The rule of having four fielders in the outfield in One-Day Internationals has finally shown its flip side. Abhijit Banare explains why the new rule has an impact beyond just boundaries and sixes.
Sometimes it’s difficult to imagine that you are in front of the television screen witnessing some historic moments in cricket. India have chased down scores which were never seen in One-Day International (ODI) cricket. At the same time, another argument sets in. With the game slowly inclining in favour of the batsmen, has it become so easy to chase down such gigantic scores and break records or is it really the fact that India have a great team. There’s no argument that the latter is true but MS Dhoni has done well to bring the former point to the notice as well. The new rule of allowing only four fielders outside the ring seems to be creating lot of problems especially with the bowling attack India has.
Just to recount before providing some opinion, this is what Dhoni had to say after Wednesday’s match: “I think the rules are something that we need to sit and think about if 350 is the new 280 or 290 or 300. With the rule changes and everything, most of the bowlers are getting smashed with the extra fielder inside. Even the best of the bowlers, the fast bowlers, are bowling with third-man and fine-leg up.”
There are three points to explain:
a) Flatter the pitch the harsher the rule appears b) It is not just about boundaries c) ICC getting its ODI priorities wrong
The rule has been in place close to six months now. However, the debate over the four fielders has come into highlight after a series of run-feast encounters. Ever since the rule came in, only one ODI match saw both teams crossing 300 before this series. And it was between India and South Africa in the ICC Champions Trophy 2013 opener. The one less fielder in the outfield rule makes the game more one-sided when it’s played on a lifeless pitch. And there could not have been a better example to balance this argument after South Africa defended just over half the runs scored by Australia against Pakistan on Wednesday. And on pitches that offer a lot to the bowlers, the captains are highly unlikely to go defensive by placing their men in the deep. Moreover, the decision to do away with one powerplay and allowing two bouncers is not going to make an impact on a flat deck (unless you are Suresh Raina).
The second point is that the new rule isn’t only about boundaries. It also impacts the pace of scoring in the middle overs. This is the phase they usually term as the lull period in ODIs. However, with just four outside the ring, the singles turn into twos and the twos can be turned into threes at times. In the chase of India’s successful chase of a 351-run target, 151 runs were scored in singles, twos and threes whereas Australia scored just 134. Since the team chasing knows its target, running the second run helps to ease the pressure by playing in the gaps. With five in the ring, it is still not a big task to find the gaps. The match also saw four occasions where the batsmen ran three. And spinners who usually dominate the middle overs can get frustrated if they are milked for singles which now can be turned into twos.
Another aspect where International Cricket Council (ICC) has got it wrong is thinking on the lines of T20s. If they thought having one less fielder outside the ring with batsmen scoring more runs will make the format exciting, it’s surely misleading. Ultimately the game of cricket is Bat vs Ball and not Bat vs Bat. If you go out and take a survey, chances are that low-scoring thrillers are likely to be preferred over boundaries and sixes.
The ICC has already tweaked the rules enough number of times, which goes beyond the understanding of common fans. And with the present challenge of dealing with ruthless high-scoring matches, it will soon force them to rethink.
(Abhijit Banareis a reporter at CricketCountry. He is an avid quizzer and loves to analyse and dig out interesting facts which allows him to learn something new every day. Apart from cricket he also likes to keep a sharp eye on Indian politics, and can be followed onTwitterandblog)