Extras in cricket, what are they all about?

There was something particularly bruising, at Trent Bridge in 2001, about the delivery of a no ball sealing the outcome of the Ashes series against Australia. Andrew Caddick was the culprit, although in truth he merely applied a marginal tweak to Australia’s already rampant domination of that series. It was barely halfway through, yet Australia had outplayed England so convincingly that they were doing a lap of honour with the crystal urn on the third afternoon of the third Test.

It is quite rare, though, for an extra to be such a high-profile catalyst. Generally they are merely irritants to the bowler, wicket-keeper or fielder, while for the batsman they are a small but welcome boost to the running total. Of the four types of extra (byes, leg byes, wides and no balls), it is the last that takes up by far the most space in the laws of the game.

There are all sorts of reasons for calling a no ball, the most straightforward of which is if the batsman changes his mode of delivery (right arm to left, or over the wicket to round) without warning the umpire. And no repeat is now possible of the grubber bowled by Australia’s Trevor Chappell at Melbourne in 1981, on the instructions of his captain and brother Greg, to Brian McKechnie, who was denied the chance to hit the last ball of the match for the six runs New Zealand needed for victory. McKechnie threw his bat away in disgust; underarm bowling is no longer permitted except by special agreement before the match.

The most sensitive section in the no ball law relates to throwing (dealt with in greater depth under T). By far the most common cause, though, is the bowler overstepping. As Law 24 (5) states: ‘For a delivery to be fair in respect of the feet, in the delivery stride (i) the bowler’s back foot must land thin and not touching the return crease. (ii) the bowlers front foot must land with some part of the foot, whether grounded or raised, behind the popping crease.’ Bob Willis and Derek Pringle were both regular offenders of the modern era; television viewers may recall Jim Laker’s lugubrious “yet another no ball!” as the Essex allrounder overstepped once more.

Other reasons for calling no ball crop up less frequently, for example, if the ball comes to rest in front of the line of the striker’s wicket, without having touched him or his bat. Or if other laws have been broken, relating to the positions of the wicket-keeper or fielders, or dangerous and unfair bowling. Whatever the cause, an extra ball will be added to the over, and the batsman cannot be dismissed unless he is run out or, massively less likely, handles the ball, hits it twice or obstructs the field.

One of the acid tests of a wicket-keeper’s competence is the number of byes he concedes. Returning to the laws: ‘If the ball, not being a No ball or a Wide, passes the striker without touching his bat or person, any runs completed by the batsmen or a boundary allowance shall be credited as Byes to the batting side.’

One of the great cricket stories concerns the fine Kent wicket-keeper WHV “Hopper” Levett, who found it rather difficult even to get on to the field one morning after a good night out. Legend has it that the first ball flashed past his left ear for four byes, and the second past his right with the same result. From the next delivery the batsman attempted a leg glance, and the diving Levett took a superlative catch. He got up, dusted himself down and said: “Not bad eh, lads, for the first ball of the day?”

Many is the time that a wicket-keeper has felt personally affronted as byes are signalled when in his view, the ball would more appropriately have been called wide. If, however, the ball touches the batsman while he is attempting a stroke or trying to avoid it, it becomes a leg bye and the keeper, in scorebook at least, is exonerated. Law 26 (2) states: “If a ball delivered by the bowler first strikes the person of the striker, runs shall be scored only if the umpire is satisfied that the striker has either (i) attempted to play the ball with his bat, or (ii) tried to avoid being hit by the ball.” If he is not satisfied on either of these counts, no Leg bye can be scored.

Like a no ball, a wide counts against the bowler and results in an extra ball having to be bowled in the over. A profusion of wides, unlike no balls, can offer quite a comical aspect to the observer, although in the mind of the bowler (and his captain) they will be anything but amusing. The much adjusted radar of Devon Malcolm has been a feature of recent years, and who would have been in Stephen Harmison’s shoes in Australia in 2002, when the Durham paceman bowled seven wides in a row, and eight in an over, in a warm-up match at Lilac Hill?

Law 25 (1) states: ‘If the bowler bowls a ball, not being a No ball, the umpire shall adjudge it a Wide if, according to the definition in (b) below, in his opinion the ball passes wide of the striker where he is standing and would also have passed wide of him standing in a normal guard position. (b) The ball will be considered as passing wide of the striker unless it is sufficiently within his reach for him to be able to hit it with his bat by means of a normal cricket stroke., Interpretation of a wide in one day cricket is much stricter than in the longer version, but either way the outcome is expensive for the bowler, as any resulting runs also go down as wides.

Two examples, finally, of the frustration extras can cause to the fielding side. In 1926, Tommy Andrews scored 164 for the Australians against Middlesex at Lord’s. He was caught off a no ball three times during the innings. And spare a thought for Gloucestershire’s Charlie Parker, who would have taken five wickets in five balls, all of them bowled, during his benefit match against Yorkshire at Bristol in 1922. Unfortunately his second delivery was a no ball.