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May 30, 2001

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The CC-P meet

Daniel Laidlaw

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 disciplinary breaches.

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 labelled boring.

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 game.

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