Rules still bat-heavy!

The latest changes in ICC’s playing conditions do very little to the redress the balance between bat and ball.

Glenn McGrath of Australia was playfully red-carded by umpire Billy Bowden after he pretended to bowl underarm the last ball of the T20I match against New Zealand at Eden Park on February 17, 2005 in Auckland. This was the first ever T20I. There is also now the possibility, after the recent rule changes, of players being sent off, minus the red card ritual, for bad behaviour.   -  GETTY IMAGES

Remember Billy Bowden flashing the red card football-style to Glenn McGrath in the early days of Twenty20? McGrath took the message smilingly as the gesture was non-serious, but according to the latest modifications in ICC’s playing conditions, a player can now actually be sent off — without the red-card formality of course — and barred from further participation in the match being played.

Cricket may not be a rush of the adrenaline as much as football, but the lawmakers seem to have realised that player-behaviour can be outrageous enough to warrant explusion from the game being contested.

The mandate is a step towards making it easier for match officials to keep player-conduct within reasonable boundaries. It will take a Level Four offence, however, for an umpire to invoke this ruling. According to ICC’s Code of Conduct, these constitute ‘conduct that is contrary to the spirit of the game,’ ‘conduct that brings the game into disrepute,’ ‘threat of assault on an umpire or match referee during an international match,’ ‘physical assault of another player, player support personnel, umpire, match referee or any other person (including a spectator) during an international match,’ and ‘any violence on the field of play during an international match.’

“The rule had to come,” says former BCCI and ICC match referee Raju Mukherjee. “Earlier, as the phrase ‘it’s not cricket’ signifies, cricketers were supposed to be above gamesmanship. But now they love to cheat; moreover, if you cheat people call you ‘bright’ and ‘wise.’ To handle such cricketers, the match referee had a role to help the on-field umpire, who could only warn the player and refer him to the referee. If the player kept bothering the umpire throughout the day, nothing could have been done.

“This is a sensible, rational decision. The poor umpire doesn’t have much support. Umpires are taken for a ride by everybody. As a former match referee, I’m extremely happy with the decision,” Mukherjee says.

Although well intended, the new rules seem to be inadequate in making life easier for bowlers. Cricket in the 21st century is characterised by weapon-wielding giants pillaging helpless bowlers, and to address the obvious disparity, limitations to dimensions of bat sizes have been defined — edges can be up to 40mm thick and depth up to 67mm. But will it stop cavalier tailenders from hitting streaky sixes? Mukherjee thinks otherwise, pointing out an obvious flaw — in his opinion — in the new rulings.

The ball has remained light, but the bat has become heavier and chunkier over the years. There is now an attempt to reduce the dimensions of the bat, to make it less dominant over the ball.   -  GETTY IMAGES


“Since the ball has a stipulated maximum weight (5.75 ounces/163 g, according to MCC’s Laws of Cricket), it is reasonable to assume that the weight of the other basic implement — the bat — should also have a weight limit. If the rule-makers have decided to limit the edge and depth of the bat, why not mention the weight as well? That is what I’m against. I believe a bat should not weigh more than 3 lbs,” Mukherjee says. “I also believe the dimensions mentioned are still too high to restore parity between bat and ball. In my opinion, a bat’s edge should not be more than 25mm thick with depth not more than 50mm,” he adds.

The ICC Cricket Committee members, being former players themselves, may have been inadequate in assessing these issues adequately, Mukherjee observes. “They should put more mind and time into the matter,” he says.

In a minor realignment of a Decision Review System ruling that seeks to give more leeway to bowlers — or at least the bowling side — the fielding team opting for a review for a leg-before-wicket decision will not lose its review in case an ‘umpire's call’ verdict saves the batsman. The ‘umpire’s call’ itself goes against the idea of taking refuge in technology, Mukherjee believes, as despite the ball predicted to be hitting the wickets, the on-field decision is stuck to.

“The interpretation of DRS has not been consistent around the world, hence there is much confusion among spectators,” he says, expressing his disagreement with the current usage of technology in the game.

It is true that technology has helped in making right decisions concerning batsmen’s dismissals. But as a side effect, it has also been the subject of a few controversies and disagreements, the very thing it was introduced to avoid. One of the reasons for frequent consternation among players was close lbw appeals going against the bowling team; the readjustment only allows teams to retain its review opportunity. Moreover, the participating teams will not have two reviews for use after 80 overs in Tests, as was the earlier rule.

Does it create a fairer game? According to Mukherjee, cricket will still be tilted heavily in favour of batsmen. Perhaps this is accepted to be the new normal.

Lost deemed dead

A host of changes in the ICC playing conditions owing to lawmaker Marylebone Cricket Club’s decision to modify a number of its laws have taken effect in international cricket — Tests, One-Day Internationals, and Twenty20 Internationals — from all series beginning on or after September 28, 2017.

The changes affect all disciplines of the game, and is intentioned to make the sport fairer and simpler. For example, the ‘lost ball’ rule is now scrapped and its possibility signified under the ‘dead ball’ rule where if a ball is lost, which is very unlikely, it would be appropriate for umpires to signal ‘dead ball’ and get on with the game.

The batsmen have been given a helping hand in the running between the wickets. Now, a fielder will be appropriately penalised if he/she feigns the act of fielding for favourable outcomes for the fielding team. This rule has already been applied in a domestic one-day game in Australia; five penalty runs accrued as a result of the indiscretion by the fielder, and even after a subsequent apology. A batsman will now also be declared not-out if the bat bounces up after being grounded within the popping crease. 

However, restrictions have now been imposed on the bat sizes which, as ICC’s Geoff Allardyce says, will only be of value in the long term. It was introduced, as Allardyce says, to prevent and mitigate the “distortion of the balance between bat and ball.”

Other changes in laws and ICC’s playing conditions pertain to the following:

* Ability of umpires to send players off the field for the entire contest.

* Introduction of tethered bails to prevent severe injury to wicket-keepers.

* Adjudgment of no-ball if a delivered ball bounces more than once on its way to the batsman.

* The ability of a batsman to be recalled even if he/she has left the field.

* The imposition of penalty on bowlers for intentional no-balls.

* The prevention of batsmen from occupying the protected area of the pitch.

* The scrapping of 'handling the ball' dismissal, and its presence in the 'obstructing the field' domain.

* The increase of number of substitutes for an international team (from four to six).

* Increase in time-difference between a wicket falling and the official time for lunch/tea/dinner break to three minutes (from two) for the break to be taken without completion of ongoing over, in Tests.

* The setting of a bowler’s maximum quota of overs — two — for a shortened match of 10 overs or less.

* The separation of runs from byes and leg-byes off no-balls.

* The imposition of the condition of fielders claiming a legible catch on the boundary only if he/she has taken off from within the field.

Till now, these changes have been brought into the spotlight only in a few incidents. The presence of DRS in a Twenty20 International between India and Australia was the subject of much confusion as the players themselves weren’t aware of it.