What will you do under such circumstances? Allow a substitute or let them play on with a truncated side? © Getty Images
What will you do under such circumstances? Allow a substitute or let them play on with a truncated side? © Getty Images

There is nothing new about the idea. ICC had even implemented that — albeit temporarily — in ODIs. Every self-respecting cricket quizmaster knows by now that Vikram Solanki was the first ODI Supersub. It took ICC a few months to do away with the innovation: according to them the Supersub aided the side that won the toss. While there was truth in that, there was another solution: the playing XII could have been named before the toss and the final XI after it.

Whether the Supersub was a good idea or not is debatable. What we do know is that ICC had not implemented it in Test cricket. If anything, ICC had done away with the runner — a concept that was there in cricket since time immortal —back in 2011.

No, it was clear that they were not interested in substitutes of any sort, barring the usual replacement fielder. Perhaps runners were unfair, after all. How can you get your ‘runs’ when you do not ‘run’?

But this is different. This is about full replacement. If a runner is summoned, a batsman stays on and takes help of another teammate (technically, that makes it more than 11 players for that side). In this case (a full replacement) the batsman is taken away completely from the match, which will mean there will be 11 vs 11.

If purists scoff at this, here is a question: is 10 vs 11 cricket more attractive than 11 vs 11 cricket, assuming you take the tradition bit away? The question is obviously rhetoric. Do the fans not want to see cricket at its competitive best? Does a mid-match serious injury or illness (in other words, a 10 vs 11 match) not take some sting out of the competition?

Note: Illnesses can be as serious as injuries. Norman O’Neill went down with a stomach bug just after the toss in the 1964-65 Bombay Test and was ruled out of entire the match.

The argument that this has been the practice since beginning does not hold good. Football always had substitutes (referred to as ‘emergencies’ in the early days); it took a century for substitutes to arrive at English Football League.

That was in 1965-66, and even at that stage only injured players could be replaced. It took another two years for strategic substitutions to arrive. The ninth edition of World Cup Football (in 1970) was the first to involve substitutes. Cricket has had 11 editions. Is it too late to begin, at least injury replacements?

Chandimal’s proposal

The topic comes up every now and then, especially after a player is actually ruled out for a chunk of the Test. Asela Gunaratne had fractured a thumb in the Galle Test against India. By lunch on Day One he was ruled out of the rest of the Test. This meant that Sri Lanka had to play the rest of the Test with one manless. Though 11 men were allowed to field, only 10 could bat and a maximum of 10 could bowl.

While this has been the accepted norm, can it be improved upon? Dinesh Chandimal came up with the suggestion that a team should be allowed to replace a player if he is ruled out in the first hour of the Test.

Though the news on Gunaratne had taken slightly more than that, one gets the gist:if the injury takes place too early in the Test, the match will be reduced to a 10 vs 11 contest. Of course,the phrase ‘too early’ is subjective, but can be defined with some trial and error.

This sounds like a sound proposal.

The medical flaw

However, this can also come with problems. The first (and perhaps most valid) question is whether there is a way to find out whether the person concerned is really unfit enough to be ruled out of the entire match.

Teams may want total replacements even after the first hour. Consider the Bangalore Test of 1986-87 is a perfect example.Both captains read the pitch wrong and played an extra seamer. There was nothing in the pitch for seamers but the ball turned from as early as possible in the Test.

KapilDev bowled 23 overs in the Test and Roger Binny 3. Imran Khan bowled 5 overs and Wasim Akram 13, but more significantly — Salim Jaffar, a specialist left-arm pacer who batted at No. 11 in each innings — did not bowl at all. In other words, Pakistan were reduced to 10 men and India nearly 10 (at least Binny could bat).

Obviously, once it became evident that the pitch was turning square, Pakistan would have wanted to drop Jaffar (how frustrating was it for Abdul Qadir to sit out and watch Tauseef Ahmed and Iqbal Qasim turning the ball square?).

