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ICC rules, okay!

Harsha Bhogle

So the International Cricket Committee is moving.

With purpose, with direction and, a quality that it seemed very hesitant to embrace, speed.

Three cheers for that. Make it ten actually.

It would be tempting, and incorrect, to believe that this is a direct result of having a new president in charge; a man who is commited to making the game more contemporary and more audience-friendly.

Important decisions, such as those taken last week, are rarely taken after a couple of meetings. But having said that, the decision to invite all nine Test match captains seems most Dalmiya-esque, having arranged a similar meeting at first class level in India recently. That was effective. This one seems to have set a wonderful new process in motion.

Decision number one was expected, but it comes with a few conditions. If the light fails within the normal playing hours, the ICC has decreed, the lights can be switched on to allow play to continue provided the two teams have agreed to this before the series started. That means it should be part of the playing conditions that the two Boards agree upon. So it is not yet law, but this decision will make it very difficult for a member country of the ICC to say no when the host country proposes it in the playing conditions.

There are a couple of interesting sub-plots here. For a start, 90 overs a day will be strictly implemented unless a side takes more than seven hours to bowl them, which is good news because the objective of a Test match is to get in as much cricket as is legally possible. Obvious but not always true!

But remember, play can only be extended by an hour, so if it rains for longer than that, or time is otherwise lost for more than an hour, we are still looking at a shortened day.

I would be very interested in seeing what impact this has on the choice of Test match venues, given that not all of them have lights. Given that everybody likes to have uniformity in playing conditions, there would, hopefully, be a preference towards those grounds that have the facility, and since it is only the better grounds that have it just now, this might be one way of ensuring that the sanctity that was once accorded to Test matches returns.

India has seven centres with lights, which I think is unbelievable and shows just how adaptable we are becoming as a cricket playing nation. The good thing is that all the major Test centres like Calcutta, Bangalore, Mumbai, Madras and Mohali have them and hopefully, we will get by without Test matches at such forgettable centres as Cuttack and Kanpur.

Incidentally, the West Indies don't have any lights yet and I don't think New Zealand have started either, while there is still only a plan to experiment with it in England. South Africa have no problems since all their grounds have lights (so it comes as no surprise that the idea originated there) and with temporary lights tried out at the Adelaide Oval, all of Australia's traditional Test match grounds are ready . On the sub-continent, Lahore now has lights and the Premadasa Stadium has had them for a while now.

The ICC have also said that they will discuss, next year, another proposal, from Australia and South Africa to play Test cricket on a day/night basis. In terms of economics, it makes excellent sense. After a long day at work, people can either stop by at the ground or, as is more relevant today, watch it on television and get tempted to spend a little more on all the products that are advertised during overs. In cricketing terms though, there are a few aspects that need sorting out, as we discovered in India during the Ranji Trophy final.

The biggest problem is cricket balls. For all the advances in technology, nobody can still produce a white ball that lasts fifty overs without complaints. Only one company, Kookaburra, makes international quality balls and very often, it is the ball that is looking forward to the end of the innings as much as the fielding side. It is possible to get away in the limited overs game because it is only fifty overs long, but in Test matches where the new ball is due after 75 or 80 overs, a most peculiar situation can arise because the ball doesn't last that long.

In the Ranji Trophy final, they altered the playing conditions such that a new ball was available after forty overs and, the emphasis is the key here, had to be taken after fifty. There are two major problems with that. For one, it takes away a key discretionary element from the captain of the fielding side and for a second, even though the white ball loses shine faster, by the time a spinner can get to feel the ball, it's taken away from him.

Some players have also complained about diets. Obviously a player cannot have a very big lunch and by the time the game is over (including sometimes the additional hour to make up for rain, poor overrates etc), it is often too late for a serious dinner. Cricketers say you can get by during a one-day match, but to do change your eating cycle over five days is a bit rough.

But by far the biggest problem at Gwalior during the Ranji Trophy final had very little to do with cricket, as we know it, and more with the other word you find in the dictionary. There were insects swarming all over as the game entered its after dark phase and apparently, a few confirmed vegetarians were particularly upset!

But a day/night Test match is an idea whose time has come, and you can be sure that if Ali Bacher and the United Cricket Board of South Africa are behind the move, they would have thought of everything by the time the matter is debated next July.

The ICC have also bowed to the inevitable by extending the scope of the television replay. In doing so, they have placed a greater responsibility on the organisation producing the telecast, on the director and on the cameramen. I suspect, indeed I hope, this will mean more stringent production guidelines for television which at the moment are more greatly influenced by government policy in individual countries.

Close catches can now be referred to the umpire in the pavilion, who will rule on them with the help of the replay. For the record, the ICC has said that the replay will be used only if both umpires are unable to make a decision. That is a desperate attempt at saying we are not going all the way, though I think it is pretty clear that even if there is a minor doubt, no umpire is going to risk a verdict.

When India were in England last year, the one-day internationals were produced by Sky and the Test matches by the BBC, whose coverage was just a little bit outdated. As a result, Sky were allowed two extra cameras and they chose to use one super slo-mo (Spin Vision is a patented name and so the more generic term is super slo-mo) at either end. It made a huge difference to the way we saw the game.

On ESPN, we had the Sky output whereas everybody else was using the BBC output. As a result, in the second innings of the first Test, we went on air saying Graeme Hick had picked up Vikram Rathore on the bounce at slip (because the super slo-mo showed the ball rising while he caught it), and when I went across to the BBC Test Match Special box I mentioned that the Indians had the rough end of the umpiring.

By then, Nasser Hussain's lucky escape against Javagal Srinath (the ball went off glove and he, true to form, stood) had been widely seen and discussed. I was a bit surprised when Bill Frindall quickly asked me what was wrong with the Rathore dismissal and I said, not aware that the replays we saw hadn't been seen on BBC, that Hick took it on the bounce. "No", said everyone, the catch was clean because they saw all the replays.

Now if the third umpire had only seen the BBC replays, he would have ruled Rathore out. As it happened, by early afternoon, Sky had made available the replay to the BBC who, being completely fair as they are at most times, promptly put it on air and luckily for me, Jonathon Agnew had the grace to admit to me that I was indeed right.

Maybe, the ICC will have to insist on a super slo-mo at either end, though I suspect that will throw at least some production budgets out of gear.

As a lot of people have suggested, the next advance is probably going to be bat-pad catches or thin snicks. I am not as sure, because when there is a thin edge it is very difficult to tell from the replay, especially if the stump microphone doesn't pick up the noise. Again the stump mike is not conclusive evidence, because it rarely distinguishes between sounds (one reason why umpires do not give run-outs when they hear the sound of ball hitting stump but don't actually see that happening).

My only reservation against increasing use of the cameras is that if they are not conclusive, the benefit will have to go the batsman. On most occasions that is okay, but with the umpires over-reliant on replays, they could ask for one when they are 95% sure. If the cameraman has missed it or if the replay editor hasn't saved it, the batsman will get away when he would almost certainly have been given out without the replay option.

Finally, the ICC have given a mixed signal to fast bowlers by including the experimental law regarding two bouncers per over into the laws of the game. The fast bowlers wanted no limit (are kids ever happy with one chocolate at a time?) and the spokesmen for batsmen say this allows for 180 bouncers a day. It seems like an awful lot when it is put that way, and that is why I think it is quite fair especially since a lot of chest high balls do not qualify as bouncers. I think the ICC have got it right here, because the earlier law said a bowler could not bowl more than one bouncer at a batsman in an over. If the batsman changed ends, he got to bowl two but once he had bowled one at a particular batsman, that player could breathe free. This way, there is still the element of surprise, which is what a bouncer is all about. Or should be.

In spite of these changes, and they are going to make a lot of difference to the way we will see Test cricket in the next twelve months, there is one announcement that's got me standing and clapping. It is now mandatory for every intenational match venue to be equipped with 'at least one absorbent roller to mop up after heavy rain'. I have been to too many matches where play is held up in spite of bright sunlight because everyone is waiting for the puddles to dry up or be soaked in.

To my mind, the ugliest sight in the game, even uglier than batsmen spitting beside the wicketkeeper, is to see men and women dipping little bathroom dusters (the kind you use to mop the floor) into puddles and then squeezing the water out of them. And then, shuffling slowly to the boundary line to tip over a half-full bucket (half-full because the holes in it have emptied most of the water on the way).

It angered me to see rich state associations do this, completely aware that they didn't have to refund tickets in case play didn't start. And it pained me that in spite of India being one of the richest cricket boards in the world, pictures such as these were being transmitted around the world, accompanied by ridiculing voices. Local associations didn't invest in their cricket grounds, partly because they didn't own them but more because they didn't care. And didn't need to care.

I am now looking forward to the day when two other guidelines are established; that every international venue should have drainage facilities and that full refunds should be mandatory if there is no play (accompanied by part refund if less than one session has taken place).

That way we will give the spectator his due, as the traditional king of the game.

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