They are the smallest piece of cricket equipment and yet the LED bails, stubborn and heartless (from the fielding team’s perspective), in use in the ICC Cricket World Cup 2019 in England and Wales have sparked the loudest arguments. Cricketers and critics, fans and the manufacturer alike have been confounded by the refusal of the bails to be dislodged.
Come to think of it, nobody would have noticed the bails in the normal process, except for their brilliant glow when the wicket is broken that adds a dimension of its own to the drama unfolding in the middle. The lights come on only when both spigots (ends of the bails) lose contact with the stumps.
The ICC Playing Handbook specifies: “Where LED Wickets are used, the moment at which the wicket has been put down shall be deemed to be the first frame in which the LED lights are illuminated and subsequent frames show the bail permanently removed from the top of the stumps.”
It is clear that two conditions must be fulfilled for the wicket to be deemed as broken – the LED lights will have to come on and later frames (in a TV replay) must show at least one bail coming off the stumps. In David Warner’s case, the lights did not come on, let alone a bail being dislodged from its perch, despite the ball striking the wickets quite hard.
“I am sure no team would like to see stuff like that when you actually bowl a good ball and then you don’t get the guy out,” India captain Virat Kohli said after the match. He was referring to Warner playing on Jasprit Bumrah but the bails neither lighting up nor getting dislodged. It was the fifth such time in a dozen games in the World Cup this year.
To be sure, from the early days, the smallest piece of equipment on the cricket field has played a significant role in determining whether a wicket has been broken or not. The bails may seem minuscule against the backdrop of the large cricket grounds, but they determine a batsman’s fate by either being dislodged or staying firmly in place.
HS Altham wrote in A History of Cricket (first published in 1926): “…But the boys downland (from Sussex) followed a different plan (to the Stool, as a tree stump was called). The normal entry into their hurdle sheep-pens took the form of a smaller hurdle, two uprights and movable cross-bar: the latter was called the ‘bail’ and the whole contrivance, the ‘wicket’…. The superiority of the sheep-pen wicket to the tree stump consisted simply in the fact that the dislodging of the bail left no room for argument as to whether the stump or the stumps had been hit or not.”
Now, with the bails, complete with their make-over, stubbornly sitting atop the stumps without compassion for the labouring bowler, the buzz has grown, with captains and commentators critical of the bails. India captain Virat Kohli and New Zealand all-rounder Jimmy Neesham, commentators Nasser Hussain, Michael Vaughan and Sanjay Manjrekar have been critical
The International Cricket Council (ICC) insists that the stumps have not changed in the last four years. “They have been used in all ICC events since the World Cup 2015. This means they’ve been used in more than 1000 games. This issue has always been part of the game, with the accepted concept being that it requires some force to disturb a batsman’s ‘castle’,” the ICC has said.
Has the groove on the three stumps been cut deeper to not let the bails come off when the ball makes contact with the wicket? Or are the bails heavier than their wooden predecessors? Back in January 2014, the makers of the LED bails admitted that their product was heavier than conventional wooden bails, but lighter than the heavier bails used in windy conditions.
If indeed, that is the case, the ICC must prevail upon the makers of the LED bails – a wonderful innovation that adds to the spectacle, excites the fans and makes it easy for the TV umpire to come to a decision on when the wicket was actually broken – to improvise on their product so that life of the bowlers does not become any more difficult than it already is.
Now, while that may or may not happen anytime soon, it is possible for the ICC to change the playing conditions. Of course, it is not as if this is the first series of instances of the bails not coming off after the cricket ball has hit the wicket.
There was a time in the Big Bash in 2014 when Tillekeratne Dilshan broke the stumps at the non-striker’s end with David Hussey out of the crease but after lighting up, the LED bails settled in the grooves on top of the stumps again. Back in the 2015 World Cup, Ireland’s left-hander Ed Joyce had the good fortune of having the off-bail resettling in its position after being dislodged by a yorker from Amjad Javed (United Arab Emirates) that hit the side of the off-stump.
And, while there is no guarantee that it will not happen again with any kind of bails, the time has come for ICC to specify the weight of the bails and the stumps so that the bowlers do not feel they are being denied a wicket when the ball hits the wicket, but the bails stay in place. If these are added to the specifications of the stump and bails (as laid down in Law 8 by the Marylebone Cricket Club) in ICC Playing Handbook, a lot of angst can be prevented.
It should be possible for ICC to bring in changes even during the World Cup after a meeting with the captains and team managers of the 10 competing sides. Considering that there have been five instances of the bails not lighting up and being dislodged, the captains and managers will readily accept any changes that promise better outcome for the bowlers.
Else, as Australian captain Aaron Finch said it would be unfortunate to see something like that happen in a World Cup semi-final or the final. “You’ve done the hard work as a bowler or a fielding side to set a player up or get the mistake and (for) it not (to) be rewarded (is unfortunate),” he said. Surely, the ICC can pay heed to such a clarion call.