Dermot Reeve throws his bat and prompts a rule change

Dermot Reeve…threw his bat 15 times in the course of his 89-ball innings © Getty Images

May 16, 1996. Start of the county game between Warwickshire and Hampshire that saw some bizarre tactics on the final day. Arunabha Sengupta looks back at the ploy of throwing the bat used by Dermot Reeve which resulted in a rule change.

Many a times cricket has been graced — or blotted, if one is a puritan — by characters who have stretched and twisted the existing rules to the extreme, looking for curious loopholes to sneak in a victory or escape with a draw.
 
Some of these borderline tactics have later been adapted into the game and some have been restricted with the lines of law drawn tighter. Almost all have been striking, innovative while quite a few have been questioned when cast against the pristine white of the supposed spirit of the game.
 
While once-strange innovations such as overhand bowling and leg-side strokes have become defining elements of the game, administrators have had to step in to quite often to change the laws and prevent practices that bordered on the questionable. They did it way back in 1771 when Thomas White walked in with a bat as broad as the stumps, in 1909 when Warwick Armstrong sent down fifteen minutes of warm up deliveries on a practice pitch while debutant Frank Woolley waited in trepidation to face his first ball in Test cricket, in the early thirties when Douglas Jardine used Harold Larwood and leg-theory to endanger the lives of Australian batsmen.
 
Even in the modern era, they have had to react when Mike Brearley placed all his fielders — including wicketkeeper David Bairstow — on the boundary line to prevent West Indies from getting a boundary off the final ball, and again when he planted a helmet at short-midwicket inviting the batsman to hit against the turn and earn five penalty runs. They had to do tinker with the rules yet again when Trevor Chappell bowled that infamous under-arm delivery, and furthermore when Dennis Lillee went to the crease armed with an aluminium bat.
 
As recently as this year, a rule change was brought about after Steve Finn regularly knocked down the non-striker’s bails in his delivery stride, prompting Graeme Smith to complain that he was getting distracted. As a result, from April 30, 2013, if a bowler disturbs the wicket at his end while bowling, it is considered a no-ball.
 
However, seldom has the tactical ploy been as bizarre as the one resorted to by Warwickshire captain Dermot Reeve during their 1996 home match against Hampshire at Edgbaston.

 
No bat no catch
 
Some fine bowling by long-serving Hampshire fast-medium bowler Cardigan Connor ensured a sizeable first innings lead for the visitors. Left-handed all-rounder Kevan James then slammed a hundred to enable skipper Robin Smith declare the second innings late on the third afternoon, leaving Warwickshire to bat out the final day.
 
Winston Benjamin captured a couple of wickets early in the day, but some stodgy batting by Nick Knight and Trevor Penney took the hosts to lunch with just two wickets down. Soon after the break, things looked brighter for Warwickshire as Benjamin walked off with a damaged shoulder after just two balls. This brought forth some cheers from the crowd as coach Malcolm Marshall stepped into the ground as substitute.
 
However, by the seventh over after lunch, the hosts had slumped to 111 for four. Raj Maru, the left-arm spinner from Kenya, was bowling into the boot-marks from over the wicket and had snared Shaun Pollock. Reeve walked in to bat with almost two sessions remaining. The prospect of three points for a draw, a new incentive in the county rules, was definitely playing in the back of his mind. He dug in and played for survival, taking as many as 11 overs to score his first run.
 
Maru kept bowling the left-arm line into the rough, and Reeve padded away almost every ball that pitched outside leg stump.  A standard tactic of the modern game. However, he added his own twist to this technique by throwing his bat away every time he stretched his left leg out. His sole purpose was to avoid dismissal through deflection from pad to bat or glove.
 
It was apparent that Reeve had spent a good amount of time reading Law 32: “If a ball hits the bat or the hand holding the bat and is then caught by the opposition within the field of play before the ball bounces, then the batsman is out.” Hence, if one is caught off a glove not holding the bat, he cannot be given out.
By his own admission, however, the ploy was not his original idea but that of Middlesex spinner John Emburey. He recalled: “I saw John do it some years ago against Norman Gifford after he had almost been caught off the glove. The next ball he simply dropped the bat. I’ve seen too many batsmen out because the ball has bounced off the pad onto the bat or glove, and if you drop the bat that cannot happen.”
 
This finally forced Maru to briefly bowl from round the wicket, and Reeve took this opportunity to hit his only boundary in the 92 minute innings. Maru switched to over the wicket again for his next over and Reeve played it by thrusting out his left leg and throwing the bat towards point four times in the six balls.
 
In all, Reeve threw his bat 15 times in the course of his 89-ball innings. He was at the wicket for one and a half hour. Finally, he did fall to a left-armer bowling over the wicket — but it was the medium-pace of Kevan James. Reeve tried a push to the leg and the snick was held by Adrian Aymes standing up at the wicket. The occasions on which he did keep his hold on the bat and made connection with the ball saw him notch up 22 runs.
 

What followed
 
Penney missed an attempted pull to a straight ball from Cardigan Connor, and the final Warwickshire resistance fell away. It did not take long for Hampshire to mop things up and finish with a 122 run win.
 
The tactics of Reeve were put under the microscope and the laws were modified. The umpires were advised to give the batsman out for obstructing the field, as throwing the bat carried with it the potential danger of decapitating a close in fielder.

(Arunabha Sengupta is a cricket historian and Chief Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He writes about the history and the romance of the game, punctuated often by opinions about modern day cricket, while his post-graduate degree in statistics peeps through in occasional analytical pieces. The author of three novels, he can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/senantix)