Second Test: did Afghanistan over step the mark as well as the boundary rope?

A fielder “waving the ball through” to the boundary is certainly not unusual, at least not in village cricket and the lower reaches of the club game. What bowler at that level hasn’t watched on in impotent rage as a portly team-mate turns to run after the ball as if wearing diving boots rather than cricket boots.

It’s not something you’d expect to see in Test cricket of the modern era, though. The days of the lazy bowler’s outstretched foot has long faded into history. FS Trueman might have done it; in his later days, WG couldn’t have bent down to stop such shots even if he wanted to, let alone plod after them.

However, when it is done as a calculated tactic, then issues of Laws and sportsmanship come into play. Such was the case in Abu Dhabi today as Afghanistan were penalised by the umpires after falling foul of Law 19.8 in an attempt to keep Zimbabwe tailender Blessing Muzarabani on strike.

Afghanistan, having racked up a whopping 545 for four in the first innings, were looking to take the last two wickets quickly in order to enforce the follow-on. On the last ball of the 91st over, with Sikander Raza on strike on unbeaten on 79 and Zimbabwe eight wickets down, Afghanistan clearly wanted to bowl Muzarabani. Sayed Shirzad bowled a wide yorker, but the Zimbabwean managed to squeeze the ball out behind point. The shot seemed set to go for a boundary, only to stop just short of the rope, allowing Raza to complete the single and retain strike.

At least, that’s how it seemed. However, boundary rider Shahidullah, in an apparently deliberate attempt to concede a boundary to keep Raza off strike, stepped across the rope just before fielding the ball. However, he had failed to take into account Law 19.8, which concerns “overthrow or wilful act of fielder”.

It states: “If the boundary results from an overthrow or from the wilful act of a fielder, the runs scored shall be any runs for penalties awarded to either side and the allowance for the boundary the runs completed by the batsmen, together with the run in progress if they had already crossed at the instant of the throw or act.”

It also states that Law 18.12.2, which deals with the “batsman returning to wicket he/she has left” shall apply “as from the instant of the throw or act”, meaning Raza was allowed to retain the strike in any case, due to his having completed the single before Shahidullah stepped across the rope in an attempt to concede four.

Zimbabwe were therefore awarded five runs, with Raza taking strike for the next over.

It mattered little in the end, with Zimbabwe succumbing three balls later as Muzarabani was run out and the set batsman then holed out from the third ball of that same over.

Did Afghanistan overstep the mark of sportsmanship, or was this a legitimate tactic – one that is no worse than “declaration bowling” to set up a contest and a possible result. Possibly a moot point as events transpired, but the slightly devious manner of the execution and the calculated nature of the subterfuge is unlikely to sit comfortably for the more traditional cricket fan.