There have been similar examples, but let us not get into that (Daniel Vettori did not bowl a single ball in both Tests when India toured New Zealand in 2002-03). There have been other instances. In other words, there will be circumstances when teams would want to replace cricketers, even in the first hour.

This will obviously lead to unfair use of the law. In fact, that was why runners were scrapped in the first place. Cricketers may feign injuries (and why not?) to make sure the best XI takes field if one agrees to Chandimal’s suggestion.

Perhaps the only solution is for ICC to appoint neutral medical personnel for every Test who will serve as authority for that match (on the same lines as neutral umpires and match referees). Let that person decide on the outcome.

When should injury substitutes be allowed?

Consider the Kandy Test of 1999. Steve Waugh and Jason Gillespie collided into each other while attempting a catch. Both men had batted once in the Test (Gillespie had also bowled 12 overs). Sri Lanka were 139 for 3 after bowling out Australia for 188 when they collided into each other: down to nine men, Australia had no chance.

Was this too late into the Test? Is the phrase ‘too late’ applicable at all?

Who should be the replacement?

Recall the famous Lord’s Test of 1963. England needed 6 from 2 balls when they had lost nine men. Then Colin Cowdrey famously emerged with his left arm in plaster. He did not have to face a ball, and the Test was saved.

Consider this now. A side needs 6 from 2 balls and a side needs a full replacement for their No. 11.Suppose they replace Shannon Gabriel with, say, Evin Lewis.

That will obviously be too late in the Test. However, more importantly, will Lewis for Gabriel in a 2-ball-6 situation be a legitimate replacement? Should it not be a like-for-like injury replacement? But then, who defines like-for-like anyway?

Should injuries be relevant at all?

Before we get into the timing, let me ask something else. Why do we need to depend on injuries for substitutions? Why bring suspicious injuries into the equation at all? What about the Bangalore Test where Jaffar and Binny could have been substituted (which would invariably have resulted in superior cricket)?

One way to go about this is to allow a maximum of one substitution per side during a Test at any given time irrespective of whether there is an injury. As in most decisions, the captains of the sides take the call.

That was how the Supersub used to work. Unlike in ODIs, every cricketer has two attempts in Test cricket, so the impact of the toss will be significantly lower. In other words, the Supersub is likely to be more relevant in Tests. It will be entirely up to you if you want to replace Jaffar with Qadir in the first hour or Cowdrey with any fit man in the last over.

That will be the easiest solution. However, it is unlikely that ICC will give strategic replacements the nod, at least at this point. Injury replacements may be an easier place to begin.

A probable injury solution

Let us return to the original topic: injury replacements. Here is what ICC can do:

1. Make it compulsory for every side to name a reserve bench. This happens in football and several other team sports.

2. Allow a full substitute only if the ICC-appointed medical person approves.

3. Allow the substitution to happen after two innings of the match. While that is not (often) halfway through the match in terms of time or overs bowled, it is the ‘middle-stage’ of the match (you know what I mean).Thus, while the side will be stripped of a player for two innings (there should be some penalty) they will at least be able to play with 10.5 players instead of 11.

This will mean that there will not be a substitution if a player is ruled out due to an injury or illness during the third or fourth innings.

This may seem unfair to begin with, but is actually not.

If a person is injured during the first two innings, his team plays the first half with an incomplete XI and the second half with a complete XI. If the injury takes place after the ‘middle-stage’, they will play the second half with an incomplete XI — but hey, haven’t they already played with a full side in the first half?

Who will be the substitute? Let us keep two things in mind:

1. The side with an injured player cannot be allowed to take advantage of the injury. An injury-only replacement, after all, is a move out of desperation.

2. The side with no injured player should be given some sort of advantage.

How can we satisfy both conditions? Yes, by letting the opposition decide on who the substitute will be. This will allow the weakened, desperate side 11 men, but the opposition captain will have the advantage of taking the call on the replacement.

This way, both sides will have something to lose that way and something to gain. Will someone call ICC now?