New rules of engagement

Written by Sharad Raghavan | Updated: Jun 29 2011, 07:40am hrs
Going into the ongoing session of its annual meeting at Hong Kong, the International Cricket Council (ICC) had much to deliberate over. The topic of priority was the controversial Umpire Decision Review System (UDRS), an innovation that ICC wanted implemented in all formats, and one that the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), the richest cricket board, stubbornly opposed. Some sort of compromise had to be reached. The issue of how to include the minnows into the next World Cup was also on the table (the earlier format for the 2015 World Cup featured only 10 teams, and none of the minnows). Also, with Test cricket not showing any real signs of decline, and Twenty20 becoming all the rage, ICC found that it had to do something to tackle the 50-over formats waning popularity. With all of these and other issues in mind, ICC has come out with a set of new rules for the game.

Decision Review System

UDRS was first used on November 24, 2009, in a Test between Pakistan and New Zealand. Basically, each team could review an umpires decision twice in an innings, with the chance being reinstated if the umpires decision was overturned. The decision to overturn or uphold the umpires decision rested with the third umpire, who relied on various technologies such as the ball tracker for LBWs, slow motion replays for dubious catches and run-outs and stump microphones to record snicks. The innovation became so popular it was adopted with great success in the 2011 World Cup, and the ICC said it raised the ratio of correct decisions by 7%. However, BCCI had reservations over the ball tracking technology. Citing uneven bounce, spin and weather conditions, BCCI said the technology wasnt accurate enough, something confirmed by veteran international players and coaches, like Stephen Fleming. Even Sachin Tendulkar had his reservations over the ball tracking technology, calling for substitutes like the Hot Spot technology.

So, as a compromise, ICC has mandated that the UDRS system will be compulsory in all cricket matches, but the ball tracking system will not be compulsory, and each team will get only one appeal per innings. This effectively puts the decisions on LBWs back in the on-field umpires domain, without a chance for players to review it. The new rules also say that the Hot Spot technology and high-quality stump microphones will be used to decide on snicks. This, in turn, has its share of problems. The Hot Spot technology relies on two infrared cameras continuously recording from the two ends of the ground. The heat generated off the impact of ball on bat will show whether the batsman has snicked the ball or not. The problem is that it is a very expensive technology. While ICC says UDRS costs $5,000 a day, the Hot Spot technology alone is projected to cost $10,000 per day. The cost sharing structure hasnt been worked out yet and, unless it is, poorer cricket boards will be unlikely to implement the technology.

Powerplay and new balls

The main grouse against the ODI format is that it has become predictable and even boring during the middle overs. To combat this, ICC implemented the Powerplays (which restricted the number of fielders outside the 30-yard circle during the Powerplay overs; the bowling team had two Powerplays and the batting team one). However, even their use quickly became formulaic. The first ten overs in an innings were compulsorily under Powerplay, but the bowling team used to take their second Powerplay right after, in the 11-15 overs. The batting team, in turn, took its Powerplay during the last ten overs when the batsmen were looking to hit. This also became predictable and boring. ICCs new rules stipulate that the second bowling Powerplay and the batting Powerplay can only be used between the 16th and 40th overs. This will bring a much-needed degree of uncertainty back to the game.

Geoffrey Boycotts famous pet peeve was that while humans had managed to send a man to the moon, we couldnt figure out a way to make a white ball stay white through a match. A discoloured ball made it much harder for the batsmen to sight it. ICC earlier made the rule that balls would be mandatorily changed in the 33rd over. Now, it has ruled that two new balls will be used every innings, one from each end. While this works in giving the bowlers an edge in a batsman-dominated sport, it will effectively remove features such as reverse swing (which comes into play when the ball gets old) from the format. Spinners, too, will have to get used to a far shinier and harder ball than they would be used to.

Say goodbye to the runners

In arguably its most controversial move, ICC has decided to do away with runners in all formats of the game. A runner is called in when a batsman is injured during the game, and cannot run between the wickets. A runner cannot be used if a player carries an injury into the game. Recently, the issue came under much controversy because of the issue of whether a batsman should be allowed a runner if he is suffering from cramps. The argument against this was that a cramp was not an injury, and was based to some extent on the preparation of the player before the match. Also, banning runners effectively put an end to their misuse (Sri Lankan ex-captain Arjuna Ranatunga, for example, was famously overweight and used to take his runs at a jog, if not a walk. He used runners often, enabling him to score far more runs than he ordinarily would have been able to run). However, banning runners altogether means that even if a player sustains an injury while fielding in the first innings, he cannot use a runner when he comes in to bat! Sunil Gavaskar, ex-captain for India, ICC official and cricket commentator, strongly criticised this move, saying that if ICC was doing away with runners, it should also do away with substitute fielders.

Other changes

Apart from all these rule changes, ICC also gave hope to Ireland and all the other minnow teams for the next World Cup. The previous format for the 2015 World Cup excluded them, allowing only the 10 Test playing nations to compete. Met with strong and vocal opposition, it decided during this annual meeting to have a qualifying round before the World Cup, which would be a great opportunity for teams like Ireland, which performed well in the last two World Cups, to replace test teams like Bangladesh and Zimbabwe in the 2015 edition of the tournament. However, ICC hasnt yet revealed the total number of teams competing in the tournament. Slow over rates, the bane of all cricket broadcasters and advertisers, have also been tackled in the new rules. Earlier, the fielding captain was suspended after three infractions in a year. Now, he will be allowed only two infractions in a 12-month period, following which he would be suspended.

The upshot of all of this is that the upcoming India-England test series will feature the new, adapted UDRS and no runners, not to mention stricter rules on slow over rates. Lets see how they work.

sharad.raghavan@expressindia.com