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When GB Shaw said "the golden rule is that there are no golden rules", it made for marvellous lyrics. But when a sportsperson mutters the same, even in hushed tones, it is simply profane, unfair and dishonourable. That perhaps explains the gap between art and realism -- also, the absurdity of the latter. All rules, however out-of-place, out-of-date, out-of-use, must be followed -- the cynics order. Even in the game of cricket, most progressive and contemporary, we fail to see through the sheer quirkiness of some of the most bizarre rules. And I am not even touching upon the ones that concern the actual play, but those that exist on the periphery and yet rub you the wrong way every now and then.
Quirky rule No.1 Take for instance, the rule of mowing the grass on the pitch before the start of play, every single day. Obviously, this rule works well on pitches with a decent covering of grass. Believe it or not though, the pitch that doesn't boast of even a strand of grass is mowed too, every single day. In such cases, the blade is set a little high so that it doesn't touch the surface at all, for the blade can damage the grass-less pitch. Nobody seems to be too bothered about asking: what is there to be mowed? What is the purpose of this mowing? Why waste manpower, energy and time indulging in such a senseless act?
But rules are rules…
Quirky rule No.2 How many times have you had lunch at 10.45am? Well, whenever we play in the East of India, we take a break for lunch at 11am, for the match starts at 8.30am. Since on the last day, the match starts 15 minutes earlier, we have lunch at 10.45am. Isn't that most silly? Are we not taking the English and their rules far too seriously? Matches in England start only at 11am and hence the first session is rightly followed by lunch and then tea around 3.30-4pm after the second session. But since we start so early, why can't we have our own set of breaks?
Next, this idiocy is taken to another level, when the match that is scheduled to start at 8.30am gets delayed because of bad light. The light improves around 10am and play starts. Even though the light is absolutely fine, the match is stopped for lunch at 11am for 40 minutes. So, the players first wait for the light to get better to start play. Once it does, we take a break again for lunch, all because the rule book, cast in cement, says so. In normal circumstances the first session is of 2.30hrs followed by the lunch interval. But to have a break for lunch after losing 1.30 hours of play is completely bereft of logic.
Quirky rule No. 3 From the last couple of seasons, umpires are the sole judges of determining the weather conditions. No longer can a player complain about bad light etc, which is good because players have abused this right in the past. Now, the umpires set a benchmark (with regards to light) and then adhere to it for the remainder of the match.
In our game against Assam in Guwahati, we needed about 40-odd runs to take the first-innings lead. The light had dropped a little but our batsmen were willing to continue playing even when the fast bowlers were operating. But umpires had none of it because the rule clearly states that if the match was stopped due to bad light on a certain reading before, on any given day of a four-day match, the game simply can't continue once the reading has dropped below that benchmark. While it was a little grey, it was not dangerous for anyone, not yet. But the match was called off. Rules ruled the roost once again!
Quirky rule No.4 This one takes the cake. A couple of years ago a new rule was introduced, which prohibited the players from taking a comfort break. 'Comfort break' is the time spent outside the ground for reasons other than an injury or illness--it could be changing a wet t-shirt, shoes or attending to nature's call. In principle, there's nothing wrong in allowing a player a few minutes away a couple of times in a day but the players abused this rule to the extent that most fast bowlers headed towards the dressing room immediately after finishing their spell. Even though it meant that for the bowler to bowl again, he needed to spend the equal number of minutes that he'd spent outside, on the field again, it did not deter them. They invariably knew when they'd be needed next and thus came back in time to make up for the lost time. Also, certain batsmen chose not to field at all in the last innings on the last day because they were sure of not getting a hit again.
To stop such things from happening, the 'No Comfort Break' rule was introduced, which strictly mentioned that no player would get a substitute fielder for any other reason except medical attention…not even for one over. This led to something very comical in an Under-16 match. A kid needed to relieve himself urgently but the umpires, adhering to the rules, refused flatly. The kid requested his captain to field with 10 players for an over because it was extremely urgent. But the captain didn't pay heed either. After a couple of overs when it was simply impossible to control the call any longer, the kid lowered his trousers and relieved himself on the boundary ropes!
After that incident, players and umpires decided to find a way around the rule. Now, instead of asking for a loo-break, players ask for medical attention. Both the player and the umpire know that the real reason is something else, but facilitating a lie is much better than having the kid-peeing-on-the-field-incident again.
Can't we agree to a one-over break for nature's call? After all, how much can one rest or recuperate in four minutes?
We must not allow rules to trump our basic common sense.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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Aakash Chopra is the 245th Indian to represent India in Test cricket. A batsman in the traditional mould, he played 10 Tests for India in 2003-04, and has played over 120 first-class matches. He currently plays for Delhi in the Ranji Trophy; his book Beyond the Blues was an account of the 2007-08 season. Chopra made a formidable opening combination with Virender Sehwag, which was believed to be one of the reasons for India's success in Australia and Pakistan in 2003-04. He is considered one of the best close-in fielders India has produced after Eknath Solkar.