Picture grab of Kapil Dev 'Mankading' Peter Kirsten (L) during a one-day match between India and South Africa

 

By Akash Kaware

 

The ICC Annual Conference in Hong Kong was a predictable exercise, where the world body was like an ageing patriarch of a dysfunctional family, whose unfortunate duty it was to keep the balance between doing the right things and keeping the bickering children happy. As is inevitable in such situations, for every laudable decision, there was a questionable one, and one thorny issue was deferred.

 

The Associates had not even started celebrating the fact that they are back in contention for the 2015 World Cup when the same statement announced that they would miss out on the World T20, which makes one wonder how on earth are the two decisions connected. It is like saying to the minnows, ‘To hell with your aspirations and the development of the game guys, no one wants to watch you guys on TV! Its bad enough we have to put up with you in one World Cup. We can’t do it for two.’

 

The decision to make the DRS mandatory did not come without caveats either. The system has been made mandatory, but without the ball-tracking technology, as if to say too much accuracy is not good for the game. The stakeholders are within their rights to have reservations about the accuracy of the Hawk-Eye or the Virtual-Eye. But to reject something as basic as the pitch map, which shows where the ball pitched, on grounds that it can be manipulated, is to question the integrity of the people who work hard to bring live cricket to us. It probably hasn’t occurred to any of the decision-makers that this is going to result in some very silly situations. Just imagine a batsman referring an lbw decision that has gone against him. The Hot Spot says there’s no inside edge. Still out. The Snicko confirms there’s no edge. Still out. The pitch map says the ball pitched outside leg, but the third umpire is not allowed to use it. Still out!

 

One decision that would certainly be welcomed by virtually every cricket fan is the ICC’s directive to all cricket boards to democratize themselves. Having elections for positions does not guarantee that the most competent men will get appointed. But let’s face it; even having the fa ade of an election is better than having the Government appoint its stooges as cricket administrators, as is the case with Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. However, to compensate for this brainwave, the ICC decided to postpone the decision over the rotation policy followed for its own Presidential position. They better decide over it fast, for the next nomination for ICC presidency under the current system is due from Pakistan and Bangladesh. While I have nothing against these two countries per se, I shudder when I imagine Ijaz Butt as an ICC President!

 

However, I need to give credit where credit is due. Most of the other on-field tweaks made to the game make sense. The runners have been banned, which is a good decision on all counts, except for the moments of hilarity that runners can potentially provide. But I think most fans will agree it’s a fair decision. After all, when a bowler gets injured during a match, he only has two options keep bowling with the injury and risk aggravating it, or leave the field, leaving his team a bowler short. There’s no reason why it should be any different for a batsman.

 

‘Mankading’ has been made legal again. Again, to deny an unfair advantage to the batsman by backing up too far even as the bowler is running in to bowl.

 

Also, a batsman changing course while running to prevent a run-out can now be given out ‘obstructing the field’. While the intention seems to be good here, for correct implementation, this particular rule needs a bit more clarity.

 

That brings us to the changes made to the one-day game, a format that was supposed to be dying not so long ago. In a stunning bout of common sense, the ICC agreed to the use of two balls for one-dayers, one from each end to address the fact that the white ball turns brown after about 30-odd overs. This is not an alien concept; in fact, this was actually the case when white balls were first used in one-day cricket, which proves that our earlier generations were probably more intelligent than us.

 

The usual criticism of the one-dayers is the tedium during the middle overs. To address that, teams will now be allowed to take the batting and bowling powerplays only between overs 16 and 40. Considering that many teams (including India) have not come to terms with the proper use of the batting powerplay yet, this could well turn out to be interesting. But one can’t help feeling that at the end of the day, a powerplay is nothing more than gimmick. The problem with the middle overs is the non-aggression pact that international captains seem to have signed among themselves. They just refuse to attack the batsmen during those overs, and the batsmen respond by taking five or six singles an over. To get rid of this malaise, something much more radical than a powerplay will be required.

 

And by radical, I do not mean more rules, but less of them. How about abolishing a limit of maximum overs a bowler can bowl, and having a minimum limit instead? Say, a bowling side must use four bowlers for a minimum of five overs and beyond that the captain is free to bowl any bowler for any number of overs. If the best bowlers are bowling the 50 overs, the captains will be forced to set attacking fields or at least more attacking than they are for part-timers who operate during the middle overs – which in turn will force batsmen to take more risks. How about having no field restrictions at all, except say at least four fielders have to be inside the circle at all times, to prevent a captain from placing all fielders on the boundary? In short, how about making the one-day game closer to a Test match that has one innings of 50 overs per side and no other artificial restrictions?

 

Even the most hardened fan of limited-overs cricket will admit that a Test match offers more drama, just that a five-day game is an anachronism in today’s world. If the spirit of Test cricket can be channeled into the one-day game, it might just resuscitate a ‘dying’ format. We will probably need to wait for a few more ICC Conferences for that I think!

 

(Akash Kaware is an Indian IT professional, who would’ve been a successful international cricketer if it hadn’t been for an annoying tendency to run towards square-leg while facing tennis, rubber or leather cricket balls hurled at anything more than genuine medium-pace! Watching Sachin Tendulkar, VVS Laxman and Rahul Dravid convinced him that breaking into the Indian team was not going to happen anytime soon and hence he settled to become an engineer and MBA, who occasionally wrote about cricket. A few months ago, sensing his uselessness and constant use of cricket websites at work, his company banished him to Canada. His hopes of playing international cricket have, thus, been renewed!)