory).

PS. Having read this post, a friend steered me toward a very interesting YouTube video clip:

While it may be arguable whether a batsman can appear at the crease when dead, a bowler can certainly be credited with a wicket while he is unconscious!

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