Restore bat-ball balance in ODIs, says ESPNcricinfo's panel
Restoring the balance between bat and ball, including regulating bat thickness, easing fielding restrictions and reverting to one white ball per innings, was the way ahead for the one-day game, according to a panel of ESPNcricinfo's experts. The experts - Michael Holding, Ian Chappell, Rahul Dravid and Martin Crowe - felt these would encourage imaginative captaincy and more aggressive cricket.
They were participating in Lunch With Legends, an ESPNcricinfo discussion on the future of the ODI game, in Sydney after the second World Cup semi-final.
The most important issue, they felt, was for the ICC to regulate the depth of the bat, and not just keep it to the existing size but pull it back. As the regulations stand, a bat's width cannot exceed 10.8cm, but there is no bar on the thickness of the bat. The width of the bat for the purpose of the regulations is the width of the edge or the side face, and not the thickness of the middle of the bat.
"I don't know if the ICC is afraid of the people who manufacture the bat to say exactly what has to go into a bat," Holding said. "They have limited the width of the bat, but they have never limited the depth. There used to be a sweet spot on the bat years ago. Actually one company - I don't want to name it - used to have a spot on the back of the bat, which was pretty much parallel to the one on the front of the bat. Now that would have to cover the entire bat because there is no sweet spot, there is a sweet bat.
"Once you get a piece of bat on the ball, it disappears. You can see it on the television. There are a lot of slow-motion replays where you see a batsman hitting the ball, you can see the bat actually twisting in their hands. Obviously not hitting the ball well, and the ball disappears nonetheless. That is one aspect that has to be looked into. If the ICC do nothing else, they have to look at that.
"When people used to hit sixes at the MCG, you used to think they were Superman or Samson. Now a No. 11 can hit a six at the MCG because of the bats they are using. You have to look at that."
Chappell said the unfair domination of batsmen was only one of the problems that the thick bats have brought to the game. "Sooner or later, a bowler or an umpire is going to getting seriously hurt," Chappell said. "Because the ball is getting back so quickly they have got no time to react. They have got a similar problem in baseball, another game that I follow. It has got to a point where last season they were offering pitchers padded caps. Because guys were getting hit in the head more regularly. Because the ball was getting back to the other end so quickly. Even if we don't believe that the balance is out of whack because of the depth of the bat - and if they don't believe that they are out of whack - there is this danger aspect and they have got to seriously look into that."
Crowe brought up the issue of the safety of the crowds. An unattended kid was hit by a David Warner six in Perth, but it was a surprise none of the other 460 sixes hurt anyone in the stands. Dravid, though, worried about the safety of the lesser-appreciated net bowlers. "One of the people who I really worry for is net bowlers," he said. "I have worked in the IPL. We have young kids who bowl in the nets. All university kids, college kids. All 17-, 18-, 19-year-olds bowling in the nets, and you have the likes of Shane Watson and Chris Gayle batting in the nets and practising T20 batting. I am amazed no one has seriously got hurt."
Two of the big talking points of this World Cup have been the field restrictions that allow only four fielders outside the circle in non-Powerplay overs and the two new balls. Both have resulted in higher scores. Chappell wanted most of the restrictions removed thus allowing the captains to captain the sides and not the regulations. There was also an agreement that bowlers be allowed to more than 10 overs with a restriction on a certain number of overs to be bowled by five bowlers so that teams don't stack their teams up with eight batsmen and just three bowlers.
"As far as restrictions are concerned, I like as few as possible," Chappell said. "I'd like to something as simple as a regulation that stops a cluttering of the boundaries at any stage of the innings. The rest of it I'd like to leave it to the imagination of the captains. You might say they are all going to go defensive, but I don't think they will. You are going to have captains like Michael Clarke and Brendon McCullum who will attack. What I think would happen is that the negative ones will be shown up because they would probably lose more often. Ones with more imagination would win more often. What you generally find in sport is that if some team is winning a lot, people tend to follow their example. That's the first thing with field restrictions.
"As far as the overs are concerned I'd like something as simple as: 'Five bowlers have got to bowl 25 overs and the rest of them the captain makes up however he wants.' If he has got someone bowling well, he can bowl 14, 15, whatever he can fit in. The reason I say that is, you would hope if you have got better bowlers he will attack. Whereas if he has got lesser bowlers and he is having to bowl them for 10 overs then he is more likely to be defending. It will encourage more imaginative captaincy if you allow the better bowlers to bowl more overs. It's also a captain's gut feel, who is bowling well today.
"If I was a current captain, I'd say to the ICC, 'If you want to captain this bloody team, you come and captain it. Allow me to captain. Don't try to captain with your bloody regulations.'"
Dravid and Holding agreed that the new fielding restrictions did part of their job successfully by forcing the captains to pick five specialist bowlers and eliminate the part-timer, but they worried about the consequent domination of the bat. "I can understand what Rahul is saying, that now teams have to pick better bowlers, better bowlers now get more opportunities," Holding said, "but at the same time, a lot of teams, especially the Associate teams, are not going to be able to find those five good bowlers to be competitive."
The panel could see why two balls were being used but agreed that it took reverse swing out of the game, and that on flat pitches they only helped the batsmen. "It [this World Cup] has clearly shown that on flat good wickets and especially in the subcontinent the two new balls and fielding restrictions are not working because the scores are just going out of hand," Dravid said.
"The white ball behaves a little bit differently to the red ball," Holding said. "If the manufacturers can get the white ball to behave similarly to the red ball, you would have to look at two new balls as well. If you had two red balls, because years ago, if you had two red balls, bowlers would have dominated. With two white balls the bowlers have no chance of dominating because the balls don't do enough."
Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo