After utter madness unfolding in the final moments of the 2019 ICC World Cup, the sports world seems to have completely stilled. While nothing will probably ever compare to the three hours on Sunday evening, one can’t help but look back at what took place at Lord’s Cricket Ground and try to relive the emotions analyse the details and ponder over where the game was won and where it was lost.
While the final face-off between England and New Zealand was perhaps one of the greatest matches the sport has witnessed, it also irked fans and made them question, very rightfully, the logic behind a rather bizarre way to decide the game of cricket. As dust settles on the historic match, we examine some of the rules governing the sport and deliberate upon whether it’s time to revisit, reinvent and bin some of them for good.
I’m aware that some of the changes I will mention are already moot and might seem entirely left field, if not blasphemous, but I’ve given them much thought, so hear me out.
1. Tied Match
The logical place to start. While a Super Over is a great idea since it revolves around playing actual cricket, the boundary rule is farcical. Surely, wickets lost overall (and subsequently perhaps the league table) is the fair way to go.
While every country deserves to host matches, for ICC events, it just doesn’t work any more. There is too much at stake, simply in a commercial respect – broadcast fee, sponsorship, tickets – for matches to not take place. Any country which wishes to host an ICC event must build retractable roofs over three of its stadiums and matches should take place at these venues.
There is a bat and a ball. The batsman has to hit one with the other. How is it that once he has failed to achieve the task, he can still get the same reward (1,2 or 4 runs) even if the ball touches his pad, to result in runs.
It makes no sense, and the bowler deserves a break! If it hits the leg with no bat involved, the ball should be declared dead.
One with many polarised opinions. It is an option available to the bowler and yet, when exercised completely within the rules, is frowned upon and the ‘culprit’ gets targeted. The rule can stay – just remove the stigma attached to it and make the batsman stay in his crease!
The rule is clear and a free-hit is an effective punishment.
But why is technology used to check the front foot only in reviews or when a wicket falls?
With a simple yes or no answer and a total of three seconds needed to check it, surely every ball can be checked and the disaster which occurred on the last ball in the IPL be averted. The umpire will know the answer before the bowler starts his run-up and the free hit can be signalled accordingly.
6. Foot Touching the Rope
A boundary is supposed to be awarded when the ball crosses the rope. It’s simple. The ball is not to use the fielder as a lightning rod to reach its destination.
Trent Boult’s case is an example. Let the fielder stand, jump, fall wherever he wants but if he prevents the ball from crossing the line, the boundary should not be awarded
7. Deflected Throws
Another one circling back to the WC Final – while the rules on obstructing the field have been cleared up well, what happened to NZ off Stokes’ bat is just not right. The ball must be declared dead when it hits the batsman on the way back, and if it is deemed intentional, he can be declared out
They used to say that cricket involves three skills – batting, bowling and fielding.
The fourth and increasingly important skill has become that of taking the review. With only one available per innings in an ODI, many teams have suffered with a wrongly taken review.
Again, when the technology exists, why not use it? Why can the hardly overworked third umpire not communicate with the on-field umpire in cases of clear error of judgment? Why make the game fairer but not as fair as possible? Ask Ross Taylor.
9. Pitching Outside Leg, Hitting Outside Off
This may sound extreme but hear me out. The bowler’s aim is to hit the wicket. When wrongly blocked by the batsman’s leg, he can be given out LBW. Makes sense. In a game where the bowlers are grasping on straws anyway, imagine a scenario where these extra pre-qualifications did not exist. If the ball hits the leg on the way to stumps, you’re out LBW. Suddenly, the padding away of 6 balls off a leg-spinner becomes redundant. A defensive technique becomes a lethal weapon and a whole new set of skills and shots are born! Just imagine Warne and Sachin battling these conditions...
10. Home Conditions
Probably the most decisive factor in Test cricket. One day Kohli’s men look like world champions and the next day like school kids. While the essence, character and soul of the five-day game lies in battling foreign conditions, the difference has probably never been greater. Winning a test, let alone a series away from home is considered a great achievement and we run the risk of producing one-track teams.
A simple way to help reduce the gap is to automatically grant the visiting team the toss and make the playing field a little bit more even. Otherwise we run the risk of customised pitches and a silver coin deciding the result five days way too early.
The Road Ahead
We had a fantastic World Cup this year and everyone seems to be wondering why they’ve been missing out on cricket all this while. The answer probably lies in the fact that most matches played in world cricket are almost completely pointless. The complete lack of entertainment options in the 90s made every ODI a spectacle but in today’s age, even Indian grounds struggle to being in crowds. There is not just an overkill but also a lack of context.
My suggestion is to take each format and give it meaning as well as context:
Tests: The ICC is starting with the Test Championship, which is a great idea. With a four-year cycle, every Test-playing team to play the exact same number of tests against the same opponents – at home and away. No five-match series followed by a one match joke against Bangladesh. Follow a league format and at the end, the team with the most points is declared the Test champion. And repeat.
ODIs: Probably the biggest enigma. Every four years, we seem to tell ourselves that this format is the real deal and then wait for another four years to watch the next one. With the advent of T20, the sexy USP of the format has been lost and it should be restricted to ICC tournaments only. Have a few matches in the lead-up to tournaments as practice but please no more five-match India-SL bilateral series. Nobody cares.
T20s: The money maker. The X-Factor. With IPL, BBL, CPL, BPL, TRP, TLC, WTF, SMH... it’s hard to keep track of the number of franchise leagues in play today. So, let’s keep it at that. Make the T20 format a franchise-only format where players go to have some fun, make lots of money and entertain the crowd. I’m not opposed to the ICC tournaments, but they have to run the same way as the ODI ones with a four-year gap. If you want the format to be taken seriously, treat it with the same respect.
The above probably presents a lot of questionable ideas, most of which will never see light of day. But if even a few of them do, I feel that the game will move towards keeping up with the times. I’ll be back with tennis in Part 2!
(Saurabh Mehta is a lawyer by profession, a sports management consultant by chance and a lifelong sports fan by choice. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)
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