What is free hit in cricket? Cricket rules explained

What is a free hit in cricket, is a question often asked by new fans of the sport.

In every sport, athletes are expected to follow a set of rules and regulations. Similarly, in cricket, there are rules that have been in place for a long time and haven't changed. However, as time has passed and formats have evolved, certain rules have been introduced to make the sport more exciting for fans.

One such rule that was invented with the advent of the T20 format is the Free Hit. The Free Hit is awarded to the batting team when the bowler of the opposing side bowls a no-ball. During a Free Hit, the batsman cannot be dismissed by any normal means of dismissal and has the freedom to play aggressive shots.

READ: DRS explained

However, the batsman can still be dismissed by getting run out, handling the ball, or obstructing the field during a Free Hit. This rule was first introduced in 2007 before the inaugural T20 World Cup and later extended to One-Day International cricket as well.

free hit in cricket
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Free Hit in cricket according to the ICC's rule book

  1. A Free Hit in cricket is signalled by the on-field umpire when a team bowls a no-ball. The umpire signals a Free Hit by making a circular movement with their finger above their head.
  1. Initially, Free Hits were only awarded for front foot and back foot no-balls. However, in 2015, the ICC modified the rule to include all types of no-balls.
  1. Different types of no-balls that can result in a Free Hit include overstepping the crease, bowling above the waist height, and having an extra fielder outside the inner circle than permitted.
  1. The Free Hit is given for the very next delivery after the no-ball.
  1. The Free Hit delivery must be a legal delivery to be considered valid.
  1. If a Free Hit delivery is a wide or another no-ball, the Free Hit remains in effect for the next ball, and the umpire has to signal it again.
  1. The batting team can score runs off a Free Hit as long as the ball is in play.
free hit explained
photo by Icon Sport

Fielding Restrictions for Free Hits in cricket

Certain fielding restrictions apply during Free Hits in cricket:

  • The fielding team is not allowed to change the field setup if the same batsman is on strike after the no-ball.
  • The fielding team is allowed to change the field setup if the same batsman is not on strike or the strike has changed after the no-ball delivery.

Virat Kohli Controversy in T20 World Cup

During a match between India and Pakistan in the T20 World Cup, an incident occurred involving Virat Kohli and a Free Hit. Mohammad Nawaz, the left-arm spinner of Pakistan, bowled a waist-high no-ball to Kohli, which was deemed a no-ball by the umpires.

The next ball was signaled as a Free Hit by the umpire. However, Nawaz bowled a wide delivery, and according to the rules, the Free Hit remained. Kohli was subsequently bowled off the Free Hit delivery but started running, resulting in three byes. The Pakistan players argued with the umpires, but according to the law, runs can be taken if the ball remains in play. As the ball remained in play even after Kohli was bowled, three runs were awarded to India.


6 off 3 balls and a free hit! #T20WorldCup | #INDvPAK | https://t.co/H9EE5QNfGD pic.twitter.com/KYsWR1FZ8U — ICC (@ICC) October 23, 2022

A similar incident took place in the Women's Big Bash League between Melbourne Stars and Perth Scorchers. In this case, the batter was castled on a Free Hit delivery, but the ball ricocheted off the stumps and reached the boundary. The umpire signaled four byes in favor of the batting team since the ball remained in play even after the batter was bowled. The ball is considered dead only after the bowler or wicketkeeper gains control over it.

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Free hit in cricket explained according to format

The introduction of a Free Hit in cricket has increased the excitement in the sport over the last decade and a half. This rule has also turned many close games, especially in T20 cricket, on their heads. Moreover, it has made bowlers more cautious about not bowling no-balls. However, in Test cricket, there is no Free Hit rule. There are no incentives for the opposing team if a bowler bowls a no-ball in the longest format of the game. Test cricket aims to preserve the traditional form of the sport.

To summarize, a Free Hit is a special opportunity given to the batting team when a no-ball is bowled. The batsman cannot be dismissed by normal means but can still be run out or dismissed for handling the ball or obstructing the field. The Free Hit rule has added excitement to limited-overs cricket, but it is not applicable in Test cricket.



Rohit is an experienced cricket writer based in India