Leg before wicket

Leg before wicket (lbw) is one of the ways in which a batsman can be dismissed in the sport of cricket. Following an appeal by the fielding side, the umpire may rule a batter out lbw if the ball would have struck the wicket but was instead intercepted by any part of the batter's body (except the hand holding the bat). The umpire's decision will depend on a number of criteria, including where the ball pitched, whether the ball hit in line with the wickets, the ball's expected future trajectory after hitting the batsman, and whether the batter was attempting to hit the ball.

Drawing of a batsman hit on the pads by the ball. The wicketkeeper is about to appeal.
A 1904 illustration from the Badminton Library's Cricket, showing a batter who is leg before wicket. The original caption was "A clear case" [of lbw].

Leg before wicket first appeared in the laws of cricket in 1774, as batsmen began to use their pads to prevent the ball from hitting their wicket. Over several years, refinements were made to clarify where the ball should pitch and to remove the element of interpreting the batsman's intentions. The 1839 version of the law used a wording that remained in place for nearly 100 years. However, starting in the latter part of the 19th century, batsmen became increasingly expert at "pad-play" to reduce the risk of their dismissal. Following a number of failed proposals for reform, in 1935 the law was expanded, such that batsmen could be dismissed lbw even if the ball pitched outside the line of off stump. Critics felt this change made the game unattractive as it encouraged negative tactics at the expense of leg spin bowling.

After considerable debate and various experiments, the law was changed again in 1972. In an attempt to reduce pad-play, the new version, which is still in use, allowed batters to be out lbw in some circumstances if they did not attempt to hit the ball with their bat. Since the 1990s, the availability of television replays and, later, ball-tracking technology to assist umpires has increased the percentage of lbws in major matches. However, the accuracy of the technology and the consequences of its use remain controversial.

In his 1995 survey of cricket laws, Gerald Brodribb states: "No dismissal has produced so much argument as lbw; it has caused trouble from its earliest days".[1] Owing to its complexity, the law is widely misunderstood among the general public and has proven controversial among spectators, administrators and commentators; lbw decisions have sometimes caused crowd trouble. Since the law's introduction, the proportion of lbw dismissals has risen steadily through the years.[2]

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