December 28, 2008

Michael Jeh

Over-rate blues

Michael Jeh



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

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Posted by Charles Davis on (December 29, 2008, 23:09 GMT)

A few more stats for readers. The most overs in a Test day was 162 at Lord's in 1946 (6.5 hours). If you think that fast scoring makes high over rates impossible, consider that when 588 runs were scored in a day at Manchester 1936, there were still 140 overs in 6.5 hours. When Don Bradman scored 309 in a day, he faced 153 balls in 2 hours in the pre-lunch session alone! One thing I have noticed is that modern pace bowlers usually run most of the length of the pitch in their follow-through, perhaps in an attempt to intimidate the batsman, and pause to glare before turning to walk back. If this adds just five seconds to each ball, this alone can add up to 45 minutes per day. One suggestion - eliminate scheduled drinks breaks. Today's supposedly super-athlete players routinely stop for a drink whenever they feel like it, so why do they need an organised break. On second thoughts, the TV broadcasters would hate that: fewer ads.

Posted by Oliver Chettle on (December 29, 2008, 14:33 GMT)

I'm appalled that some people are suggesting that 90 overs is too many. The original article spells out how much time is wasted. When the minimum was introduced it was 96, and the plan was to increase it to 108, but instead it was cut to 90. If it is cut to 84, the number actually bowled will fall even further. The problem is that cricketers have no respect for the people who pay their wages, and cannot be bothered to make an effort to entertain them. It is the same with so-called "bad light", which they use to go off the field at every opportunity. I detest Twenty20, but I'm at the end of my tether with test cricket as well. The authorities never do anything to make it better entertainment. We should get 108 overs a day, and if a team fails to deliver that the captain should be banned for the next match. For a second offence he should be banned from all international cricket for a year.

Posted by Michael Jeh on (December 29, 2008, 5:00 GMT)

Wow, some really interesting suggestions. Really got me musing on the various options. Thanks everyone for the sensible words and the lateral thinking. Re the Mohali Test, I'm not denying the fog, bad weather etc. I was just keen to see India win another Test and I was surprised to see them take such a conservative approach. There's no way England could have chased that total against the quality Indian attack. Back to the over-rates issue though, I still think the cricketers need to take more responsibility themselves. Even the batsmen spend far too much time stretching, squatting, patting down pitch, asking for gloves, drinks etc. The time wasted by all players is at odds with their so-called "super fit" status as elite athletes. Mind boggling to think that when Australia chased 400+ at The Oval (Bradman's era), England bowled 120 overs AFTER batting a bit themselves on the last day. Even allowing for modern interruptions, that says something!

Posted by Dan de V. on (December 29, 2008, 4:05 GMT)

I wholeheartedly agree that over rates should be monitored closely and enforced. How? I am not sure. Though I see some good suggestions have been made and each should be trialed and refined with practice to come up with something that works. I am sure it will not be perfect but it will be better than nothing (like Duckworth-Lewis ;o). As an avid west indian supporter it makes me smile to see this problem is a global one many years after WI cricket was heavily criticised for slow over rates at the height of their dominance...check teh over rates and you will see they were still generally over 15 overs per hour! People complained because it was less than 20!

Posted by Matt Jones on (December 29, 2008, 2:24 GMT)

Equal division of 90 into 30 over session for regulating overrate would kill cricket with no tactics to employ. Another solution could be Min 20 at session 1 end, min 50 at session 2 end and 90 (85 is could do lot of good to cricket) at session 3 end. Add runs to batting team for each session 1 and 2 in next session and bans fine if its end of the inning / gmae or whatevver...

Ciricket was a simple game making it complicated will be bad idea I simply think making it 85 over game a day would do a great deal of things.

Mohali was blumder schedule. Add to it decision of not using lights, Lunch break not flexile at all. well when you see that fog is foggoing almost till hour befoire lunch, have anounce ment of 2 session play with no lunch, player coul dhave had lunch before they start.

