Over, and out
Amidst all the records set in recent times - and they are coming like the
rain does during a Test match in Kandy - there is one that will only
merit a footnote. And that too, in the most meticulous and complete of
But it is symbolic of the state of mind of a cricket team. It
is a symptom for what I believe is a raging fever.
During the second Test match at the Sinhalese Sports Club in Colombo,
India were fined 195 per cent of their match fee for slow over rates.
Effectively, it means that the Indians earned nothing out of the two Test
match series, and while that might please a few perverse minds, it should
sadden India's cricket administrators.
I can visualise the match referee, John Reid, almost lying in wait at the
opportunity of exercising his authority once again. He is not the most
popular of referees, because a lot of players find him excessively officious -
but I believe he got it absolutely right here. Normally, a team gets
docked 5 per cent of its match fee per over bowled short, and given that the
Indians bowled 22 short, they should have lost 110 per cent.
Clearly, Reid has
exercised his discretion by going for 195 per cent and, by leaving a few crumbs
behind, he has also displayed a rather wicked sense of humour.
I hope the Indians see it that way, though. In fact, given our terrible
over-rates, I hope someone sees it some way. I hope someone sees it.
I believe it is appalling. Cricket is a contest between bat and ball - not
an exercise in waiting for a bowler to deliver a ball. Preparing pitches
where 15 wickets go down in 5 days is bad enough. Not sending down enough
balls is simply unacceptable.
In the odd cricket match, it could be a strategic tool. But India have
long lost the right to the benefit of that doubt, because our over-rates
have been very lethargic for several years now. It is strange, isn't it?
You would expect a side that bowls a lot of spin to catch up with the
required rate of 15 overs per hour quite easily. In fact, we do probably
bowl our overs quickly enough - the problem is the time in between.
A side that wants to win will want to bowl as many balls as possible on
the rather simple, and tested, premise that you need to bowl a ball to
get a wicket. Conversely, therefore, a side that does not bowl enough
reduces its chances of getting wickets. By bowling 22 overs short, India
passed over the option of getting a wicket 132 times. To me, that suggests
a side that is desperately defensive, a side that is perfectly happy
One-day cricket was faced with a similar problem when the law stated that
the side batting second would get as many overs as they had bowled. By
slowing the game down in the last hour, a bowling side could thus reduce the
number of slog overs the batsmen got, and very often, teams only bowled 43
or 44 overs in three and a half hours. Soon, the law was changed. It now
says that the team batting second will get only as many overs as it bowls
till the scheduled lunch hour, but will then have to go on bowling till 50
overs have been completed. That means you allow the opposition to bat 50
overs, while you only allow yourself a smaller number.
Since then, the problem has vanished. Totally. I think it is a matter of
regret that the law had to be introduced, but it showed up how the game
was being played.
That moment has now come in Test cricket.
Shane Warne has, in fact recommended that the system of fines be scrapped
and run penalties introduced. He recommends a whopping 20 runs per over -
which is a bit like calling for a pickpocket to be executed. Closer to 8
runs per over bowled short might be more feasible.
It would make the match referee acquire the powers of a hanging judge,
because his discretion would determine what total a side ends up with and,
sometimes, he could decide the outcome of a Test match. Admittedly, that
is a less than perfect solution, because match referees can sometimes get
it terribly wrong, as we saw with the Allan Donald situation in South
Africa when Barry Jarman was the referee.
But something tells me that teams would not want to leave it to the
The bottom line is: people pay to see 90 overs a day at 15 overs an hour.
You cannot cheat them by giving them less cricket.