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It’s time we protect the game of cricket

TOP CONTRIBUTOR
Feature
1.83K   //    28 Jan 2015, 09:42 IST
Umesh Yadav
Lifeless pitches are not helping young fast bowlers

Cricket finds itself in an imbalance right now. It could tumble irreversibly any time now. Administrators, players, and fans should take it in their hands to save this game. To achieve the balance again, to regain the contest between bat and ball.  

Administrators – Stop toying with our sport

Cricket is a complex game, probably as complex as a game could get. But that is why it is more important for administrators to make rules, or amend them, in such a way that it does not disrupt the balance of the game even more. A rule change as simple, but game-changing, as the number of fielders inside the 30-yard circle needs to be given due diligence for it renders the bowlers more useless than they already are in the limited overs format.

The arbitrary 15-degree rule is one such bizarre rule. Instead of allowing bowlers, such as Muttiah Muralitharan and Shoaib Akhtar, with genuine problems as exceptions, the ICC defined an arbitrary limit of 15 degrees since it is difficult to sight the bend by the naked eye between 0-15 degrees. Even worse, umpires only get to report it after the match. Perhaps, because of what happened with Ross Emerson when he did it on the field.

So let me get this straight. An umpire gets to report about chucking only after the match which, by the way, is inconsequential to the match result. The player is then sent for examination where he invariably bowls well within the limits and we are fine with it? It’s like giving a speeding driver another chance to show that he wasn’t speeding. I mean it does not make sense. I don’t know what the right solution is, but this is definitely not one.

Barring exceptions such as restricting the width of the bat to 4¼ inches after “shock”, Thomas White coming out to the crease with a bat as wide as three stumps in 1771 or banning the Aluminum Bat after Mike Brearley complained about Dennis Lillie batting with one in 1979-80, most of the rule changes have been made that have led to neutralizing bowlers.

Bats seem to have become almost as thick as the width it used to have. Now even the edges go for sixes. Forget about the margin for errors, even the good balls go to boundaries. Don’t you think this is demeaning to some really good players out there whose ability is being judged based on the size of the bat they carry?

Are bats eating cheese? These are getting fatter by the day!

Flat pitches and small boundaries

Pitches are becoming placid day by day. This is the case universally, not just in the subcontinent. Why can’t we have sporting pitches everywhere? And by sporting I mean, assisting fast or spin or both type of bowlers, in contrary to the view that pitches assisting spin bowling are the bad pitches. Do we really think chasing 350 every innings in an ODI is going to do any good to this game in the longer run?

AB de Villiers scored 149 in 44 balls the other day. It was a monster of an innings even if the boundary was 40 metres long. But did the boundaries at Wanderers have to be that short? I mean de Villiers is a genius, but the possibility that any decent batsman on his day can achieve something like this with such short boundaries raises the question as to how do we separate the greats from the good ones?

Don’t you think it will belittle the class that de Villiers possesses? 434 was once chased at the Wanderers. Don’t you think a record of such magnitude would have had some more credibility had it happened on a ground with longer boundaries?

Using technology correctly

There is an overdose of technology in cricket right now. The administrators are hell bent on proving it right rather than working on improving it. If your technology doesn’t work in a World Cup semi-final, it’s of no use, especially, when the ICC are impotent enough to not apply it uniformly everywhere.

Most batsmen don’t walk. I’m not sure if they used to, but they have a good reason not to walk anymore as they have a 50-50 chance of being called not out in a tough catch call. A case of 2D review overruling 3D vision of the on-field umpires. Bizarre!

If nothing else, standing your ground in such situations will at least eat up one review of the opposition. This is what the integrity of batsmen has come down to.

Umpires are at the receiving end here. Time and again, their decisions are being overturned by the third umpire based on inconclusive evidences. The technology has certainly helped to remove howlers, but it has definitely introduced a few of its own, thereby, beating its purpose and sadly embarrassing on-field umpires. It questions the integrity of the umpires and if this results in the departure of an umpire as good as Simon Taufel, then I’m good without it.

