In the sport of cricket, leg before wicket (LBW) is one of the ways in which a batsman can be dismissed. An umpire will rule a batsman out LBW under a series of circumstances which primarily include the ball striking the batsman's body (usually the leg) when it would otherwise have continued on to hit the batsman's wicket (here referring to the stumps and bails). The LBW rule is designed to prevent a batsman simply using his body to prevent the ball from hitting the wicket (and so avoid being bowled out) rather than using his bat to do so.

Despite the word leg in leg before wicket, the rule applies if the ball hits the batsman on any part of his body, except for the glove of a hand in contact with the bat (which is considered part of the bat).


LBW was not included in the 1744 version of the Laws of Cricket. It first appeared in the 1774 version, which stated: The STRIKER is out if..... Or if the striker puts his leg before the wicket with a design to stop the ball, and actually prevent the ball from hitting his wicket by it.

While LBW was certainly introduced because of batsmen's deliberate use of the legs and feet to stop the ball hitting the wicket, early writers such as John Nyren Ashley Mote, John Nyren's "The Cricketers of my Time", Robson, 1998 seem to have placed most of the blame for this deliberate act on Tom Taylor and Joey Ring. However, their careers began after 1774 and, as Arthur Haygarth points out, it is "now impossible to reconcile these conflicting statements".

LBW was not recorded as such for many years. In the Surrey versus England XI match at Moulsey Hurst in August 1795, John Tufton was dismissed lbw by John Wells. According to Haygarth: In this match, "leg before wicket" is found scored for the first time. In Britcher's printed score-book, Mr J. Tufton is in this match put down as bowled merely, and the leg before wicket added in a note. At first, when any one was got out in this way, it was marked down as simply bowled, and the leg before wicket omitted.

In a nutshell

The essence of the rule might be concisely stated as:

If the ball hits the batsman (without first hitting his bat or a hand holding the bat) when it was otherwise going to hit the wicket, then he is to be judged out LBW, unless:

  • (1) the ball pitched (bounced) only on the leg side or
  • (2) the ball hit the batsman outside the off stump and the umpire adjudges that the batsman was genuinely attempting to play the ball.

Despite its complexities, leg before wicket is the third-most common form of dismissal in cricket: after [[|Caught|caught]] and bowled.

Precise conditions for LBW

Cricket - Wickets

The "wicket to wicket" area important for the LBW rule is marked blue. For a right-handed batsman (standing in front of the three stumps (upright pieces of wood) at the far end of the picture), the area to the right of the blue in the picture is his leg side and his off stump is the stump on the left-hand edge of the blue area. For a left-handed batsman, who naturally faces the other way, his leg side is to the left of the blue area and his off stump is the one furthest to the right.

The conditions for a batsman to be given out LBW are:

  1. The ball must be legal : The ball must not be a no ball.
  2. The ball must not pitch only on the leg side: The ball must either (a) pitch in line between wicket and wicket or on the off side of the wicket, or (b) not pitch at all before reaching the batsman. Therefore, any ball pitching only on the leg side of the wicket should not result in the loss of a wicket by LBW even if the batsman has left the ball. To determine the relevant 'pitching zone', an imaginary line is drawn parallel to the long axis of the pitch from the leg stump.
  3. The ball must miss the bat : If the first contact the batsman has of the ball is hitting it with his bat (or a glove that is holding the bat—that is considered part of the bat itself), he should not be out LBW.
  4. The ball must intercept a part of the batsman's person : If the ball hits any part of the body or protective gear, it is a potential candidate for LBW (i.e. it need not hit the leg). The one exception is a hand or gloved hand in contact with the bat, which is considered part of the bat. For example, Sachin Tendulkar was famously given out LBW when, ducking under an expected bouncer, the ball actually hit his shoulder (Australia v India, 1999-2000, Adelaide, The Indian Second Innings).
  5. The ball must hit in line : The ball must hit the batsman in the region directly between the two wickets. An important exception is that, if the impact is outside the off stump, the batsman can be out LBW if he does not make a genuine attempt to play the ball (that is, if he does not "play a stroke"). If the impact is between wicket and wicket, the playing of a stroke is irrelevant.
  6. The ball must have been going to hit the wicket : If the ball's trajectory suggests that it would have missed the wicket had the batsman not been present, then he should not be out LBW.

There are three rules for the interpretation of these conditions: only the first interception of the ball by the body is considered; whether the ball would have pitched after interception is irrelevant; and the identities of the 'off side' and 'leg side' are to be determined by reference to the batsman's stance when the ball comes into play, this is when the bowler starts his run up or, if he has no run up, his bowling action.(law 23 of the Laws of Cricket).

