In the sport of cricket a No ball is a penalty against the fielding team, usually as a result of an illegal delivery by the bowler. The delivery of a No ball results in one run - two under some Regulations - to be added to the batting team's score, and an additional ball must be bowled. In addition, the number of ways in which the batsman can be given out is reduced except for run out. In twenty20 and recently one-day cricket matches, a batsman receives a 'free hit' on the ball after any foot fault No balls (see below). This means the batsman can freely hit the ball with no danger of being out in certain ways. No balls are not uncommon, especially in short form cricket, and fast bowlers tend to bowl them more often than spin bowlers, due to their longer run-up.
Some No balls are considered dangerous and unfair. If deliberate, the bowler may be suspended from bowling immediately, and the incident reported. If accidental, repetition will have additional consequences for the bowler and team. For repetition, and also for throwing, the bowler may be suspended from bowling in the game, reported, and required to undertake remedial work on his bowling action.
Fast short pitched bowling may also be judged dangerous and unfair by its repetition, and it is the repetition that will at some point cause the Umpire to call No ball.
A No ball may be called for a variety of reasons.1 Most commonly, it is the result of a bowler breaking one of the first two rules below (a front foot No ball or back foot No ball).
If the front foot of a bowler lands inside the crease and slides outside of the crease, then it is not a No ball. If the foot lands outside the crease, it is a No ball.
An umpire will rule a No ball under any of the following conditions:
- If the bowler bowls without some part of the front foot either grounded or in the air behind the popping crease
- If the bowler bowls with the back foot not wholly inside the return crease.
- If the ball does not touch the ground in its flight between the wickets and reaches the batsman on the full (this delivery is called a Beamer) at a height above either his waist, when delivered by a fast bowler, or the shoulder when delivered by a slow bowler. The judgement of height is for the batsman standing upright at the popping crease.2 ICC International Match Playing Regulations345 and others including IPLT206 do not permit any full-pitch ball above waist height.
- If the bowler repeatedly bowls fast short pitch balls that, taking into account their trajectory and the skill of the batsman, are dangerous and unfair.2
- If the bowler bowls a ball that bounces and passes the batsman above head height.2 In some competitions the Laws of Cricket are modified by a playing regulation that any ball over head height is a Wide ball, but a second fast ball above shoulder height in an over is a No ball, e.g. in International T20 Cricket5 and IPLT20.6 But in International One-Day Cricket4 and in Test Cricket,3TWO fast pitched short balls per over may pass over shoulder height before No ball is called, and again any ball over head height is a Wide. Thus competition rules may both tone down the definition of 'dangerous and unfair' (a Wide is a lesser sanction than a No ball, and cannot be applied if the batsman hits, or is hit by, the delivery) and put definite limits on repetition, intended not only to protect the batsman but also to maintain a fair contest between bat and ball, preventing such bowling being used to limit the batsman's ability to score. There is presently some difference of opinion between the authorities that is evident in the differences between Law and regulation.
- If the bowler throws, rather than bowls, the ball. (See bowling and especially throwing for an explanation.)
- If the bowler breaks the non-striker's wicket during the act of delivery (ICC playing regulation from 30th April 2013 and Law from 1 Oct 2013; see Steven Finn for origins of the rule)78
- If the bowler changes the arm with which he bowls without notifying the umpire.
- If the bowler changes the side of the wicket from which he bowls without notifying the umpire.
- If the bowler bowls underarm unless this style of delivery is agreed before the match.
- If the bowler throws the ball towards the striker's wicket before entering the "delivery stride".
- If the ball bounces more than twice, or rolls along the ground, before reaching the popping crease at the striker's end.1 In English first-class and some other English domestic competitions, ECB Regulations and Playing Conditions allow the ball to bounce once only.9 The changes to the Regulations that modify Law 24 are recent additions, intended to thwart negative developments in bowling.10
- If the ball comes to rest in front of the line of the striker's wicket.
- If the wicket keeper moves any part of his person in front of the line of the stumps before either a) the ball strikes the batsman's person or bat; or b) the ball passes the line of the stumps.11
- If a fielder (not including bowler) has any part of their body grounded or in the air over the pitch.12
- If there are more than two fielders that are on the leg side and behind the batsman's crease.
