ICC rules, okay!
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.
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
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
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.
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