At last, a law to help out the poor bowlers

The Cricket Paper - - FRONT PAGE - DEREK PRINGLE

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.

PIC­TURE: Getty Im­ages

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