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AB de Villiers' world record a reminder of need to restore balance between bat and ball

A cricket fan calls for the balance between bat and ball to be restored in the wake of AB de Villiers' fastest ODI hundred.

CONTRIBUTOR
Feature 21 Jan 2015, 16:20 IST
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AB de Villiers broke the world record for the fastest ODI hundred

AB de Villiers played one of the most destructive innings ever against West Indies on January 18, 2015. He scored 149 runs in just 44 balls. It was preposterous for any human being. It was a truly superhuman effort. While praising his innings, we would fall short of adjectives.

De Villiers is completely worthy of all the praise that comes his way, but we also need to see cricketing history to assess how rules and pitches have been changed to suit batsmen. Limitations were put on short-pitched bowling; pitches were covered to curb the assistance to fast bowlers. Whenever the bowler seems to be getting the perceived upper hand, the batsmen find a way to reclaim the advantage. Modern-day bats are gigantic in size and its edges have become broader. Every inch of the bat is now a “sweet spot” as even mistimed shot end up in the stands.

Pitches for One-Day Internationals (ODIs) have become flatter in every part of the world. There is little or no difference in ODI pitches whether in Australia, South Africa or India. All of them are made with the aim of suiting the batsmen. The flat nature of the pitches, short boundaries and the quick outfields make bowlers hapless & helpless. If that was not enough, they introduced new rules in which only four fielders would be allowed outside the circle in the non-powerplay overs.

This rule has tilted the game almost entirely in favour of batsmen. The introduction of two new white balls from each end in ODIs was seen to be a compensation for all these batting-friendly stipulations. However, it has made life even tougher for bowlers as they are not able to achieve reverse swing during the latter overs of the innings. The harder ball, in fact, has been counter-productive as it has helped batsmen take advantage of the newer ball at the end, which was tough earlier because the ball used to become soft and assist spin. Consequently, spinners are resorting to various “dubious” techniques to spin the ball or become unpredictable. In that pursuit, many go beyond the permissible degree of elbow extension, inviting suspensions as we’ve seen recently.

Let us look at some stats to see how these changes are affecting cricket:

  • In the list of the highest team totals, only one out of the top 20 belongs to the previous century as the rest all are made since 2000.
  • Top 5 highest individual scores in ODIs have been made post the year 2008.
  • In the list of the fastest centuries, only 4 out of the top 20 were made before 2000.
  • Among the highest run chases, only one out of the top 20 belongs to the 20th century.
  • In the list of most runs conceded by a bowler, only 3 out of the top 20 occurred before the year 2000.

Cricket is no more a contest between bat and ball

All the above stats suggest that there has been a definite tilt in the game in favour of the batsmen. Now cricket is not about a contest between bat and ball, it’s more often than not about out-batting each other. Earlier, Dhoni said that bowlers should be replaced with bowling machines as neither the pitches nor the rules assist them. Ryan Harris recently said that he felt like only a little more than a bowling machine.

No one is complaining, spectators are happy, corporates are happy. Cricket has now turned into masala entertainment as a result of poor administration where bowlers are villains who are destined to be beaten up by the batsmen. Cricket authorities, however, would argue that they are just giving the crowd what they want.

Crowds have come to expect fast scoring and plenty of boundaries, and that is what they exactly get. But we tend to forget that the best matches are the ones where the contest between bat and ball is even. Low-scoring games with a nail-biting finish are the most memorable and entertaining.

Bowlers are not asking for seaming green tops nor are they asking for viciously-turning tracks, all they ask for is a pitch that ensures even competition between bat and ball. ICC can certainly heed to their demands and bring back real cricket for us.

The article was originally published here

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