The importance of drafting clear sports rules: analysing cricket’s ‘overthrow rule’ that decided the 2019 ODI World Cup

Published 19 November 2019 By: Andrew Moroney, Shiraz Khan

Cricket Player

With England and New Zealand having recently concluded yet another ‘winner-takes-all’ match by way of a dramatic “Super Over” (the second such occurrence in less than four months), it is hard not to cast one’s mind back to the exhilaratingly breathless conclusion to the 2019 Cricket World Cup. On that sunny July afternoon at Lords, the innocuous and rarely scrutinised Rule 19.8 of the ICC Men’s One Day International Playing Conditions1 (ODI Playing Conditions) regarding overthrows was suddenly thrust into the spotlight. In the context of highlighting the importance of clear drafting when it comes to sports rules, this article analyses the drafting of Rule 19.8 and concludes with the authors’ view on whether the umpires made the correct call at the climax of (arguably) the highest profile competition in international cricket.


What happened?

The fourth ball of the final over in England’s innings was bowled by Trent Boult. Ben Stokes was at the striker’s end and Adil Rashid at the non-striker’s end.

Ben Stokes drove the ball to mid-wicket. Martin Guptill fielded the ball and threw it back to the wicket keeper’s end. As Ben Stokes was returning to complete the second run, he dived to reach the crease and the ball thrown by Martin Guptill deflected off his bat to the third man boundary. TV replays showed that Ben Stokes and Adil Rashid had not crossed for the second run at the time Martin Guptill threw the ball.

After a long consultation with the square leg umpire and other officials, umpire Kumar Dharmasena awarded England six runs2, which was the total of the two runs the batsmen had run plus four runs for the boundary.

What does Rule 19.8 say?

Rule 19.8 – “overthrow or wilful act of fielder” - states:

“If the boundary results from an overthrow or from the wilful act of a fielder, the runs scored shall be: 

– (i) any runs for penalties awarded to either side
– (ii) and the allowance for the boundary
– (iii) and the runs completed by the batsmen, together with the run in progress if they had already crossed at the instant of the throw or act."3

Why was this important?

The key question was whether under Rule 19.8 the umpires correctly awarded England six runs, or whether the umpires should have only awarded five runs.

The extra run proved to be crucial in the context of the game because the match was tied, which resulted in a Super Over that also resulted in a tie. England (somewhat arbitrarily, see further below) were crowned the World Cup Champions by virtue of boundary countback throughout the match.

International media speculated, and respected former ICC umpires gave their view, many of whom thought that the umpires officiating the match had erred and England should have only been awarded five runs4 under Rule 19.8, being four runs for the boundary plus one run for the first single the batsmen ran. The basis for this view was that Ben Stokes and Adil Rashid had not “crossed” for the second run at the time the ball was released by Martin Guptill and so the second run should not have been awarded pursuant to Rule 19.8.

Indeed, following the match, Kumar Dharmasena conceded that he had made a mistake5 as he did not have the benefit of TV replays to show that the batsmen had not “crossed” for the second run at the time the ball was released by Martin Guptill.

Other commentators focussed on how “act” under Rule 19.8 was not clearly defined and so it was possible that the deflection off Ben Stokes’ bat could be regarded as the relevant “act”. Exponents of the “five runs view”, however, argued that the “act” was the overthrow itself, which occurred when the ball was released by Martin Guptill6.

Analysis of Rule 19.8

In terms of Rule 19.8, the question of penalties under 19.8(i) was not relevant and there was a consensus that England were entitled to a boundary under 19.8(ii) above. Therefore, for the purpose of this article, our analysis is limited to 19.8(iii), being the relevant part of the Rule in this context.

As noted above, the key point for exponents of the “five runs view” was that the batsmen had not “crossed” for the second run when Martin Guptill released the ball and so the second run should not have been awarded. However, on closer analysis of the wording of the Rule, there is a clear distinction under 19.8(iii) between “runs completed” and a “run in progress”. Furthermore, due to the placement of the comma after the word “batsmen” and before the word “together”, it appears that the requirement for the batsmen to have crossed at the instant of the throw or act only applies to a “run in progress” and not “runs completed”. If the draftsman’s intention was for the requirement to “cross” to apply to “runs completed” as well, the comma should have been placed after “progress” rather than after “batsmen” as follows:

the runs completed by the batsmen together with the run in progress, if they had already crossed at the instant of the throw or act.

Alternatively, in order to achieve the interpretation that the batsmen are required to “cross” in the case of a completed run, additional words would need to be inserted into (iii) (emphasised in bold below) as follows:

the runs completed by the batsmen if they had already crossed at the instant of the throw or act, together with the run in progress if they had already crossed at the instant of the throw or act.

It is also important to note when interpreting Rule 19.8 that there is another provision in the ODI Playing Conditions where no comma appears despite the same formulation of words being used. Rule 19.7.3 reads as follows:

 “When a boundary is scored, the batting side, except in the circumstances of clause 19.8, shall be awarded whichever is the greater of: the allowance for the boundary the runs completed by the batsmen together with the run in progress if they had already crossed at the instant the boundary is scored.”7

In the absence of a comma, it is arguable that the condition of crossing applies to both “runs completed” and a “run in progress”. This formulation of Rule 19.7.3 also suggests that the use of the comma in Rule 19.8 was a deliberate inclusion by the draftsman, so that the condition of the batsmen “crossing” only applies to the event after the comma (i.e. the “run in progress” only).

