The ICC has sought to explain why the umpires adjudged Steven Smith’s controversial catch to dismiss Fawad Alam to be legal in the third ODI between Pakistan and Australia in Abu Dhabi. According to the MCC’s Law 41.8, Smith’s movement from slip to leg slip was unfair, but the ICC has adapted this – after consultation with the MCC – for international cricket to allow fielders a degree of movement at the discretion of the umpires. This change to the playing conditions is a work in progress and was not common knowledge to people outside the administration of the game.
The incident occurred in the 18th over of Pakistan’s chase of 231. After Xavier Doherty delivered the ball and before Fawad made contact with his paddle sweep, Smith had moved from first slip towards leg slip to intercept the shot. When Fawad played the sweep, he would not have known there was going to be a catcher at leg slip. By the time the ball hit bat, Smith was almost past the wicketkeeper and was able to take a simple catch down the leg side. The umpires Richard Illingworth and Ahsan Raza discussed the catch with the third umpire Nigel Llong before giving Fawad out.
According to Law 41.7, which governs movement of fielders, “Any significant movement by any fielder after the ball comes into play, and before the ball reaches the striker, is unfair. In the event of such unfair movement, either umpire shall call and signal dead ball.” Law 41.8 defines significant movement for close catchers as: “For close fielders anything other than minor adjustments to stance or position in relation to the striker is significant.”
Smith’s movement could be declared unfair under those Laws but the ICC has relaxed the playing conditions, making significant fielder movement a subjective issue and leaving it open to interpretation.
In a press release a day after the match, the ICC said, “Given the recent trend of fielders moving in anticipation after a batsman had moved to play a shot, the ICC consulted with the MCC and advised the umpires to use the following interpretation: ‘As long as the movement of a close catching fielder is in response to the striker’s actions (the shot he/she is about to play or shaping to play), then movement is permitted before the ball reaches the striker. On the day, if umpires believe any form of significant movement is unfair (in an attempt to deceive the batsman), then the Law still applies.’ This interpretation was discussed during the Match Officials’ Workshop in Dubai in late September.”
When viewed in these terms, Smith’s movement before Fawad had the chance to play his shot was not deemed to be unfair by the umpires.