Cricket Laws 40.3(a), 40.4: An Examination of the Brendon McCullum Incident

The lap shot is very common in cricket these days.

Also common is the anticipating wicket-keeper moving towards leg slip in hope of catching the ball. But the law says it isn’t allowed.

Here, I take a look at one such incident involving Rahul Dravid and Brendon McCullum from a Test match earlier played in the year at Wellington, and discuss in accordance to cricket laws 40.3(a) and 40.4


In what transpired out to be the most stunning and controversial moment of the day.

McCullum, anticipating Dravid’s paddle sweep, moved to his left hoping to catch the ball in the afternoon of the 3rd Test in Wellington as you can see from the video below.

And when he did, only barely, leaving the bowler, batsman, commentary experts and viewers dumbfounded in what was a remarkable piece of anticipation, some were busy digging up the law book to seek if that was, indeed, fair!

Law 40.4: Movement by wicket-keeper

It is unfair if the wicket-keeper standing back makes a significant movement towards the wicket after the ball comes into play and before it reaches the striker. In the event of such unfair movement by the wicket-keeper, either umpire shall call and signal Dead ball. It will not be considered a significant movement if the wicket-keeper moves a few paces forward for a slower delivery.

So, was McCullum a genius or a cheat?

Argument: Cheat

One reading of law 40.4 for wicket-keeper will tell you that McCullum was wrong in moving (almost 4-5 feet down the leg-side) even while Dravid was shaping to go down on his right-knee to lap it through the vacant leg-slip.

The replays showed time-and-again that the moment Rahul even slightly indicated of playing the dingy lap, McCullum was pedaling frantically to his left to cover that shot and Taylor from the First Slip was moving to his left in case Rahul got a top edge, or even if Rahul missed the ball, he would be able to cover for a wicket-keeper not in his position.

 All said and done, according to the law, the ball was dead the moment McCullum started making significant movement down the leg even before Rahul had played his shot. Definitely, it was not a case of moving forward a few paces for a slower delivery!

Argument: Genius

There is this wonderful thing in sport, which more often than not separates the best from the rest. It is called anticipation. A batsman can anticipate a short ball and be ready on his back foot to play the shot. When you anticipate well, a batsman can make a quick bowler bowling 150 kmph look silly.

Similarly, a spin bowler who can anticipate a skip down the wicket from the batsman can make him look silly by even getting him stumped by bowling a wide down leg. It goes for fielders, either saving runs or taking catches. Legend has it that the likes of Eknath Solkar moved sideways with the advancing batsman at short-leg and silly-point so as to be ready to take bat-pads of the great spin bowlers of the 60s and 70s.

Unpredictability is what makes sport the ultimate spectacle it is, and when some can anticipate a sequence of play from an opponent, it makes him all the better prepared to tackle what is thrown at him. Like, in this case, McCullum predicted the lap shot, took the chance as his team was in dire need of wicket, and took the catch in a freak moment of genius.

Law 40.4 states that the ball was dead. There is another argument—aw 40.3(a) that states that such a movement be construed a No ball.

Law 40.3: The wicket-keeper shall remain wholly behind the wicket at the striker’s end from the moment the ball comes into play until –

(a) a ball delivered by the bowler
either (i) touches the bat or person of the striker
or (ii) passes the wicket at the striker’s end

or (b) the striker attempts a run.

In the event of the wicket-keeper contravening this Law, the umpire at the striker’s end shall call and signal No ball as soon as possible after the delivery of the ball.

In many cases the law is age-old and overlapping. Here is a case in point. You have the rule of No ball and Dead ball for the McCullum incident (not that you can’t, but why?). In any case, it is impossible for the umpire to determine the position of the wicket-keeper just about when a batsman is to play a shot. Also, it is only normal for wicket-keepers to shoot down the leg on a pre-planned leg-side stumping.


The cricket world hardly made any noise of this or did it call it unfair like it did with the Brad Haddin incident in Australia where he dislodged the bails before the ball hit the stumps. It goes to show the sheer freakish mode of the dismissal. We have seen Gilchrist try that time and again to do a McCullum inAdelaide in 2003-04 when Dravid scored more than 300 runs in that match, but only to come a cropper. Even if McCullum tried, it is highly improbable that he would pull off such a dismissal again in his career.

Many of the laws on the game belie common sense. This is just a case in point. All said and done, well done McCullum!


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  1. The first rule you mentioned
    The first rule you mentioned doesn’t apply because the keeper is not standing back.

    The second rule doesn’t apply because McCallum is behind the wicket at all times – even after taking the catch. (That rule is what Haddin inadvertently broke, and got away with in Aus earlier…)

    I think you’re “drawing a long bow” labelling this “an incident”.

  2. Thanks for your analysis, and
    Thanks for your analysis, and it seems by your point that it contradict one law or another. But hell, change the laws if you have to, because I do not see anything unfair so as for him to be called a cheat.

    Watch the vid at 1.22, and you’ll see he’s not yet moved. Only at 1.23 he starts him move, at which point Dravid is well and truly committed to the shot. So, I think it is fair for the keeper to move after seeing the batsman attempting a shot. It is not like coming up to the stumps without batsman knowing. This is a piece of brilliant work by McCullum, just like the stunner Angelo Mathews pulled in the T20 WC.

  3. Law 40.4 states
    Law 40.4 states “..significant movement TOWARDS the wicket..”, which would be in direct reference to keepers that stand back and then move up to the wicket. It doesn’t mention moving left or right, so I don’t think that law is relevant. Would it be illegal if he effectively changed fielding positions to leg-slip? I would say so, because a field change is not permitted when the ball is in play. I am inclined to go with the “great anticipation” vote.

  4. great analysis. Quite remarkable how McCullum did observe and changed the position. I do not think he is cheat. As for the game spirit it is batsman’s responsibility that he does not let keeper guess where he is going to hit.

  5. Law 40 (Wicket-keeper)

    Law 40 (Wicket-keeper)

    .3 Position of wicket-keeper

    The wicket-keeper shall remain wholly behind the wicket at the striker’s end from the moment the ball comes into play until

    (a) a ball delivered by the bowler,

    either (i) touches the bat or person of the striker,

    or (ii) passes the wicket at the striker’s end,

    or (b) the striker attempts a run.

    .4 Movement by wicket-keeper

    After the ball comes into play and before it reaches the striker, it is unfair if the wicket-keeper significantly alters his position in relation to the striker’s wicket, except for the following:

    (i) movement of a few paces forward for a slower delivery, unless in so doing it brings him within reach of the wicket.

    (ii) lateral movement in response to the direction in which the ball has been delivered.

    (iii) movement in response to the stroke that the striker is playing or that his actions suggest he intends to play. However, the provisions of Law 40.3 (Position of wicket-keeper) shall apply.

    You did state the laws, but you missed one crucial part. (44.4 – iii)
    If you read the laws carefully and understand the situation at hand, McCullum was well within his rights to do what he did. So your CASE is fine but the ARGUMENT and the VERDICT are inaccurate. 🙂


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