The bouncer is one of the most popular deliveries in cricket. It has been involved in some of the sport’s most memorable moments, such as the ‘Bodyline’ tour of Australia, Michael Holding’s famous spell of hostile bowling to Brian Close, Allan Donald and Michael Atherton’s famous battle in the 90’s, and more recently, Jofra Archer’s brutal spell of short pitched bowling to Steve Smith in the 2019 Ashes.
Due to the popularity and the effectiveness of the delivery, cricketers at all levels of ability will spend hours practicing their bouncer, as well as learning how the professionals use them. Once you learn how to bowl them properly, you may be tempted to bowl loads of bouncers – but, due to the rules of cricket, this isn’t necessarily possible. Yes, that’s right, there are limits on the number of bouncers you can bowl per over! In the rest of this post, I’ll be telling you all about the maximum number of bouncers that are allowed per over in each format of cricket, and I’ll also explain the consequences that await you if you break these rules!
So, how many bouncers are allowed in an over?
In test matches and one day internationals, a fast bowler can bowl a maximum of two bouncers per over. In T20’s, a fast bowler is only allowed to bowl a maximum of one bouncer per over. In cricket, a bouncer is defined as a fast delivery that passes the batsman above shoulder height when they are standing upright at the crease.
Now you know how many bouncers are allowed per over, I’ll answer some other commonly asked questions about this issue!
What Happens If A Bowler Bowls More Than The Maximum Number Of Bouncers?
When a bowler exceeds the maximum number of bouncers per over, they’re going to get themselves in trouble with the umpire. Let me walk you through an example below where a bowler breaks the maximum number of no balls in an over rule multiple times in the same innings. As we go through the example, I’ll explain what actions the umpire is likely to take at each stage.
Firstly, imagine a fast bowler is bowling in a test match and they have already bowled the maximum of two bouncers (two deliveries above shoulder height of the batsman) in the over. Now, imagine that at some point in the same over, they bowl a third bouncer that flies past the batsman at head height. Once the umpire notices this and decides that the bowler has indeed bowled a third bouncer in a single over, they will wait for the ball to become dead, then they will signal a no ball whilst tapping their head with their other hand. This action is shown in the picture below! The umpire will signal a no ball in this way each time a fast bowler bowls a bouncer that is above the maximum number allowed in an over.
The first time the bowler exceeds the maximum number of bouncers allowed in an over, not only will the umpire call and signal a no ball in the way shown above, but they will also give the bowler a first warning. This warning will also be communicated to the square leg umpire, as well as the fielding team captain. This first warning will last for the rest of the innings.
Now imagine that in their next over that same bowler bowls another three bouncers. Given that this is the second time this bowler has exceeded the maximum number of two bouncers per over, the umpire will now deliver a harsher sentence. Firstly, they will call and signal a no ball once the third bouncer has been bowled. They will then deliver their final warning to the bowler, which will apply for the rest of the innings.
If the bowler exceeds the maximum number of bouncers allowed in a single over for a third time in the same innings, then the umpire will take more drastic action. Firstly, they will call and signal no ball whilst tapping their heads as soon as the third no ball in the over is bowled. Then, they will tell the fielding captain that the bowler is suspended from bowling for the rest of the innings. The fielding captain will need to ask a different bowler to complete the over which is currently in progress. This bowler cannot be the same bowler who bowled the previous over!
The example that I’ve gone through in the paragraphs above applies to both test matches and one day internationals, given that the maximum number of bouncers allowed in an over in those types of matches is 2. In a T20 match, an umpire will follow the same procedure that I’ve outlined above, but it will occur whenever a bowler bowls more than 1 bouncer per over instead.
Does The Umpire Tell The Batsman When A Bouncer Has Been Bowled?
Yes! When each bouncer (delivery above shoulder height of the batsman) is bowled, the umpire will mention this to the bowler as well as the batsman who is on strike. This is usually done by saying something like ‘that’s one for the over’ or ‘that’s two for the over’.
Batsmen can ask the umpire how many bouncers have been bowled in the over at any point. For example, a new batsman that has just come to the crease for the last ball of an over may want to know how many bouncers have been delivered in the previous five balls. If they were playing a T20 match, and the umpire tells them that one bouncer has already been bowled, the batsman will know they won’t have to face another one (unless it is bowled and called as a no ball).
Counting how many bouncers have been bowled in an over can provide a tactical advantage, especially when batting in run chases in T20 matches. For example, if you know that one bouncer has already been bowled, you can be pretty sure that the bowler won’t be aiming to bowl another one. Therefore, you can rule out one type of delivery, and set yourself for fuller deliveries instead!
What About Bouncers That Go Over The Batsman’s Head?
There are some bouncers that not only go above shoulder height of the batsman, but also travel over the batsman’s head, making them impossible to hit. How does an umpire respond when a delivery like this is bowled?
As soon as the umpire sees the ball travel above head height of the striking batsman, they will wait for the ball to become dead, and they will then call and signal a wide ball. Confusingly, the term ‘wide’ in a cricketing sense doesn’t just refer to the ball being too far to the left or right of the batsman to reach. It also is used to describe a ball that is too high!
Not only will these deliveries be called as a wide, they will also count as one bouncer for the over. So, if a bowler bowls a standard bouncer as well as a bouncer that gets called as a wide in one over, then these deliveries will count as their two bouncers for that over.
Does A Ball Still Count As A Bouncer If A Batsman Ducks Down?
Some batsmen choose to duck down in response to bouncers, which leads to the ball travelling comfortably over their heads. Many casual cricket observers will wonder whether this delivery should count as a wide, given that the ball went over the batsman’s head.
This is not the case. Bouncers are measured from how tall the batsman is when they are standing upright at the popping crease. So even if a batsman ducks and allows the ball to travel above their heads, it will not be called as a wide as long as the bouncer wasn’t above the original head height of the batsman.
Do No Balls Given For An Excessive Number Of Bouncers Lead To A Free Hit?
In one day internationals and T20’s, batsmen are given a free hit if a no ball is bowled. A free hit will still be awarded if a no ball is given due to the bowler exceeding the number of no balls allowed in an over.
So, every time a bowler bowls a bouncer that exceeds the maximum number of two per over in a one day international, the umpire will call and signal a no ball, give the bowler a warning, and award the batting team a free hit. The same thing will occur in T20’s when the bowler exceeds the maximum of one no ball per over.
I hope that this post has helped you understand some of the complexities around the number of bouncers that are allowed per over! Even though we can all get carried away bowling bouncers, it’s important to not bowl too many. As I’ve explained above – it can cost your team a lot of runs via no balls and free hits for the batting team.