How legal was Adam Gilchrist’s “hidden ball”?

Two days after Adam Gilchrist‘s slaughter of the lambs in the finals of the 2007 World Cup, cricket’s fans and fanatics are still coming to terms with the onslaught that fetched 149 off just 103 balls and took the truncated game away from the Lankans even before they began their reply.But, how legal was the wicket-keeper’s innings?

And, as a direct corollary, therefore, how authentic is Australia’s ‘Cup triumph?

By Gilchrist’s own admission, he had “something” in his left glove all through his knock. In fact, upon reaching the century, Gilchrist first doffed his bat towards his teammates in the pavilion, acknowledged the applause of the spectators, and then kept repeatedly pointing to his left batting glove with his right hand.

“I had a little message, to wave to someone at home in Australia about something in my glove,” he is quoted as saying at the post-match media conference.

The intended recipient of that little message was his batting coach and former Western Australia player Bob Meuleman, also a noted squash player. Turns out that upon Meuleman ‘s advice, Gilchrist had been carrying a squash ball in his left, bottom hand to help him with his grip.

His (Bob’s) last words to me before I left the indoor training centre where I train with him in Perth were, ‘Well, if you are going to use it (squash ball), make sure when you score a hundred in the final you show me and prove to me you got it in there’. I had stayed true to that.”

That’s as clear a confirmation that Gilchrist had the squash ball in his left glove to help him with his grip during his stupendous knock. But that’s also where questions over the legality of Gilchrist’s innings, or the seeming lack of it, come in.

Can a batsman carry an object—in this case, a squash ball—not connected with cricket to help him on the field? Did he secure the prior permission of the umpires? Was the fielding side captain aware of the use of the squash ball? Did Mahela Jayawardene approve its use?

And, above all, and in a manner of speaking, did Gilchrist’s “hidden ball” give him an unfair advantage in knocking the daylights out of the Lankan bowlers?

These are hypothetical questions, of course, but cricket—a sport governed by mighty “Laws” not lowly rules—is always full of ifs and buts that leaves cricket haters plain mystified but keeps cricket lovers breathlessly debating the whys and wherefores till kingdom come.

Law 3 of cricket deals with the umpires. Subsection 6 of law 3 deals with the conduct of the game, implements and equipment. It reads as under:

Before the toss and during the match, the umpires shall satisfy themselves that

(a) the conduct of the game is strictly in accordance with the Laws.

(b) the implements of the game conform to the requirements of Laws 5 (the ball) and 6 (the bat), together with either Laws 8.2 (size of stumps) and 8.3 (the bails) or, if appropriate, Law 8.4 (junior cricket).

(c) (i) no player uses equipment other than that permitted.

(ii) the wicket-keeper’s gloves comply with the requirements of Law 40.2 (gloves).

The well-known Karnataka umpire M.R. Suresh, citing Tom Smith‘s New Cricket Umpiring and Scoring, the manual on the implementation of cricket’s laws that umpires use, says the list of permitted external items for a batsman are a helmet, leg guards (pads), hand gloves and, if visible, fore arm guards.

Spectacles and jewellery are classified under clothing items.

Gilchrist’s squash ball was, therefore, neither a piece of protective equipment, nor a clothing item, and was most certainly not visible to either side or the umpires.

In other words, Law 3 (6) (c) (i) specifically prohibits a player from using equipment other than that permitted. And nowhere in cricket’s 42 laws is there a mention of a squash ball as a permitted item.

If Dennis Lilee‘s aluminium bat and Ricky Ponting‘s graphite-coated bat could be deemed illegal, if Hansie Cronje‘s earpiece experiment was not OK, if Scott Styris had to remove all the bandage from his right hand before he could bowl in the Super 8 match, can Adam Gilchrist’s “hidden ball” pass muster?

No law can, of course, take the sheen away from Gilchrist’s knock. Batting with a normal grip against the world’s best bowlers is tough enough, batting with a squash ball in one of your gloves is worse. To score 149 scintillating runs is, well, incredible.

And, as a “walker“, Eric Gilchurch is among the fairest cricketers to have ever graced the field.

Still, two questions arise: if the using a squash ball isn’t OK as per the laws of the game, is his innings legal, does it count? And if it doesn’t count, can Australia claim to have won a hopelessly one-sided and farcical victory?

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(Many thanks to E.R. RAMACHANDRAN for pointing out the anomaly)

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Churumuri story on Yahoo, The Courier-Mail, The Sydney Morning Herald