The exception to the fifth condition (ball must impact in line) involves the judgment of the umpire on whether the batsman has attempted to play a shot at the ball. It is designed to prevent batsmen from merely kicking the ball away outside the off stump, which provides no chance of giving up a catch off the bat. A common defensive tactic against spin bowlers is to use the leg pad to defend against balls on the off side, but the LBW rule means they must either have the bat placed near the pad, thus providing a chance for edging a catch to the slip fielders, or risk being ruled out LBW. Some observers, such as Richie Benaud, have suggested that the LBW law be changed so that a batsman can be out if the ball pitches just outside the leg stump, thereby assisting legspinners and preventing negative pad-play.

The LBW rule is always judged by the umpire at the bowler's end. If the fielding team believes a batsman may be out LBW, they must appeal to that umpire for a decision.

All the LBW conditions must be assessed for the delivery, which takes around half a second to reach the batsman. As in other aspects of the rules, the batsman is always given the benefit of any doubt so, if an umpire is unsure, the appeal will be turned down. An example of this is if the batsman takes a step forward before the ball hits the batsman's leg. The ball might well have gone on to hit the wicket, but it is very difficult for the umpire to be certain of this, as the ball would have been 1.5-2 metres in front of the wicket as it hit the batsman's leg.

With the benefit of television replays it is common to show whether or not all of the LBW conditions were satisfied, and thus some people complain that an umpire wrongly allowed a batsman to continue or wrongly gave him out. However since the umpire should be certain that a batsman is out in order to give him out, and he has no benefit of television replay, the umpire's decision is usually appropriate. Most players and commentators acknowledge this and criticism of umpires is minimal.

The LBW decision is arguably the hardest the umpires have to make, and can be a source for commentary and controversy amongst the spectators. In recent years, with the increasing amounts of pressure and money at stake in cricket, several people have been campaigning for a larger role of cameras and simulation technology such as Hawk-Eye to aid the umpire in the uncertain cases. For the moment, LBW remains a decision that falls solely under the purview of the on-field umpire. Change is in the air, however: in September 2005, theInternational Cricket Council (ICC) authorized a trial run of the use by umpires of television replays to aid in making the call (see external link below).

It is worth noting that a batsman can be out LBW if the ball hits the pad first and then goes on to hit the bat (a so-called pad-bat), but not in the case where the batsman hits the ball with the bat but the ball then goes on to hit his pad (a bat-pad). However, in both cases, a batsman runs the risk of being out caught, as the ball may ricochet off at a relatively low speed for a close fielder (such as silly mid on) to catch.

Should the ball hit the batsman on the full (i.e., without hitting the pitch), then the umpire is to assume that the ball would have continued on its previous trajectory, ignoring any possible deviation off the pitch as a result of the ball pitching. However an umpire can take the swing or drift of a delivery prior to hitting the batters pads into consideration when determining whether the ball 'would' have hit the stumps. If the delivery is swinging the umpire is allows to assume that the ball will continue to swing down the same line.


LBW (N) was a term used to describe an alteration in the law of leg before wicket that was made by Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) on November 21, 1934. It came into force in 1935 in England but was opposed by high-level authorities in Australia where it did not come into force until the 1936/1937 season, even though it was tried in club games in Australia during the 1935/1936 season.

The alteration consisted of permitting a ball pitched outside off stump to produce an LBW wicket if the batsman stopped it with any part of his person in a straight line between wicket and wicket. Previously, only a ball pitched in a straight line between the bowler's and the striker's wickets could yield an LBW dismissal.

The term "LBW (N)" referred to the fact that from 1935 to 1937, wickets under the new leg before wicket rule were distinguished in scorecards published by Wisden from those under the pre-1935 rule.

Background to LBW (N)

During the 1920s and 1930s, first-class cricket was characterised by the increasing dominance of the batsmen over the bowlers. In Australia, scoring during the 1920s were exceptionally high, with the world record score of 1,107 made by Victoria against New South Wales at the MCG in 1926/1927. In 1928, the average price of a wicket in county cricket exceeded 30 runs against the previous high of 27.5 in 1901. An attempt to counter scoring by allowing the LBW decision even if the batsmen played a stroke at the ball was partially successful in 1929 but a return to very high scoring and many drawn games in the 1930 Test matches showed this effect to be only momentary and the experiment had been abandoned by 1934.

It was clear to authorities that improved pad play by batsmen like Herbert Sutcliffe and Phil Mead were responsible for the high scores and excessive numbers of drawn games. Thus, the idea of preventing batsmen using their legs to pad away balls outside the off stump was seen as a means not only of countering pad play, but also to discouraging fast "bodyline" bowling outside leg stump through rewarding bowlers who attacked the off stump, thus encouraging attractive off-side strokes. Much deliberation took place in 1934, and it was generally agreed that an extension of the LBW law on the off-side might reduce defensive pad play. Some people, such as Harold Larwood, argued for the permission of an LBW wicket to any ball pitched outside off stump even if the batsman's legs were also outside off stump - which has been put into place in some measure since 1970.

External sources

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