Instead of eliminating the root cause of the issues in cricket, the administration is playing merry-go-round with the rules. Previously they decided to change the ball in an ODI after 35 overs because the white ball gets worn out and batsmen can’t see it. Thus, taking reverse swing, a deadly weapon in the death overs, out of the equation. The spinners more so. Later, they decided to go with two new balls at each end which does not really change the situation with respect to reverse swing or spin.

The machine-made Kookaburra balls are being used in Test cricket in most of the countries because it’s the only one that can be manufactured, and thus behaves, consistently, unlike Dukes (used in England) or SG (used in India). While this is a good thing, it completely ignores the fact that the Kookaburra ball goes very soft after first 15-20 overs neutralizing the bowlers pretty fast.

The solution lies beyond rules changes. It lies in research and development. Do we really think with the kind of money ICC has, it will be impossible to develop balls that take longer to deteriorate? Something that will offer some normal swing initially, reverse later and will offer better grip for the spinners too. A ball with which both the departments – the bowling and batting – can benefit from. Would that be too much to ask?

Bowlers – Now would be the time to stand up

Bowlers, the ‘others’ in the game of cricket now, are suffering. It is time they show the ICC that they are suffocating. It is time to re-invent themselves; to do something different.

Captains and bowlers in the past have tried to vary many things to break the shackles that existed in that era. ICC changed the rules almost every time the fielding side tried to do something different.

The England fast bowlers, in the 1932-33 Bodyline series, used to bowl short, accurate bouncers with a packed leg-side field. The rule was amended and as it stands now, no more than two players are allowed behind square.

Brearley, a mighty fine captain, once placed all his players, including the wicket-keeper, on the boundary in an ODI making it impossible to score boundaries. We all know what the rule about that has come down to. As many as 5 players, 7 including the bowler and the wicket-keeper, have to be in the 30-yard circle at all times in an ODI now.

The front foot no-ball was introduced to stop bowlers from bowling way past the front line and reducing the distance of release and effectively hurrying the batsman. The motives behind these innovations could be debatable. Perhaps, that was the only way bowlers and captains could think of to convey that they are in the game too.

Not all innovations have been countered though. The reverse swing is a great example. Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis made it a practice around 1992. It was there already, nobody was aware of it. Wasim and Waqar made it an art.

The googlies and the doosras aren’t any lesser innovations. You need high skills and control to get these deliveries out. The back of the hand slower ball and slower bouncers are good examples of bowlers trying to improvise and trying to break the shackles.

We need more of these. The bowlers need more of these. Cricket was founded on two legs – batting and bowling. One of them is limping, and limping real bad. The bowlers need to step up to protect it. To make it strong. To bring the glory back.

There is this guy called Dale Steyn who is doing this job. We need more of these to avoid bowlers being treated as, and eventually replaced by, bowling machines. It’s now that the bowlers should show that they belong here as a bowling community or they are going to wither as individuals.

Fans, cricket needs you more than ever

Just how a country is as good as its people, a sport is just as good as its fans.

Be careful about what you like because the administration is very quick to pounce on that and give you exactly what you like no matter what it does to the game.

We like bowlers getting thwacked for monstrous hits, they make sure we see that often. We don’t like low scoring ODIs, we don’t get to see many now. We don’t like batting collapses as much as we like to see the bowlers disintegrating, that’s what we are going to see now more often than not.

We failed to appreciate low scoring, sometimes dull, at times well fought out games, and the India-Australia ODI series in late 2013 happened.

It’s time we appreciate and support bowlers more than ever. It’s time we support cricket more than our favourite team. It’s time we appreciate a fair contest between bat and ball more than the outcome of the game. It’s time cricket wins.

Cricket won in the 1983 World Cup final, it won when Malinga took out four in four in a losing cause. Cricket won during the 1999 World Cup semi-final.

South Africa lost. It was a sight of true despair. But it was cricket that had won on that day.

This cannot happen until the balance between bat and ball is restored. It’s time we – administrators, players, fans – strive to protect our game; for when you protect something, you protect the possibility of what that ‘something’ can achieve.

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