Why are Only 2 Fielders Allowed Behind Square Leg in Cricket?

Cricket, a sport deeply rooted in tradition, has witnessed significant rule changes over the years. One such evolution revolves around the restriction on the number of fielders allowed behind square leg, a rule that finds its origin in the controversial ‘Bodyline’ tactics employed during the 1932-33 Ashes Series between Australia and England.

‘Bodyline’ Emergence

The 1932-33 Ashes Series was marked by controversy and bitter rivalries that even strained political relations between Great Britain and Australia. Seeking a strategy to contain the prolific Don Bradman, English bowlers devised ‘Bodyline.’ This tactic involved placing most fielders on the leg-side and bowling aggressively at the batsmen’s bodies, cramping them for room and limiting their scoring options.

Unraveling ‘Bodyline’

Before ‘Bodyline,’ there were no restrictions on the number of fielders on the leg-side. England leveraged this freedom, creating discomfort for Bradman and other Australian batsmen. The tactic aimed to force batsmen into hitting the ball towards leg-side fielders, restricting their ability to score freely.

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Impact on the Ashes Series

‘Bodyline’ caused uproar, with incidents at Adelaide involving injuries to Bill Woodfull and Bert Oldfield. The series witnessed heated debates and tensions, but England secured victory, with Harold Larwood claiming 33 wickets at an average of 19.51. The ‘Bodyline’ series left a lasting impact, prompting MCC’s intervention.

MCC’s Decision

Following the ‘Bodyline’ series, MCC acknowledged the controversial tactic. During the subsequent English Summer, MCC stated that any direct attack by a bowler on the batsman would be against the spirit of the game. This decision led to the introduction of a rule stating that only two fielders would be allowed behind square leg on the leg-side.

Legacy of the Two-Fielder Restriction

The two-fielder restriction was implemented to prevent a recurrence of tactics like ‘Bodyline’ that compromised the safety and spirit of the game. It added strategic depth to field placements, striking a balance between bat and ball, and fostering an entertaining and competitive environment.

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The modern cricket rule limiting fielders behind square leg traces its roots back to the contentious ‘Bodyline’ series. This rule, introduced by MCC, reflects the commitment to preserving the integrity and spirit of cricket. Understanding the historical context of the two-fielder restriction enhances our appreciation of how cricket rules have evolved over time, shaping the game we cherish today.