- Under certain playing conditions, further restrictions apply to the placement of fielders. For example in One Day International cricket, there can be no more than five fielders a) on the on side; and b) outside the 30-yard circle. (The bowler is not a fielder when counting fielder placement).
By default, it is the bowler's end umpire who calls and signals No ball. When judgement of ball height is required (for beamers and short balls), his colleague (the striker's end umpire) will assist him with a signal.
Either umpire may call a bowler for throwing.
The striker's end umpire calls No ball for infringement by the wicket-keeper, and for position of the fielders, but the bowler's end umpire calls No ball for fielder encroachment on the wicket.13
The umpire signals a No ball by holding one arm out horizontally and shouting "No Ball", which may give the batsman some warning that the ball is an illegal delivery. Depending on the reason for the call (and hence its timing), the speed of the delivery and the batsman's reactions, the batsman may then be able to play a more aggressive shot at the delivery safe in the knowledge that he cannot be dismissed so easily by a no ball: a batsman may not be given out bowled, leg before wicket, caught, stumped or hit wicket off a no ball. (In some types of short form cricket the batsman may not be out by these methods on the following ball either - such deliveries are known as free hits. These only come into play after a foot fault no ball.) He can still be dismissed for hitting the ball twice; and either batsman can be dismissed from a no ball by run out, handling the ball, or obstructing the field.
A no ball does not count as one of the six balls in an over, but it counts as a ball faced by the batsman.
When a No ball is bowled, runs are awarded to the batting team. Under the Laws of Cricket a one run penalty is awarded. In Test cricket and One Day International cricket the award is also one run; in some domestic competitions, particularly one-day cricket competitions, the award is two runs. All such penalty runs are scored as extras and are added to the batting team's total, but are not added to any batsman's total. For scoring, No balls are considered to be the fault of the bowler (even if the infringement was committed by a fielder), and since the early 1980s, are recorded as a negative statistic in a bowler's record.
If the batsman hits the ball he may take runs as normal. These are scored as runs by the batsman, as normal. Runs may also be scored without the batsman hitting the ball, but these are recorded as No ball extras rather than byes or leg byes.
If a ball qualifies as a No ball and a wide, the umpire will call it a No ball, rather than a wide.
As stated above, the effects of No balls may be cumulative, and may reach beyond the completion of the game. No balls called under Law 42 are judged dangerous and unfair, and in common with most transgressions of Law 42 further sanctions will follow. The bowler may be prevented from bowling for the rest of the innings, may face disciplinary action by bodies governing the game, and may be required to change the way he bowls. This is also the case for a bowler called under Law 24 for throwing.
No Balls for throwing, and Law 42 No balls also have consequences for the Umpire. It is not possible within the Laws of the game to call such No balls but allow a bowler to continue to bowl without intervening first to warn, then eventually to suspend the bowler, advise him and his captain, and to report the incident after the game. Law 42 gives the umpires specific duties to ensure the safe conduct of the game.
Unlike some breaches of Law 42, a No ball only attracts the No ball penalty (e.g. one run), there are no provisions in the Law or in common regulations for five penalty runs to be awarded to the batting team, and there are no incidents when five penalty runs are awarded that would require a No ball to be called, although scenarios exist in which five penalty runs might be awarded when the ball is in play and would count in the over, were it not a No ball for the reasons given here, for example: repeated damage to the wicket by the fielding team during a No ball, or the ball hits a helmet on the ground during a No ball.
Throughout cricket history, there have been occasions when the fielding team has needed to encourage the batting team to score freely and quickly, usually when enticing them not to settle for a draw, but sometimes to satisfy some competition rule. In some such cases, especially when the end of the match requires the completion of a specified number of overs, the fielding captain has encouraged his bowler to bowl deliberate No balls by overstepping. Sometimes it has proved to be an ill-judged idea that risked both bringing the game into disrepute and losing the match, e.g. 
The 1774 Laws of Cricket state "The bowler must deliver the Ball with one foot behind the Crease even with the wicket ... If he delivers the Ball with his hinder foot over the Bowling crease the Umpire shall call no Ball (sic), though she be struck or the player is Bowled out; which he shall do without being asked, and no Person shall have any right to ask him."
