Hales, who was standing at mid-off, stepped outside the inner circle just after the bowler released the ball and before the batsman played his shot. Commenting on Channel 7, Ponting was not a fan of this tactic.
“It’s actually cheating,” he said on live television, before adding, “Well, it’s not in the spirit of the game.”
Television footage seemed to indicate that Hales had kept his position inside the circle when the ball was delivered, as required, before moving back, but Ponting insisted his actions still went against the ‘spirit of cricket’.
“Take your position and then walk in with the bowler, you can’t go backwards. He was supposed to be one of four fielders inside the circle. He starts walking back outside the circle before the ball is being bowled.
“Anyone of us who have played the game, we know we’re not allowed to walk back in the field. It’s not against the rules but it’s against the spirit of the game,” he explained.
Hales, however, defended his fielding ploy, arguing that the fielders standing at the slip positions often react, moving to the leg side as soon as they notice a batsman attempting to sweep or reverse sweep off a spin bowler. In a tweet later, he also pointed out how fielders inside the circle walked in with the bowler, questioning why they couldn’t walk out.
It's been seven years since Alex Hales launched a huge SCG 6️⃣.
— KFC Big Bash League (@BBL) January 30, 2020
“I don’t think there is anything wrong with trying to anticipate and trying to get one step ahead of the batter,” said Hales, who top-scored for his side with a blazing 37-ball 60. “As soon as the bowler lets go of the ball you’re allowed to leave the ring, which is what I was doing.
“If someone goes for a reverse sweep, first slip moves after the ball is let go. Once the ball is let go and you see the batsman swing, you can react in the field and come forward or back. I think it’s fine. It’s part-and-parcel of fielding, trying to anticipate.
“I don’t think it’s bad sportsmanship at all.”
Interesting that walking in with the bowler to cut off a single is absolutely fine, but walking back on to the ring when they’re teeing off is cheating?Never heard anyone talk about that in regards to the ‘spirit of the game’ in my entire career 🤷🏼♂️ https://t.co/XdEhNKbii2
— Alex Hales (@AlexHales1) January 31, 2020
Ponting’s accusation and Hales’s defence are both based on their reading of laws 28.6 and 28.7 of the BBL playing conditions, on “Movement by any fielder other than the wicketkeeper” and “Restrictions on the placement of fielders”.
According to this, “Any movement by any fielder, excluding the wicketkeeper, after the ball comes into play and before the ball reaches the striker, is unfair except for […] minor adjustments to stance or position […or] movement by any fielder, other than a close fielder, towards the striker or the striker’s wicket that does not significantly alter the position of the fielder […or] movement by any fielder in response to the stroke that the striker is playing or that his/her actions suggest he/she intends to play”.
The rules also state that “fielding restrictions shall apply at the instant of delivery”.
Hales insists he abided by all of this, and anticipatory fielding was “common practice” in the modern game.