At the Kolkata maidan, an umpire once had to run across the Red Road, being chased by a mini mob. His ‘crime’ was that he had acceded to an appeal against a batsman in a Cricket Association of Bengal (CAB) second-division league fixture and the ‘victim’ took his protest far enough to swing his club officials/supporters into action. When you are running for your dear life, traffic signals become redundant. The umpire, thankfully, escaped busy traffic and got onboard a public bus to safety. After becoming CAB president, Sourav Ganguly decided to appoint observers in local league matches. It turned out to be a smart move, which, to a large extent, allowed match officials do their job without looking over their shoulders. Ganguly is also part of the MCC World Cricket Committee that decided to bring in marching orders in cricket for serious misconduct.
The Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) is the custodian of the Laws of Cricket. Once it finalises any rule change, the International Cricket Council (ICC), the governing body of the game, incorporates it. A new set of changes has been brought in effective from September 28.‘Red card’, reduced bat thickness and bails tethering are the three most significant points in a long list.
“A player can now be sent off the field by the umpire for the rest of a match for serious misconduct. This will apply to most Level 4 offences, with Level 1-3 offences continuing to be dealt with under the ICC Code of Conduct,” says the new Law. “Threatening an umpire, physically assaulting another player, umpire, official or spectator; any other act of violence on the field of play” will now be dealt with marching orders. The game needed an “in-match deterrent”. When the Mike Brearley-led MCC committee had proposed this during a meeting in Mumbai last year, eyebrows were raised. Cricket, after all, is a gentleman’s game and players are expected to uphold its spirit.
Since its inception, cricket has shown an affinity towards some moronic myths and false romanticism. Violence on the field is not a modern-day problem. John Snow had given Sunil Gavaskar a violent shove at Lord’s in 1971. Ten years down the line, Javed Miandad and Dennis Lillee nearly came to blows in front of 25,000 fans at Perth. In between, Clive Lloyd had ordered a ‘blood bath’ in Jamaica, sending five Indian batsmen to hospital through the overuse of bouncers and beamers. And lest we forget, the Bodyline happened in 1932-33 when Douglas Jardine, a touch paranoid about taming Don Bradman and winning a cricket series, gave Harold Larwood and company the licence to kill. That the ‘leg theory’ had taken down only Bill Woodfull and Bert Oldfield was a miracle and also a testimony to the technical prowess of the Australian batting unit.
If the highest level can occasionally fall prey to such madness, just think about the lower rungs. During an informal conversation last year, Ganguly spoke about an upsurge in on-field violence, at club level, in many Test-playing countries. The MCC committee chose to be pragmatic. Extended bat thickness was a by-product of the T20 proliferation. And it was making things completely lopsided in favour of the batsmen in limited-overs cricket. Mishits from the likes of David Warner, Kieron Pollard and many others had been clearing the ropes for fun. Thick edges were flying into the crowds. Warner’s bat depth sometimes touched 85 mm in shorter formats. “You need to have a proper bat in terms of having the right balance between bat and ball. If you have more thickness or huge edges, it’s a big advantage to the batters,” Sanath Jayasuriya had said during an interview with The Indian Express a couple of months ago.
The new regulation says: “There are no changes to the permitted width and length of a cricket bat, but the thickness of the edge can be no more than 40 mm, and the thickness of the bat must not exceed 67 mm at any point. Umpires will have a gauge to check that bats meet the new regulations.” Fair deal… Will this affect the Indian team? No. Virat Kohli and his men were always within the permissible limits, bat-wise. Only a couple of bats of MS Dhoni that he sometimes used towards the back end of the innings in T20s would become useless now.
In 2012, during South Africa’s tour of England, Mark Boucher was hit in the left eye by a flying bail while playing a tour game against Somerset. An Imran Tahir googly had hit the stumps and a dislodged bail struck the Proteas keeper in the eye. The severe injury required a surgery to cure, but it prematurely ended a distinguished career. Bails tethered to the stumps will prevent such injuries. The MCC should be lauded for thinking about reducing the risk factor. Tethered bails will not “interfere with their ability to be dislodged”. Every cricket board should embrace this for bilateral series.
The new run-out rule is also very logical. “If a batsman grounds his/her bat or part of his/her body behind the crease while regaining his/her ground before the stumps are broken, and then if he/she inadvertently loses contact with the bat, or if the grounded part of his/her body becomes airborne—while running or diving—when the stumps are broken, he/she shall not be run out or stumped,” it says. The changes have focused on making things better.