Shane Warne does have a number of useful hints about improving the game. However, eradicating all regulations in One-Day cricket does not seem to be the best advice, writes Arunabha Sengupta.
Peter Wiley had struck 58 off 67 balls to allow England reach 211 in 50 overs. A splash of shower had ensured reduction of three overs and, as was the method in those days, a pro rata reduction of the target to 199.
After Gordon Greenidge, Lawrence Rowe and Alvin Kallicharran had taken West Indies to 132 for two, there was a collapse. When Ian Botham stood waiting to bowl the last ball, the scoreboard read 196 for nine. Colin Croft was left to score three runs off the final delivery.
Mike Brearley, the English skipper, wanted to win. He placed his field meticulously, with all the fielders on the boundary line. Not satisfied with nine men patrolling the fence, he motioned wicketkeeper David Bairstow to go back to the fence. The crowd booed, Clive Lloyd frowned, but it was within the rules.
In the end, Croft was bowled, trying to manufacture some esoteric way to beat the battalion on the fence with his limited batting skills.
Before Greg Chappell created a new benchmark for ugly gamesmanship by asking brother Trevor to bowl underarm at Brian McKechnie with six runs required to win from the last ball, Brearley’s ploy was considered to be the worst ever level to which a captain had stooped in a One Day International. He was crucified by the Australian press, which had never really considered him a sweetheart in the first place.
Incredibly, the rules governing the game were such that both Chappell and Brearley did not even have to bend them. And while Chappell did raise eyebrows by pulling out a dust-coated page from the long forgotten history of the game, Brearley did not have to do anything extraordinary. He placed his fielders in cool, calculating, rational manner – and stayed well within the laws and even, in some opinions, ethics.
Shane Warne, in his well-publicised recommendations to improve the game, has flamboyantly voiced: “It is time to deregulate one-day cricket. No restrictions with the field, none, place the fielders anywhere you want, this will create so many options and the attacking captains and teams will win. The only law should be that no bowler can bowl more than 10 overs.”
Brearley was one of the best captains in the history of the game. But, what he did on that November day 33 years ago cannot be categorised as ‘attacking’ by any stretch of imagination. It was by far the most defensive ploy any captain could adopt. And he won the game.
Sweeping proclamations have this accompanying problem. One simple counter example is all that it takes to show that it is a flawed, untested statement uttered without rigorous thought to back it up. As the above example shows, history tells us that attacking captains and teams do not always win. The rules have evolved for reasons. And the burning necessity that triggers a change in most rules is negative cricket.
A free rein may indeed imply infinite number of options, although practicality and stakes are sure to reduce the limits of experimentation. At the same time, constraints placed on the captains actually make for some most interesting manoeuvres of strategy.
The first 15 overs of the 80s and 90s, and the power-plays of the modern day, have seen some improvisations that have enriched the limited overs format. Mark Greatbach, Sanath Jayasuriya to Adam Gilchrist have come out to revolutionise adventurous cricket because of the stipulated restrictionsin the field. Some of the best improvisations, as well as immaculate cricketing shots are played in the power-plays of the modern day. We have actually come a long way since Geoff Boycott and Brearley opened the innings for England in the shorter format.
On the other hand a total eradication of the rulesstands to promote the most negative variety of cricket, especially in these days when winning is equated with everything – including hugely lucrative brand endorsement contracts. It can easily influence bowlers to resort to a modified off theory as often practiced by Warwick Armstrong’s men in the first quarter of the last century.
Finally, cricket followers come in all sorts. It may be difficult for Warne to believe, but there are a large number of fans who enjoy the tactical challenges that are offered by the power plays, the restrictions on the fielding side and others.
There is little doubt that Warne has the best interests of the game in his heart, and many of his recommendations are worth perusal, but this particular one can be left well alone.
(Arunabha Sengupta is a cricket historian and Chief Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He writes about the history and the romance of the game, punctuated often by opinions about modern day cricket, while his post-graduate degree in statistics peeps through in occasional analytical pieces. The author of three novels, he can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/senantix)