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An Arrow Fell From the Sky and Disrupted a Cricket League

The match was abandoned and called a draw. No one was hurt, so you might think the story was over. But it was not.

To encourage keeping the game moving, cricket has a rule that teams must bowl a certain number of balls each hour. In the English County Championship, teams that bowl too slowly can be penalized in the standings.

Teams are well aware of this rule and keep tabs on their bowling rate; if it gets too slow, they bring in players who bowl quicker or they just pick up the pace. The slow-bowling penalty seldom comes into play.

As it turns out, at the time the arrow struck in the August game, Middlesex was bowling a little too slowly. With about an hour to go, the team fully expected to speed up and not suffer any penalties. The sudden abandonment prevented that, and Middlesex was deducted 2 points, much to its displeasure.

“Naturally this is an extremely disappointing decision,” the team’s chief executive, Richard Goatley, told Cricinfo.

Two points is not a huge amount, and once again the story might have been over. But last month, the league’s relegation battle was closely contested. And when the season ended in the last week of September, Middlesex wound up relegated — by 1 point. Without the penalty — the only one in the league all year — the team would have stayed up.

Now Middlesex is appealing, and the England and Wales Cricket Board has agreed to hear it.

Somerset, the team that survived in the top division because of Middlesex’s relegation, is not too happy about this, noting that they made on-field decisions in key games in the highly tactical sport under the assumption that Middlesex had been penalized.

“If we needed 2 extra points, we’d have had completely different tactics,” Somerset’s chief executive, Lee Cooper, said. “If in retrospect they now change that decision, they’ve brought the game into disrepute.”

A ruling may come next week.

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