One of the earliest rules of cricket that needed amendment pertained to run-outs. Cricketers in the 16th and 17th century didn’t have the stumps and bails that we have now. They had actual stumps (of trees) and actual wickets (wooden gates). All runs had to be run because there were no fours and sixes for hits that travelled far. To complete a run, a batsman had to plonk his bat into a hole in the ground. But while doing so, if a fielder deposited the ball in the hole first, the batsman would be run-out.
This led to situations where bowlers would reach for the hole only to find his hand being crushed by the batsman thrusting his willow into the same hole. Painful injuries resulted. Hence came the need to find a safer way to complete a run or effect a run-out. This was a natural, logical, need-based evolution of the game.
Today, the job of modifying the laws of international cricket rests in the hands of ICC’s cricket committee. The committee – a group of cricketers and administrators – meets once a year to propose solutions to the game’s problems. The ICC considers those solutions and approves/rejects them as it sees fit.
It would be interesting to be a fly on the wall during this committee’s meetings to see the thought process behind their decisions because some of them don’t appear need-based at all. They seem to be going against the adage, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. It seems they’re saying, “if it ain’t broke, let’s consult the marketing department about ways to break it”.
Take for example the new rule in ODIs that will now allow only four fielders outside the ring in non-Powerplay overs. The earlier limit was five. We’ve often lamented about how the game is becoming increasingly batsman-friendly. This new rule practically makes the whole innings of 50 overs one large Powerplay because there will never be enough fielders for defensive positions.
Undoubtedly, this will inflate run-rates further. Perhaps we’ll soon see the 450 and 500-run marks being breached. Perhaps people on TV love to see fours and sixes, but how much is enough? Humans are meaning-seeking creatures and cricket will be meaningful only when there’s a compelling contest between a batsman and a bowler. Everything else is filler content in the game's larger history.
But each year as boundaries become smaller, pitches become flatter and bats get meatier, cricket is looking increasingly like video games where it is easy to score 20-25 runs over after over.
WHAT ABOUT BOWLERS?
The other trouble with this new law is that it will make the game incredibly predictable in terms of bowling strategies and field placements. When a bowler’s margin of error goes down, he will experiment less and focus on his basics. On the other hand, the batsman will know where the bowler is going to pitch it. He will pre-meditate shots, toy with the fields and reap rewards. The sport will become less spontaneous, more predictable and less fun to watch.
The new rules also allow bowlers a second bouncer every over. That’s a maximum of 100 bouncers per innings as against the earlier 50. But you need five quality pacers to bowl them, which no team can afford due to the stiff penalties associated with slow over rates. Having an extra bouncer is a small win for bowlers bookended by the large losses that would come from not having enough fielders defending the boundaries.
The cricket committee comprises players who’ve excelled at the highest levels of the sport. Clive Lloyd has been replaced by Anil Kumble as the chairman earlier in October. The Indian stalwart has Andrew Strauss, Mark Taylor, Kumar Sangakkara and Gary Kirsten for assistance. The decisions that this batsman-heavy committee comes to will influence the sport massively. It’s tough to question their cricketing acumen. But making laws? That's another kettle of fish.
Perhaps Kumble being a bowler will realise it's not wise to change the game simply to make it attractive for TV. Food for thought?
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