Alternatively, it could be that either Rule 19.7.3 or Rule 19.8 was simply drafted sloppily, which has resulted in inconsistency between similar rules and an imperfect status quo that does not aid interpretation. Either way, the ICC and MCC8 may wish to take steps to clear up such ambiguity.


In the authors’ view, many commentators have approached this issue from the wrong starting point, by narrowly focussing on the requirement for batsmen to have crossed at the instant of the throw or act and incorrectly classifying the second run as a “run in progress”. Rule 19.8 does not define a “run in progress”, nor does it state that a run is a “run in progress” if the batsmen have not crossed at the time of the throw. Rather, it simply states that no run will be awarded for a “run in progress” if the batsmen have not crossed at the time of the throw.

In the authors’ view, England’s second run was a completed run rather than a “run in progress” under Rule 19.8 on the basis that the second run was completed whilst the ball was in play (as the ball only became dead when the ball reached the boundary9, by which time the second run had been completed). The requirement of “crossing” at the time of the throw is therefore irrelevant in this context, as it only applies to a “run in progress” rather than “runs completed”.

Accordingly, in the authors’ opinion (albeit it is accepted that both of the authors are shameless England fans…) England were correctly awarded six runs on the basis that the batsmen had completed two runs while the ball was in play and for “runs completed” there is no requirement that they must have crossed at the time of the throw. England were therefore entitled to four runs for the boundary plus two runs for the “runs completed”. The match umpires therefore (seemingly unintentionally) made the correct call.

In order to achieve the interpretation favoured by many respected commentators and former umpires (i.e. that batsmen are required to “cross” at the time of the throw for a completed run), Rule 19.8 should, in our view, be amended so that either the positioning of the comma is changed or additional words are inserted. If such changes are necessary to clear up any ambiguity (which in our view, they are), this further reinforces the view that the ‘five run’ interpretation of Rule 19.8 is not sustainable as Rule 19.8 is currently drafted.

In October 2019, the ICC made two interesting announcements in relation to the ODI Playing Conditions following a meeting of their Chief Executive’s Committee10.

  • Firstly, they endorsed the Super Over as an exciting and engaging way to conclude ODI and T20 World Cup matches, which is likely to be met with widespread approval (except perhaps by New Zealand fans and players).

  • Secondly, they confirmed that the Super Over will be re-run until a team emerges as the clear winner, rather than being decided by way of boundary countback during the match in the event of a tie. Again, this is likely to be widely popular, not least because it allows for the prospect of multiple nerve-jangling Super Overs in a single match.

Rule 19.8, however remains untouched, despite expectations that it would be amended following consideration by the MCC’s World Cricket Committee and Laws Sub-Committee11. In the authors’ view, this is a missed opportunity. Making minor amendments to address the ambiguity of Rule 19.8 (either in the ways suggested above, or otherwise) would have prevented technical arguments about its interpretation from stealing the limelight from the sporting spectacle in future.

All of which sends a cautionary note to regulatory draftsmen the world over to take extra care when drafting each and every rule, as sport has an uncanny habit of throwing up situations where the most obscure of rules (hands up if you knew what a Super Over was before the 2019 World Cup Final?) all of a sudden take centre stage in front of a global audience of hundreds of millions.

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Andrew Moroney

Andrew Moroney


Andrew is an Associate in Al Tamimi & Company’s Sports Law & Events Management Practice. He has a wide array of experience advising clients in the sports and events sector on sponsorship; broadcasting; merchandising; ticketing; player contracts; intermediary issues; athlete endorsement; disciplinary issues; regulatory matters and disputes. He regularly advises corporate entities, governing bodies, individuals and international law firms on matters spanning football, cycling, horseracing, motorsports, golf and tennis. Andrew also has a particular interest in the growing eSports industry.

Before joining Al Tamimi, Andrew was Legal Counsel at the (English) Football Association, primarily focussed on regulatory matters, dispute resolution and risk management. Highlights included re-drafting the FA Rulebook, acting as the Secretariat for the FA Rule K arbitration process and handling a number of cases heard by the UEFA Disciplinary Committee, the FIFA Disciplinary Committee and the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

Prior to that, Andrew trained and qualified at a large European law firm in London, where he gained further experience advising football, rugby, horseracing and boxing clients on regulatory, corruption and anti-doping matters. Andrew also spent six months working on the landmark inquests into the Hillsborough stadium disaster.

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Shiraz Khan

Shiraz Khan

Head of Taxation, Al Tamimi
Shiraz Khan is the Head of Tax and leads Al Tamimi’s tax practice in the region.

Shiraz is a UK qualified lawyer with over 15 years of international tax experience.  Prior to joining Al Tamimi, he was the global head of tax at a leading multinational where he was responsible for the tax affairs in over 100 countries.  He has also worked for a top international law firm in the UK and big 4 firms in both the UK and the Middle East.

Shiraz specialises in advising on international tax structuring and tax aspects of cross border M&A, private equity, structured finance, Islamic finance and real estate transactions. He has in-depth knowledge and expertise across all taxes including corporate tax, withholding taxes and VAT in a wide range of industry sectors.  He has particular expertise in advising multinational corporations on structuring their investments and operations into the region and financial institutions, sovereign wealth funds, real estate investment companies, family offices and private equity groups based in the region on their international investments.

Shiraz regularly speaks at conferences and seminars on international tax issues and has been involved in advising governments on the drafting of tax laws.
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