When I was trawling through the archives at the British National Library, I came across the following note in The Field:
‘Recently a golfer was telling a cricketer the story of a dog which had picked up a moving ball and deposited it in the hole. The cricketer said: “I wonder how that would work in cricket. Suppose a ball cocked up by a batsman fell into the large mouth of a retreiver, who thereupon promptly transferred it into the hands of a fieldsman before it had touched the ground. Would the batsman be out?” No answer was forthcoming, but we imagine that the batsman would be given out if the fielding side cared to appeal’
The Field: The Country Gentleman’s Newspaper, Saturday 14 September, 1918, p. 252.
Given that I am a big fans of dogs on the cricket field, I decided that a certain answer to this was necessary. There are a few laws to consider, notably Laws 20 and 41.
Law 41 (The Fielder), s. 2 is the most important:
2. Fielding the ball
A fielder may field the ball with any part of his person, but if, while the ball is in play, he wilfully fields it otherwise,
(a) the ball shall immediately become dead.
and (b) the umpire shall,
(i) award 5 penalty runs to the batting side.
(ii) The penalty for a No ball or a Wide shall stand. Additionally, runs completed by the batsmen shall be credited to the batting side, together with the run in progress if the batsmen had already crossed at the instant of the offence.
(iii) inform the other umpire and the captain of the fielding side of the reason for this action.
(iv) inform the batsmen and, as soon as practicable, the captain of the batting side of what has occurred.
(c) The ball shall not count as one of the over.
(d) The umpires together shall report the occurrence as soon as possible after the match to the Executive of the fielding side and to any Governing Body responsible for the match, who shall take such action as is considered appropriate against the captain and the player or players concerned
The key phrase being wilfully fields it otherwise. The implication being here that if the fielder conspires with the dog to assist with the fielding, then the umpire can call the ball dead, rendering any catch moot. Basically, if you tell the dog to “drop” then it’s not out, but if there is no collusion between the fielder and the dog – if the ball just drops into the fielders hand from the dog’s mouth – then the ball can be considered live and a catch taken.
Additionally, if the fielder does say “drop” and the dog does not oblige, subsequent to Law 20 (Lost Ball), s. 1, the ball should be declared dead.
1. Fielder to call Lost ball
If a ball in play cannot be found or recovered, any fielder may call Lost ball. The ball shall then become dead. See Law 23.1 (Ball is dead). Law 18.12(b) (Batsman returning to wicket he has left) shall apply as from the instant of the call.
My reading is that in the scenario, so long as the fielder had made no attempt to get the dog to either catch or drop the ball, if the dog drops the ball on its own decision, and the fielder catches the ball before it hits the ground, then the batsman should be out.
However, we have rules and a final authority for a reason – to put an end to pub-based, dog fielding arguments. So I emailed the M.C.C. at Lord’s to get the official response. They appear to hold Law 3 (The Umpires) as the key law, especially s. 3 ss. a(IV):
3. Agreement with captains
Before the toss the umpires shall,
(a) ascertain the hours of play and agree with the captains,
(i) the balls to be used during the match. See Law 5 (The ball).
(ii) times and durations of intervals for meals and times for drinks intervals. See Law 15 (Intervals).
(iii) the boundary of the field of play and allowances for boundaries. See Law 19 (Boundaries).
(iv) any special conditions of play affecting the conduct of the match.
(b) inform the scorers of agreements in (ii), (iii) and (iv) above.
The interpretation being:
In a game where the chances of a dog entering the field of play is considered feasible, umpires will usually decide on what should happen in that instance before play begins (and would usually determine it to that a boundary has been scored).
So if the umpires foresee that dog will interrupt play before play starts, then they can decide that it will count as a boundary.
Personally, I see this as a potential exciting development for cricket, especially T20. I know the traditionalists don’t like it, but T20 is glitz and glamour and gimmicks. Dogs are incredibly popular – they have broad market appeal as the marketing execs would say. It is well within the rules for each team to nominate a dog at the beginning of play who would field while they were batting. If you manage to get it past the fielding team and into the mouth of the dog, then you get a boundary. The possibilities here are endless.
However, let’s say that the more likely event is that a dog just so happens to appear on the ground. And likely it is.
IPL2 Indians v Superkings.
India v England, 2nd Test, 2016.
Sri Lanka v South Africa, 1st Test, 2014.
Now, this is but a small sample size, and does suggest that this is mainly a subcontinental problem, but is evidence enough that this is an event that needs to be considered. Clearly these dogs were not expected at the beginning of the game, so the umpire cannot call it a boundary if these dogs were to assist in a catch. As per Law 19 (Boundaries), s. 1 ss. c:
(c) An obstacle or person within the field of play shall not be regarded as a boundary unless so decided by the umpires before the toss. See Law 3.4 (To inform captains and scorers).
In other words, if the dog catches the ball, then it is still in play. This invokes Law 23 (Dead Ball), s. 1 ss. b:
(b) The ball shall be considered to be dead when it is clear to the bowler’s end umpire that the fielding side and both batsmen at the wicket have ceased to regard it as in play.
But in our original scenario, the fielder is still attempting the catch, so an umpire correctly interpreting the laws must act on the basis that the fielder still considers it in play.
Which means the whole thing comes down to Law 42 (Fair and Unfair Play), s. 2:
2. Fair and unfair play – responsibility of umpires
The umpires shall be the sole judges of fair and unfair play. If either umpire considers an action, not covered by the Laws, to be unfair he shall intervene without appeal and, if the ball is in play, call and signal Dead ball and implement the procedure as set out in 18 below. Otherwise umpires shall not interfere with the progress of play without appeal except as required to do so by the Laws.
So in the end, it is up to the umpire. However, the M.C.C. have offered this guidance:
It is unlikely that a fielder could be adjudged, under Law 41, to have deliberately fielded the ball with use of the dog – that would be a phenomenal piece of dog-training well beyond expectations!
If the umpire were to adjudge that the ball were not dead, and chose not to call Dead ball, the catch could, theoretically, be taken. However, no umpire should let the situation escalate to that degree.
This implies that contrary to my initial reading of the rule, the fielder can indeed collude with the dog in the process of the catch, but that the official M.C.C. response is that it’s “just not cricket”.
Perhaps most disappointingly the M.C.C. have introduced a new rule, active as of October, 2017, altering Rule 20 (Lost Ball), by adding in a new section (s. 4), which will read as follows:
‘ Either umpire shall call and signal Dead ball when satisfied that the ball in play cannot be recovered’
Personally, I think that so long as the canine to fielder transfer is done quickly, then this law can not be used, as it would have to be called dead before the player has taken control of the ball.
Hopefully that clarifies this ambiguous situation. If a dog runs onto the field, takes a catch, and you take the ball from the dog, then legally the catch can be claimed, but the umpire has it within their power to consider it unfair play, and the M.C.C. believes that this is the decision the umpire should go with.
Myself, personally, I think it should all depend on the quality of the sport witnessed. Does it deserve to be a wicket? How good was the dog’s catch? How good was the player/dog interaction? If someone lobs an easy sitter to a pooch who then trots over to a fielder and gives them the ball, then I say not out. However, if a dog bolts from the back of the canteen, onto the field, knocks out a fielder taking a catch, and the fielder then manages to tackle the dog and get the ball from it quickly, then does that batsman really deserve that benefit of the doubt?