What is a Dead Ball in Cricket? Law Meaning Explained

It’s one of the less common umpiring signals in cricket but what do we mean when we talk about a dead ball?

What is a Dead Ball in Cricket?

A dead ball in cricket confirms that the ball is no longer in play. The most obvious case is at the end of an over when the ball has been returned to the wicket keeper and the teams start to prepare for the next set of deliveries.

There are, however, other instances where the ball can become dead and the umpire will need to signal these. The ball is ‘dead: i.e. not in play until the bowler sends down the next delivery.

What Happens When the Ball is Dead?

When a ball is declared dead, the game is effectively paused, Nothing can happen from this point so no runs can be scored and no dismissals can take place.

Play will take a break, either for a change of overs, the fall of a wicket, or a scheduled interval such as lunch or tea.

There are lots of examples of this and we see many dead balls called during the course of a game. The ball subsequently becomes live when the bowler starts his or her run up for the next delivery.

Glenn-Maxwell-dead-ball
Glenn Maxwell, Dead Ball (Getty)

When Does the Ball Become Dead?

The most common occurrence of a ball becoming dead is at the end of the over. It’s down to the umpire’s discretion as to when this might be but the over is usually complete when the ball has been returned to either the wicket keeper or the bowler and the batsmen are not looking to attempt a run.

The umpire should clearly call ‘over’ to ensure that there is no doubt.

The ball also becomes dead when a wicket falls and play pauses until the new batsman is ready and the bowler starts to run in for the next delivery. There is no need for the umpire to signal a dead ball but he or she should call ‘over’ if this is the final ball.

There are other, less frequent cases where a dead ball can be called and these can relate to the bowler not being able to complete a delivery. On occasions, a bowler can lose their run up or be distracted in some other way. Instances such as these result in a dead ball and the umpire must confirm this with the appropriate signal.

Similarly, a batsman can pull away from their crease if they are not ready to receive the ball. This will usually happen when a spectator or steward moves in front of the sightscreen, behind the bowler, as they are running in.

Once again, this should be considered as a dead ball and the umpire must signal accordingly. The signal requires the official to cross their hands in front of them while calling ‘dead ball’ at the same time.

In this video, you can see Aaron Finch start to pull away as the bowler – Bhuvneshwar Kumar – delivers the ball. In this case, the batsman moves because he is confused by the bowler delivering from way back behind the crease.

It’s a rare, but good example of a dead ball and the brief video just shows the umpire making the appropriate signal.

Controversy Over Umpiring Decisions

We’ve mentioned about umpire’s discretion but this kind of ‘grey area’ has led to some confusion in the past. Memorable occasions where play has continued after certain players thought the ball was dead include the test match between England and India at Edgbaston in 2011.

Eoin Morgan glanced the ball to the boundary and it was clear that he, and his batting partner Ian Bell, felt that it had gone for four. This was the last ball before tea and Bell began to walk to the pavilion, followed by the Indian slip fielders.

However, the ball hadn’t travelled the distance and, when it was thrown back from the fielder, wicket keeper MS Dhoni took the bails off. Technically, Bell was out as the umpire hadn’t called over and the officials upheld the Indian appeal. That appeal was withdrawn during the tea interval as it was deemed not to be within the spirit of the game.

There have been similar instances in the game so what does the ruling say? Law 23.1 b states that the ball shall be considered to be dead when it is clear to the bowler’s end umpire that the fielding side and both batsmen at the wicket have ceased to regard it as in play.

That update to an existing law was introduced in 2000 but it still seems to leave room for ambiguity. My advice would be to listen to the umpire and wait for them to call ‘over’ or signal a dead ball.