In the 1788 MCC code this became "The Bowler Shall deliver the Ball with one foot behind the Bowling Crease, and within the Return Crease...if the Bowler's foot is not behind the Bowling Crease, and within the return Crease, when he delivers the Ball, [the Umpires] must, unasked, call No Ball."
The early Laws do not define any consequence of a No Ball and do not state that a 'notch' should be scored, but it is implied that the No Ball does not count in the over.
After some change in 1828, the 1835 code legitimised roundarm bowling, and prevented overarm bowling by penalty of No ball (see also 1835 English cricket season). The previous Laws did not disbar either, but had been interpreted variously by umpires reflecting custom and practice, at some cost to the careers of the bowling innovators. Further changes were made in 1845, and in 1864 bowlers were finally free to bowl overarm.14
Until 1957, there was no limitation on fielders behind square on the leg side. The change is often attributed to the desire to thwart bodyline, but the Bodyline Controversy was in 1933. The conservative instincts of cricket, and the intervention of World War II, may have been factors in the delay, but as the bodyline article explains, there was more than one reason for the change.
Until 1963, a No ball was called when the bowler's back foot landed over the bowling crease (which is why the bowling crease was so called), exactly as in 1774. But it was felt that the tallest fast bowlers, able to bowl legally with their front foot well over the popping crease, were gaining too great an advantage. Bowlers also became skilled in dragging their back foot. The change in the Law led to an increase in No balls: in the 1962-63 series between Australia and England there were 5 No balls; in the series between the two teams three years later there were 25.
In 1980, the main codification of No Ball Law became Law 24, with No balls also called under Law 40 (the wicket-keeper), Law 41 (the fielder) and Law 42 (Unfair Play). The new code made enroachment onto the pitch by the wicket-keeper and fielders a No Ball. In old film footage, for example of Laker's Test in 1956, and Underwood's Test in 1968, several close fielders can be seen in positions that would nowadays cause a No ball to be called. Previously the fielder could stand anywhere as long as he was still, did not distract the batsman, nor interfere with his right to play the ball. Umpires would conventionally intervene if a player's shadow fell on the pitch, which is still widely treated as a distraction, but not inherently a No ball.
Prior to 1980, if the wicket keeper took the ball in front of the stumps the umpire would turn down any appeal for a stumping, but would not have called No ball.
The 1947 code explicitly provided, in Law 26 Note 4, that it was not a No ball if the bowler broke the bowler's end wicket. No such explicit words appear in the 1980 code.
The year 2000 Code was a major change, and added the No ball sanction for waist-high fast beamers, balls bouncing over head height, and balls bouncing more than twice or coming to rest in front of the striker. It also removed the judgement of intent to intimidate on fast short pitched bowling. Prior to 2000, one No Ball run penalty was only scored if no runs were scored otherwise.
- Pakistan cricket spot-fixing scandal, in which No balls were deliberately bowled as part of a betting scam.
- "Law 24 (no ball)". Marylebone Cricket Club.
- "Law 42 (Fair and Unfair Play)". Marylebone Cricket Club.
- "STANDARD TEST MATCH PLAYING CONDITIONS". International Cricket Council.
- "STANDARD ONE-DAY INTERNATIONAL MATCH PLAYING CONDITIONS". International Cricket Council.
- "STANDARD TWENTY20 INTERNATIONAL MATCH PLAYING CONDITIONS". International Cricket Council.
- "IPLT20 match playing conditions 42 Law 42 Fair and Unfair Play". BCCI.
- "MCC Introduces New No Ball Law". Marylebone Cricket Club.
- "ICC adopts no-ball Law after Finn problem". CricInfo.
- "2013 Regulations and Playing Conditions – First Class County The LV= County Championship, Other First Class Matches and Non-First Class MCC University Matches against Counties". England and Wales Cricket Board.
- "ECB outlaws Warwickshire's idea to start bowling double-bouncing deliveries". Telegraph Media Group Limited.
- "Law 40 (The wicket-keeper)". Marylebone Cricket Club.
- "Law 41 (The Fielder)". Marylebone Cricket Club.
- Marylebone Cricket Club, Tom Smith's Cricket Umpiring and Scoring, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2011
- Trevor Bailey, A History of Cricket, George Allen & Unwin, 1979