Jhe latest version of the Laws of Association Football is 26,868 words long. Although it faces variations for sevens and 10s, rugby union manages to meet its laws in 22,480. Including pitch and equipment specifications, 11-a-side hockey sticks 408 words. The latest playing rules from the Darts Regulatory Authority are just a third of that, coming in at 4,275 words. The part of the International Weightlifting Federation rules that is actually about lifting weights is a mere 1,325 words, clean and with minimal jerk evidence. And so on, to the World Rock Paper Scissors Association, which needs just 62 words to explain the intricacies of its game, with those involved perhaps having learned from bitter experience the potential ramifications of overusing the paper.
Every sport has its nuances, it’s just that some have more than others. Cricket, a sport in which a single match can last five whole days, has a little more to cover and, as updated last September, its regulations have finally run out after 34,602 words. Add the preface and indexes and the whole document reaches 37,827. Used wisely, these words are enough to create an entire world – CS Lewis only needed 594 more for The Lion, the Witch and the Magic Wardrobe. It’s almost exactly half as long as Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (but 52 times the length of the conversation between Potter and Oliver Wood that sets the rules of quidditch), and makes up 42% of The Handmaid’s Tale. Like those novels, it attempts to evoke its own fully realized alternate reality. But unlike them, no editor stepped in when the authors’ imaginations got a little carried away.
Over the years, cricketers, with their underarm bowling and foil bat-wielding ways, have tugged at every stray thread their rule-weavers left dangling, repeatedly forcing them to return to action to repair the damage. But we’ve now reached the point where pretty much everything imaginable is explicitly covered. Take, for example, subsection 4 of Law 19.5.1: “A defensive player is pinned out of bounds if any part of his person is in contact with another defender who is pinned down beyond bounds. out of bounds, if the referee considers that it was the intention of either defender that the contact should aid in the alignment of the ball.
This is the part of the Laws of Cricket that specifically deals with the possibility of a defender standing on another’s shoulders, or perhaps being tossed in the air like a gymnast from a human pyramid , while both are off the field of play, recovering the ball, and being brought back inside the rope before coming back down to earth and pretending to have taken a good hold. At one point, a committee met in one of the splendid paneled rooms of the Lord’s Pavilion to specifically discuss the possibility that a captain, with at least 12,000 square meters of grass to defend, would decide not to not just place two of their defenders on the outside. the entire field but also by choosing to put one above the other.
The image evoked by the next paragraph is even better. Here we learn that “a defensive player who is not in contact with the ground is considered down beyond the boundary if his final contact with the ground, before his first contact with the ball after it was thrown by the bowler, was not entirely inbounds.” This is where our brave team of legislators established whether a defensive player can catch the ball inbounds, return it in the air, catch him out of bounds, send him back in the air, repeat the process as many times as he fancy, and the batter is still out. Which they may very well, as long as, each time they’re in contact with the ball, they’re also in the air. As New Zealander Jimmy Neesham said when he first learned about this law a few years ago: “So I can endlessly jumping up and down in place over the boundary tapping the ball in the air until another defensive player rushes in you to me, then pat it on him? Well, that’s stupid.
These are potentially unique laws in all serious sports, as they are very specifically designed and worded to be as dumb as possible. And while the chances of the former being needed seem remote, last weekend in Australia’s Big Bash League, Brisbane Heat’s Michael Neser performed a boundary-straddling double-jump juggle to dismiss Jordan Silk and remind the world of the… absolute absurdity that is subsection five of Law 19.5.1.
Two days later, in the same meet, Tom Rogers was spared the non-attacking side – Mankaded, if you will – because the bowler’s arm had gone past the vertical before he turned to knock down the bails (law 38.3.1), a nuance that the bowler himself, 30-year-old Australian Adam Zampa, a veteran of 148 international matches, had until then totally ignored. Then on Friday in Karachi, Pakistan were 15 points from victory, one wicket from defeat and somehow less than 20 minutes from concluding a convincing test against New Zealand with a result, one of the two teams had spent five full days trying to achieve, when – and despite the presence of floodlights that allowed everyone involved to see clearly – the referees called it a draw because Elsewhere, it was getting a bit dark (Rule 12.9.2).
If anything could be seen even more clearly than the illuminated handshakes as the game ended unsatisfactorily, it was that, long as the Laws of Cricket were already, they remained very much unfinished. Perhaps this committee should speed up its return to its dusty, paneled room in St John’s Wood and, ideally, get a little more serious this time.