Posted by Westy on (December 29, 2008, 0:41 GMT)

It was interesting attending day 2 of the Boxing Day test in Melbourne. There are delays caused by both the batting and bowling teams. Players seeking new gloves twice in an hour including the over before the drinks break (Michael Clarke), players not keeping their eye on the captain between balls for field changes (Michael Hussey), throwing the ball back to the keeper most balls (most of the Australian team), drinks coming onto the field every time there was a wicket. At least we didn't have a sightscreen malfunction (for once). Just keep them white all day. Imagine how few overs would be bowled if the players didn't jog between overs.

Posted by Simon on (December 28, 2008, 23:50 GMT)

Have to agree with Atul, there's a lot said about the slower over rates, but comparing to the times when spinners would bowl maidens in tandem isn't helpful, as that simply doesn't happen any more. The average run rate for test teams has gone up by more than 1 run per over in the last 30 years, which in 90 overs 90 or more runs. Boundaries add a lot to the time it takes to bowl an over, and even normal runs add a lot more than a dot ball. If each additional run adds 10 seconds, then 90 runs is 900 seconds. 15 minutes. Add to this the drinks breaks that didn't used to happen, and you easily make up for the shortfall in modern test cricket. I regularly go to test matches, and would much rather see both teams playing as well as possible rather than a few extra overs at the expense of performance.

Posted by jalps on (December 28, 2008, 22:39 GMT)

Firstly, for John S and Andrew, see law 42 parts 9 and 10. Essentially, if their is time wasting by either side then 5 penalty runs are awarded to the opposition. What is the point in having this law if it's never used?

Personally I would take a less match changing approach. How about allotting time for each delivery, accounting for drinks breaks and likely wickets, and put a count down on the big screen that's present at most matches. During the allotted time it counts down in green but as the time runs out it turns red. You may even be able to get the fans to get a slow hand clap going. By putting the responsibility on individual balls you'll see exactly where the problem lies, be it Ricky spending five minutes moving fine leg slightly squarer or Nasser stepping away from the crease because a fly flew across the sight screen.

Posted by Clive Jackson on (December 28, 2008, 22:06 GMT)

This business of slow over-rates is just bunk. It is a solution waiting for a problem. This whole idea about overs per hour was just developed at a time when West Indies with their four fast bowlers dominate the world. This was just a ploy to blunt them because the powers that be (Australia and England) could not compete with them. What is all the fuss about? How many test matches these days are ending in predictable draws like when was a boy In the 1970's? Not many. So if we were getting the establishe 90 overs per day most Test matches would end in three days. People would still miss two days of cricket and the various boards would cry foul. Let the game remain,let the captains, captain by whatever he wants to do on the field. This is one of the charms of the beautiful game. Too much reliance on computers, team meetings and off field stuff. Let the game be played on the field. Too much tampering with the game. It seems some people get their kicks from messing with the game. Just coo

Posted by R Sivasubramaniam on (December 28, 2008, 19:01 GMT)

There was a time when 20 overs per hour was the norm and I am told that when the Don scored over 300 runs in a day at Leeds, England were bowling at an average of 23 per hour. While the number of overs has progressively decreased, the money we pay to watch has increased, overall therefore, the cricket watching public are paying more to watch less! And then we moan that less people are watching Test Cricket.

Don't tell me that the pre-war cricketers were fitter than the current genertion.

The solution, raise the penalty for low over rates. It should be 5 percent for every over below the quota. Hit them where it hurts - just like the free hit has reduced the number of no-balls in ODIs

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Michael Jeh
Born in Colombo, educated at Oxford and now living in Brisbane, Michael Jeh (Fox) is a cricket lover with a global perspective on the game. An Oxford Blue who played first-class cricket, he is a Playing Member of the MCC and still plays grade cricket. Michael now works closely with elite athletes, and is passionate about youth intervention programmes. He still chases his boyhood dream of running a wildlife safari operation called Barefoot in Africa.

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