The Violent 400-year History of Hitting the Ball Twice

by Devanshu Mehta

Facing the first ball after tea, Tilakaratne Dilshan almost played the ball on to his stumps, but avoided getting out by hitting the ball a second time, away from the stumps. Law #34 of the laws of cricket states that you can only hit the ball twice if you intend to protect your wicket. If you intend to score runs from the second hit, you’re out. Which sounds kind of counter-intuitive, but there’s a reason.

Turns out that cricket has a violent 400-year history that involves people getting killed because some idiot took the opportunity to hit the ball once to set up a second monster hit for six. From Wikipedia:

In 1622, several parishioners of Boxgrove, near Chichester in West Sussex, were prosecuted for playing cricket in a churchyard on Sunday 5 May. There were three reasons for the prosecution: one was that it contravened a local bye-law; another reflected concern about church windows which may or may not have been broken; the third was that “a little childe had like to have her braines beaten out with a cricket batt”! The latter situation was because the rules at the time allowed the batsman to hit the ball more than once and so fielding near the batsman was very hazardous[.]

Also:

In 1624, a fatality occurred at Horsted Keynes in East Sussex when a fielder called Jasper Vinall was struck on the head by the batsman, Edward Tye, who was trying to hit the ball a second time to avoid being caught. Mr Vinall is thus the earliest known cricketing fatality. The matter was recorded in a coroner’s court, which returned a verdict of misadventure.

In 1647, another fatality was recorded at Selsey, West Sussex, when a fielder called Henry Brand was hit on the head by a batsman trying to hit the ball a second time.

Jasper Vinall is officially known as the first man to be killed by cricket. To be a close in fielder in 17th century (East or West) Sussex was as good as a death warrant, it turns out.

In the case of Dilshan, there was an added twist to the tale. He was caught off his second hit and the fielder appealed. Of course, you can’t be caught out off the second hit. This is the kind of detail about cricket that makes me smile.

Think about it:

  • When Dilshan hit the ball the first time, he was almost out bowled.
  • He hit the ball a second time, and was not out.
  • But if he then set off for a run, showing intent to score off the second hit, he would be ruled out.
  • He was caught, but since it was off the second hit, he was not out.
And people wonder why I love cricket.
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