When is a wide actually a wide in a test match?
That question boiled to the surface on the final day of the first test between the Black Caps and Sri Lanka at Christchurch’s Hagley Oval on Monday, won by New Zealand on the final ball of the match.
Sri Lanka left-arm spinner Prabath Jayasuriya was warned by umpire Chris Gaffaney for bowling wide of leg stump with his second delivery of the 38th over in New Zealand’s second innings.
Jayasuriya continued to send the ball too far down the leg side throughout the over, bowling to Daryl Mitchell, and was called for three wides.
At the end of the over, Sri Lanka were clearly unhappy with wides being called. Veteran Angelo Mathews could be heard speaking to Gaffaney and questioned why the seamers hadn’t been called for legside deliveries throughout the match.
Speaking after the match, captain Dimuth Karunaratne said the team asked for clarity why spinner Jayasuriya had been targeted by the umpires, yet the seamers from both teams hadn’t.
“We just wanted to check when the fast bowlers are bowling with the 7-2 field, even the leg side 6-3 field, they didn’t call a wide, so that’s why I’m asking why the same thing that Jayasuriya was doing – because there was nothing in the good area for Jayasuriya,” he said.
“There’s a rough on the leg side, so we were just trying to get the maximum out of it and that’s not negative bowling.”
“We’ll discuss later,” Gaffaney could be heard saying with Mathews replying: “Has to be fair by the seamers and spinners both, I reckon.”
Karunaratne also had a lengthy chat to Gaffaney once Jayasuriya finally completed his over.
The MCC Laws of Cricket state under law 22.1.4, “For bowlers whom umpires consider to be bowling down the leg side as a negative tactic, the strict limited over Wide interpretation shall be applied” – which indicated Gaffaney was correct to call a wide delivery.
The discussion around what is exactly considered a wide caused debate in the Spark Sport commentary booth between former New Zealand internationals Mark Richardson and Stephen Fleming.
Richardson argued there were no bowling or fielding restrictions in a test match and the deliveries could have been hit, if the batter wanted to. Bowlers were permitted to bowl differently than one-day and T20 matches with fewer regulations around what they could do.
“I don’t like it because this is not a one-day game, it’s a test match,” he said.
Fleming took the opposite side of the argument and believed Gaffaney was right to call the wides.
“Nah disagree. It’s there to protect. It is there to protect the integrity of the game. You get down to two overs and 12 runs are needed and you can bowl two feet wide of leg stump in a negative way and not get penalised.”
Wide or no wide, Jayasuriya adjusted his bowling and wasn’t called for any further wides during his next seven overs.
But the calls had a pivotal role in the outcome of the test.