Michael Jeh December 28, 2008

Over-rate blues

What is clear though (although not quite as obvious to the ICC) is that we have a major problem with over-rates

I read last week that the Bengal tiger is enjoying a brief period of renaissance but it’s long term prospects are still bleak. Likewise Test cricket. The Border-Gavaskar Trophy was riveting at times but was also dogged by slow over-rates and accusations of negative tactics.

Recent series’ involving New Zealand have done little to spark interest either side of the Tasman whilst at the same time, Chennai and Perth produced two of the finest Tests ever witnessed. All of a sudden, everyone was buzzing again. Then along came the Mohali Test and killed off that brief excitement. That last day was a knife through the heart of Test cricket.

What is clear to Blind Freddy though (although not quite as obvious to the ICC) is that we have a major problem with over-rates. It’s almost taken for granted now that we will use up the extra half hour each evening and even then, the 90 overs are often not completed. Even with spinners operating, this problem remains constant.

Cricket now operates in the ‘entertainment’ industry. If you keep cheating the public of value for money, they will vote with their feet (or remote controls). Cricketers keep talking about the value of Test cricket but their actions sometime belie the rhetoric.

There are a number of reasons why this should not be happening.

1. Cricketers are fitter now than they have ever been. They have no other job except cricket. Why are they not fit enough to get through 90 overs in six hours without dragging their feet? They expect to be treated (and paid) like professionals but they do not seem capable of fulfilling their jobs in the allotted time. Remember, 90 overs in a day is the minimum. They're not even meeting minimum workplace standards!

2. Most field placings and strategies are worked out well in advance. Each team has an army of computer boffins and coaches who justify their existence by planning everything down to the last detail. Why then do captains waste time discussing minor field alterations with the bowler? Surely most of this has already been mapped out?

3. Umpires and match referees seem to wait until the last hour to start chivvying the fielding team into catching up. Do they not realise that it’s a day-long exercise that is best managed throughout the day? Some suggest the answer lies in the fielding team having one less fielder for each over that they failed to bowl in the previous session. Unfortunately, that will corrupt the integrity of the contest and is a brave but ultimately futile suggestion.

I’ve been watching Ricky Ponting these last few weeks and his captaincy style contributes to this malaise. Instead of making changes from second slip, he trots over to the bowler, has long discussions, makes minor alterations and trots back. Was this not already discussed at the team meeting? Was it something different to the print-out provided by the coaching staff?

Particularly galling is when captains waste long minutes, setting the field at the start of the session. Surely they knew which batsman was on strike? They must have known the plan of attack before they walked out on the field. Why was this not discussed in the dressing room?

Most international captains have similar tendencies. In an era where the computers make more decisions than the on-field captain, it is hard to understand why they take so long to set a field to a batsman whose every shot has been dissected to the nth degree in the team meeting.

Why is it that it takes repeated breaches before the ICC will take any action on the matter? Think about a speedtrap or speed camera – no warnings – if you break the law, you pay the penalty. No multiple warnings.

When they eventually get punished, the ICC levies small fines, relative to their millionaire salaries. It is a pointless exercise and it does not work. The only language they understand is suspension. The Nagpur Test proved that – faced with suspension, Ponting was prepared to compromise the result for a new-found conscience. Dhoni was no better – on that last day in Nagpur, when Hayden was mounting an unlikely chase, they bowled just 23 overs in the entire first session.

In wildlife conservation, gamekeepers turned poachers can be the most destructive enemies of the beasts they were meant to protect. Test cricket faces a similar challenge to the majestic tiger - both need protection from greed.

Michael Jeh is an Oxford Blue who played first-class cricket, and a Playing Member of the MCC. He lives in Brisbane