The CC-P meet
In the wake of Sir Paul Condon's corruption report, the other interesting
ICC news of the past week has gone comparatively unnoticed. Last Friday's
ICC media release, slipped out after the Condon report a couple of days
earlier, nevertheless contained some important and notable changes to
cricket's playing conditions.
The awkwardly titled Cricket Committee-Playing (CC-P), chaired by Sunil
Gavaskar, revealed in the release some overdue alterations to the way the
game is played, like the mandatory use of lights where available, and some
unconvincing changes like the awarding of 5 penalty runs for all on-field
Most interesting of all, though, were the changes to the playing conditions
of one-day cricket brought about by the admission of the CC-P that one-day
cricket has become predictable. Pundits and punters alike have agreed for a
while now that the one-day game has become stale and formulaic through
overuse, while also containing a couple of inherent flaws.
Ironically, the wheel has turned full circle. Test cricket used to be
considered "boring" by some but can hardly be more attractive, while we now
have official acknowledgement that the flashy and supposedly exciting
one-day game has become "predictable", which is close enough to being
In one-day games of no special significance without our favourite players on
show, it's easy to tune out between overs 15-40 when the field is set back
and unchallenged singles are the norm. Even at five runs per over, it's a
fact that what would ordinarily be considered a high run rate does not
equate to attractive cricket. Only especially restrictive bowling or
over-ambitious batting generally leads to the fall of wickets in this period
and when a batsman isn't challenged for his runs one-day cricket severely
tests the patience of the spectator, especially on television. When the
aspect that makes any sport exciting -- competitiveness -- is lessened, the
meaning of the contest is reduced as a whole.
The CC-P did not address this problem specifically, but they did take a
couple of measures to enliven the game. Bowlers were finally awarded their
one bouncer per over, bonus points were introduced for triangular
tournaments, and a six-run penalty was approved for each over not bowled in
the allotted time in either innings. All those changes are positive but are
unlikely to reduce the predictability of the middle overs in individual
matches, which is one-day cricket's main problem.
Solutions for diminishing that include the most obvious one -- stopping the
majority of these games altogether -- allowing fewer fielders in the outfield
for more overs (like in Australia's domestic one-day competition) or
reducing the number of overs played.
The last solution would be the most radical one but also the best way to
improve one-day cricket as an entertainment form, which it is to a large
degree. Allowing bowlers one bouncer per over is really just a token
gesture, for as long as it remains a consistently batsman-dominated game, it
will not resemble the ideal kind of competitive cricket purists like to
watch. Considering that, shouldn't we stop pretending it is a balanced
contest and get on with giving people more of what they want to see in ODIs?
A 30-over match would remove the meandering overs in the middle of an
innings and provide spectators with the sight of batsmen attacking the
bowling throughout, without making the bowlers worse off than they already
are for the majority of matches. A 30-over game would condense the best
aspects one-day cricket, attacking batsmanship against bowlers desperately
trying to restrict and take wickets, without reducing it to the completely
flukey level of Super 8s or Super 6s competition.
People tend to forget that one-day cricket was conceived as an experiment, a
light-hearted variation of the serious game, but through constant playing
has become stuck in a predictable pattern with minimal evolution (Sri
Lanka's revolutionary policy of attacking in the first 15 overs being the
notable exception). It would not damage the sport if more boundaries were
explored, if only on a temporary basis. Under current laws governing
rain-interrupted matches, 25-over contests still qualify as one-day
internationals. Let's see if truly limited-overs matches are worthwhile.
A most welcome initiative by the CC-P is the six run penalty for every over
a team does not complete in the scheduled time, hopefully eliminating the
ludicrous and unfair laws currently in existence. At present, the team
bowling first is penalised by loss of overs for every over it fails to
complete inside the three-and-a-half hours, a rule which is arbitrarily and
inconsistently applied by various match referees anyway, while the team
bowling second can basically take as long as it likes to bowl its overs
knowing there is no penalty that can apply to it during the match.
In theory, it sounds like a sufficient deterrent for slow over rates, but as
with all harsh penalties it will take a brave umpire indeed to first apply a
rule that will inevitably cost a team a match. You can be sure it will be
controversial the first time it occurs and umpires will know this, making it
more than likely they will be very lenient in the application of the law.
Hopefully, the umpires will instantly signal any penalties, otherwise it
could get very confusing at the end of a match.
The worst decision to emerge from the CC-P meeting was the maintaining of
the technology status quo in relation to caught decisions. The present
TV-assisted rulings on disputed catches are patently unsatisfactory and will
remain so. Umpires do not want to be proved wrong by television, yet the use
of cameras to adjudicate on catches has only led to more disputes. The CC-P
did not commit one way or the other so the conundrum remains unresolved.
On the other hand, it's understandable the ICC did not want to endorse an
overall increased technological presence given that the umpiring panel is
about to be restructured to include only the elite. Obviously it is hoped
that by using only the best umpires, many of the recent lbw and bat-pad
controversies will be averted. If the best umpires still can't get it right
most of the time, then one suspects it is time to conclude that traditional
human umpires are no longer capable enough for modern cricket and more
innovative technology will be introduced. Until that happens, though, it is
only sensible to let the best umpires prove themselves.
The elite panel of umpires can be considered on trial. If they can
demonstrate a level of competency high enough to avoid most controversies,
the technology tide will be swept back. If they can't, they will gradually
be replaced. From next year, the ICC's umpires will be working not only for
their jobs, but also for the very future existence of their position in the
Mail Daniel Laidlaw