There is an old saying that ‘cricket is a batsman’s game’ but the present ODI rules seems to have taken this too far and handed the game to the batsmen on a platter, as can be seen from the recent ODI series between India and Australia. There is a definite inclination among the members of the technical committee of the ICC to turn the bowlers into mere punching bags for batsmen, who can make merry and score mountains of runs, which means little when put into perspective. True, the public wants to watch lots of boundaries and sixes, but does that mean that they are dumb enough to not figure out that the game has been watered down considerably with the rules heavily lopsided in favour of the batsmen? Surely the technical committee of the FIFA, with all its faults, would not even dare to stretch the distance between the goal posts by 2 feet each way, simply because football fans like to watch more goals, would they?
Not since the one bouncer an over rule was implemented back in the day has there ever been a rule change in the ODI game that has ever tried to make life a bit easier for the bowlers. The first steps that were taken towards crippling the bowlers were the introduction of the batting powerplay, which allowed the batting side to take a 5 over block in addition to the 15 they already had in which the field would be restricted. Although it created a new strategic puzzle for the batsmen as to when to actually take the powerplay, it must be said that it has no reason to be there in the first place. How can 40% of the overs in a contest be played in a situation in which the batsmen can literally hit the ball to different parts of the ground without any fear of getting caught out? One might argue that for batsmen like Chris Gayle or M. S. Dhoni, field restrictions mean little, but one has to remember that the batsman has it at the back of his mind that even if he mistimes the ball, there is hardly a chance of a fielder getting to it.
The Current Mess
The latest set of rules have skewed the balance of power in an ODI even more in favour of the batsmen and the most unfortunate change has been the reduction of the number of fielders outside the 30 yard circle during the regulation overs. Earlier a captain could have 5 fielders outside the circle but now they can only have 4 fielders outside the circle, which is simply shambolic to put it mildly. Is it possible to patrol the boundaries on both sides of the wicket with 4 fielders? It is not and it was pointed out by none other than the Indian captain M. S. Dhoni after India chased down 351 versus Australian in the 6th ODI of the ongoing ODI series, “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.” He went on to add, “It was more of a fight as to which side bowls less badly. With the extra fielder inside, if you are slightly off target, it goes for a boundary. A few of the bowlers are disappointed, they actually feel it will be better off to put bowling machines there.”
The Indian captain has summed up the whole thing perfectly and it also needs to be remembered that he is someone who is regarded as one of the best limited overs captains in history.The plight of a bowler does not end there however, since he still has to negotiate the new rule of two new balls from each end; a rule that was introduced due to the fact that white balls usually go out of shape after 35 overs.
Although it allows both the opening bowlers (assuming they are fast-medium bowlers) the chance to swing a new ball, it also ensures that the batsmen have the enormous advantage of belting two fairly new balls for the entire duration of the innings and with the faster outfields these days, it is well and truly a no-contest. Moreover, the advantage that a bowler had of reverse swinging an old ball has been completely taken out of the equation. There is hardly any challenge that a batsman has these days in an ODI and it simply looks like an extended version of a T20 game.
The Implications for the ODI Format
There used to be a time when a total of 250-270 was considered a match winning one but batsmen became more adventurous over the years and scores of 300 plus became a match winning score; however the batsmen had to take risks to get to such a score. Now a team can score 350+ without taking much of a risk, which does not make the format more entertaining but makes it increasingly boring and predictable.
A century in an ODI game used to take a lot of effort since batsmen had to grind their way through spread out fields, softer balls that might not travel as fast and fielding restrictions that did not stretch beyond the first 15 overs. So, it would not be wrong to entertain the thought that a century in the present ODI format might not be as difficult as it used to be in the past. The ICC should look at amending the rules pretty soon, since ODIs could soon become the most dormant in international cricket.
By Soham Samaddar
Image Source: espncricinfo.com