At last, a law to help out the poor bowlers
Among all the law changes proposed by MCC’s World Cricket Committee comes the shock that one is designed to aid bowlers. As ever, with committees, the devil is in the detail and while limiting the thickness of bats appears sensible, it won’t make the slightest difference to the bowler’s lot as it stands, with mis-hits continuing to clear the boundary ropes for six.
Bat technology, a bit like that of golf clubs, has increased the size of sweet spots to pretty much any part of the blade below the splice. Where once a batsman would have to strike a ball with perfect power and timing, and make pure contact with a sweet spot the size of a grapefruit in order to clear the ropes at somewhere like the Oval, players routinely achieve the feat now without meeting any of the above criteria.
The World Cricket Committee’s (WCC) proposal, yet to be ratified by MCC’s main committee, is that bats be limited to 47mm (1.85 inches) at the edge and 67mm (2.63inches) from front to back. Clearly some exceed that now, but it is the double whammy of increasing the mass of a bat (without affecting its pick-up), and decreasing the size of boundaries (deemed a necessity under health and safety legislation), which has tilted the balance too far in favour of the batsman. Unless all are considered, though, the WCC’s proposed redress is likely to be as much use as a sticking plaster in staunching a severed artery.
They could, of course, have done something more radical to help the leather flingers, like allow ball tampering or let bowlers follow-through down the pitch a bit further than is currently allowed. But with the WCC comprising mostly batsmen, anything too radical in favour of bowlers was always unlikely.
MCC have pushed day/night Tests with a pink ball as a solution to stem dwindling crowds at Test matches, an assumption based on Tests being an awkward fit into a person’s day. They may be right about this but after T20’s rampant popularity there is probably an element of obvious spectacle involved too, or the lack of it, which turns people off the longer format.
As we have seen in India, despite England’s humiliation, turning pitches have produced fascinating challenges and cricket. Letting bowlers followthrough down onto areas currently out of bounds to their clod-hoppers, would mean more spinning conditions elsewhere around the world and subsequently more spinners, always a good thing for the game. Umpires could step in to prevent deliberate abuse, otherwise, let footfall and time exert their influence.
Ditto ball tampering. By all means limit the size of bats in white-ball cricket, where bowlers have even fewer rights to put one over batsmen, but leave them be for red-ball matches. If bowlers possess the means to move the ball sideways, whether through pitch or manipulation
Nothing kills the spectacle more at a Test match than one side scoring 500-5 and the opposition then making 450 on a benign pitch
of the ball, batsmen won’t hit that many sixes, at least not enough to devalue them.
Putting sun cream on the ball, or sweet saliva to preserve its condition, is hardly a guarantee of anything except a good shine.You still need talented bowlers to make a ball swing. I would also allow fingernails to abrade the leather or lift the seam, but not artificial implements like sandpaper, nail files or bottle tops. In the past, all of those have been used to get cricket balls into the right condition for reverse-swing – an inexact science but less demanding of the bowler, technically, once achieved.
None of these things would be prominent, though, if pitches offered a fair contest between bat and ball. Those 22 yards are, it could be argued, more important than all the levers pulled by subtle changes to the laws. Nothing kills the spectacle more at a Test than one side scoring 500-5 and the opposition then making 450 on a benign pitch. That is dull, dull, dull. In a corollary to preventing boring cricket, maybe fielding restrictions in Tests should be considered, say for the first 40 overs. It is so frustrating seeing sweepers on the cover and mid-wicket boundaries from the outset of an innings, set there for the bad ball which deserves to be punished. If limiting the size of bats is meant to let the best rise to the top, so too fielding restrictions. Otherwise, I’ve a mind to allow cricket bats all the latitude they want in improving their rebound potential.
The headline-catching suggestion from the WCC was the use red cards for umpires to send players off for “the most severe breaches of on-field discipline”. I’m sure the research which claims that 40 per cent of umpires in the recreational game in England have considered giving up due to abuse from club cricketers is most worthy, but I can’t see red cards being needed at international level, at least not these days.
It could be in place by October next year, though, had it already been law, then some past misdemeanours might have attracted censure. Dennis Lillee’s kick at Javed Miandad and the latter’s subsequent threat to strike him with his bat at the WACA, would probably have seen two reds issued.
Only one red would have been issued in Faisalabad 29 years ago, when Mike Gatting had his finger-poking argument with umpire Shakoor Rana.The same goes for Michael Holding, in Dunedin, where frustrated by a series of poor umpiring decisions against New Zealand, he uprooted a stump with a well-aimed kick. Those incidences apart, I can’t recall there being too many reasons to send players off.
Under Derek Brewer’s stewardship, MCC have become increasingly more progressive and proactive recently and not just as custodians of the laws. As one wag pointed out recently, they even have nappy-changing facilities in the gentlemen’s loos at Lord’s now though I imagine, from the cut of the average MCC member, they get used about as often as the red cards will.
Thing of the past? Chris Gayle will have to wave goodbye to his chunky bats