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Resolving Wrong Ball Plays

The wrong-ball rule has historically created more confusion than any other rule. The 5th Edition has sought to simplify the rule while also providing an effective solution to the "gift hoop" problem. Accordingly, the "Replace and Replay" remedy now applies to all the standard wrong ball situations, namely:

  1. striker playing the partner ball in singles
  2. striker's partner playing their own ball in doubles
  3. striker or striker's partner playing an opponent ball
  4. striker's partner playing striker's ball.

In the 4th Edition, (3) and (4) both attracted a penalty. The new approach is intended to encourage players to forestall play immediately whenever they see that any type of wrong ball error is about to occur. This adopts the principle that prevention is better than cure and should also speed up play.

Having said that, the most common type of wrong-ball by far is playing the partner ball instead of the striker's ball, especially in singles although it can also occur in doubles - examples (1) and (2) above. Under the 4th Edition, the only remedy was "Replace and Replay" and this could sometimes give rise to an unfortunate "gift hoop" situation. Consider the case where Bab plays Black into position for the next hoop when she should have played Blue and Ray does not notice and plays Red into position. Bab then plays Blue into position and Ray now realises that play has gone out of sequence. If Ray now forestalls and Replace and Replay is the only remedy, Blue has to be replaced and Bab will play Black next, being able to attempt the hoop without Ray having an opportunity to clear that ball with his second ball. Such a case is all the more annoying for Ray because Bab was the original culprit.

The 5th Edition addresses this situation by giving the non-offending side the right to choose either "Replace and Replay" or "Ball Swap". Choosing "Ball Swap" means that the offending side's last stroke stands, but their balls are "swapped", i.e. each placed in the position occupied by the other. The non-offender then plays the next stroke in the game with the partner ball of the ball they played last. In the above example, Ray could choose Ball Swap and have Blue and Black exchanged and then play Yellow and try to clear Blue from in front of the hoop. This is what would have happened if Bab had played Blue and Black correctly and therefore the remedy preserves the tactical balance of the situation.

The 5th Edition also provides a new solution for the rare situation when one side plays an opponent ball and the other side fails to notice and plays a stroke instead of invoking Replace and Replay. This stroke is bound to be unlawful and, if play is then stopped, Rule 10.5.4 provides a neutral solution in the form of a penalty area continuation in accordance with Rule 18.2.

Experience shows that 99% of wrong ball situations will be covered by Rules 10.2 and 10.3 as described above. However, when applying Rule 10, always check that none of the unusual "special situations" set out in Rule 10.1.5 has occurred. These have their own remedies set out in Rules 10.5 to 10.7.