Indian domestic cricket December 20, 2010

Rules and their abuse

Any rule that leads to cheating needs to be looked at closely

I knew I was in trouble. I'd called for a run, got a negative response from my partner, but it was a bit too late. I scrambled back to the crease and made a desperate dive. I wasn't sure if I'd made it back and neither was the umpire. Till the last season, it was that split-second decision from the on-field umpire that would have sealed my fate, but this time it was different: he had the option of referring it to the third umpire. After waiting a few agonising minutes, I got the green signal of safety and heaved a sigh a relief. I did survive to live another day.

This is one of the new innovations the BCCI has made in the current first-class season. While they had installed six cameras to cover every first-class match a few years ago, the referral system for run-outs and stumping decision is introduced this year. It required an upgraded software and better-trained analysts to make it work smoothly (recording, rewinding and replaying it in real-time needs expertise) but the BCCI must be given due credit for both spending the money and the making the effort. It takes a few minutes (approximately three minutes for a decision) at the moment, but any batsman worth his salt would tell you that it's better to wait for a few minutes than to take the long walk back.

The BCCI has also introduced a couple of new rules in the last few seasons, which unfortunately aren't half as helpful as the referral system. One such rule is about the "comfort break". In the past, players could go off the field for up to eight minutes without getting penalised but it's not the case any more. These comfort breaks are now a no-no. Even "nature's call" isn't a valid excuse to get a substitute.

The umpires won't stop you from going off but won't allow the substitute either. And that led to a funny incident in an Under-16 match. A kid desperately wanted to relieve himself but the umpire categorically denied the substitute. His coach was adamant too, and didn't allow the poor guy to come off the field, for it would have meant fielding with 10 players. The young kid, left to his own devices, couldn't control any more and relieved himself on the boundary rope. All that for a rule.

But here's the catch: you can go off to get medical attention. Nowadays, players don't go out to relieve themselves but go on the pretext of getting taping done. This rule has encouraged players to lie and that's where the problem lies. Any rule that leads to cheating needs to be looked at closely. Yes, the players had abused this rule to go off the field to rest immediately after finishing their spell. But it doesn't really need a rule to stop players from doing it; on-field umpires can and should take control of the proceedings.

Former India opener Aakash Chopra is the author of Out of the Blue, an account of Rajasthan's 2010-11 Ranji Trophy victory. His website is here and his Twitter feed here