Cricket rules March 20, 2012

Innings swap, anyone?

Is there anyone else out there who spends their day thinking about cricket, coming up with theories on how to improve it?

Is there anyone else out there who spends their day thinking about cricket, coming up with various theories on how to improve one aspect of the game or the other? None of these ideas are ever likely to be accepted by the ICC, but that's never stopped my friends and I from whiling away the hours, debating these concepts and imagining the implications. It's good stuff to argue about on rainy days, cooped up in dressing rooms, waiting for the umpires to call off the match. That's happened a lot in Brisbane lately!

Here's an ODI hypothetical; the genesis of the idea comes from a good friend called Baldy who lives and breathes cricket whilst pretending to be a chartered accountant of dubious distinction.

I edited his idea a little bit but in essence, to make allowance for the toss of the coin being too much of an advantage, Baldy proposes that the team losing the toss can call for an "innings swap/suspension' sometime between overs 15-40. So on a pitch that is very helpful to the bowlers, Team A wins the toss and chooses to insert Team B. If Team B is struggling at say 3 for 50 after 15 overs and thinks there is still some life in the pitch, they can call for an 'innings swap' and have a crack at utilising those conditions themselves. It also means they have to bat last on that pitch, which could mean it has flattened out or it could start to slow down or take spin or keep low. That's the risk they take by choosing to call for the swap.

Similarly, if the pitch is a belter and Team A is smashing you all round the park, Team B calls for the swap and tries to make the most of the batting conditions. The variations are endless but it does provide a strategic edge to the game that becomes very interesting during that so-called "boring middle overs" segment of an ODI. It's yet another way for a captain to constantly think on his feet and halt momentum if he thinks it might swing the game. When Team A is in the middle of a destructive partnership or when Team B is bogged down and losing wickets, call for the swap, change momentum and see if that brings about a twist. It's a bit like making a bowling change, sending a pinch hitter up the order or calling for a Powerplay.

I love the idea - all of a sudden we take nothing for granted. The game may be drifting along but we're constantly watching the body language of the captain of Team B, second guessing what may be going through his mind and waiting for something that may not even happen. Maybe even allow Team A to also call for an innings swap (so long as they do it after Team B has exercised their call first) so that no innings will potentially drift for 50 overs without potential for a change.

Maybe Team A (if they wish to exercise their option for a swap) can only do it at the exact point at which Team B made the original swap. If Team B called for a swap after the 20th over, Team A can also exercise that option at the 20th over or they have to bat through their innings. It just gives the team that loses the toss a chance to exert some influence on the game. It also keeps us spectators on our toes, watching and waiting for the strategic swap call. Even if the captain never makes the call, it's more stuff that the armchair experts can debate till the cows come home. Should he or shouldn't he have called for the swap?

Imagine calling for the swap just after the batting team has taken their Powerplay? That could totally halt momentum for a batsman who was in the groove. He needs to start again a few hours later, on a pitch that may have changed in nature, against a bowling attack that is now refreshed and he needs to find his rhythm all over again. I remember the very few times when I've been hitting the ball sweetly before a lunch or tea break and then returned after the interval to find that I had completely lost my timing. Or when the ball had been swinging all over the place and suddenly stopped swinging after lunch as the weather changed or I just lost that perfect rhythm I was in. I'm probably the only cricketer in history who bowled 5 wides on a hat-trick ball and the excuse I'm sticking with was that it was punctuated by the tea break so when I came on to bowl my hat-trick ball, I had stiffened up completely and lost my radar. We ended up losing by one run too!

The downside of course is going to be around the logistics of TV breaks, scheduled meal breaks for players and the on-ground catering arrangements. Yes, that is a problem. Test cricket copes with it to some extent so it's not insurmountable but some people may not like the lack of flow. I concede that weakness. TV networks may not like the lack of predictability but it is that very factor that might also keep people watching the entire telecast without channel surfing or mowing the lawn during those middle overs.

Look, it's never going to fly so I'm just throwing it out there for a bit of light-hearted fun. Maybe it will trigger some other ideas that will provide us all, wherever we are in the world, with some more ammunition to throw around when we're stuck in a dressing room, bored at work or solving the real world issues at a barbeque or braai with our mates. If you have any ideas or suggestions, chuck 'em at us. The ICC will never read this so we might as well have a bit of fun with it. That's the beauty of the internet - we're all connected through a shared love and everyone's an expert!

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