Cricinfo XI March 14, 2006

A good idea at the time

Andrew Miller and Martin Williamson
Innovations are all the rage in cricket at present, but change has not necessarily been a good thing for the game in the past. Here, Cricinfo recalls 11 of the less successful attempts to spruce up the image of leather on willow

Innovations are all the rage in cricket at present, but change has not necessarily been a good thing for the game in the past. Here, Cricinfo recalls 11 of the less successful attempts to spruce up the image of leather on willow. Can you think of any others? Send them to feedback.

Fancy scoring four leg byes through midwicket? Strap a pair of these to your pins
© Slazenger

Foam pads (1976)
It seemed like a good idea at the time. A moulded batting pad made of foam, cheap to make, and so light that it made running between wickets a stroll. However, its lack of flexibility meant that it got in the way, and the foam acted like a trampoline. I was once caught at extra cover off an inside edge onto the pad. On the plus side, I also scored four leg byes through midwicket. Oh, and the pads went yellow in the sun.

Boundary nets (1900)
A corker from the MCC who played a handful of matches at Lord's under an experimental rule where a four-foot high net was erected round the boundary and any ball hit into it was worth two plus anything run while the fielders retrieved it. A hit over the net got five runs. Disliked by the public, it left fielders and batsmen exhausted and was soon dropped. Which was lucky, as no one had thought about the cost of ringing every ground in the country with a four-foot net.

Two-day first-class cricket (1919)
After four blank years because of the Great War, the public wanted a return to normality. But the authorities tinkered, condensing Championship matches into two days with a 7.30pm finish and shorter lunch and tea breaks. But players and spectators were exhausted, and in an era when almost everyone relied on public transport or foot, it made for some late arrivals home after a day at the cricket. It was quickly dropped. Plans suggested but not implemented that year included eight-ball overs and amending the playing hours to between 2pm and 8pm.

Coloured bats (1973)
In 1973, coloured bats were briefly all the rage. Barry Richards used an orange one in a Sunday league match in June, and the next day Graham Roope went on record saying he would use a blue bat during the Lord's Test against New Zealand which started three days later. MCC swiftly ruled them illegal. Roope was unaffected, scoring two fifties in the Test. See also shoulderless bats, double-sided bats, bats with holes etc.

Aluminium bats (1979)
In an out-and-out marketing stunt, Denis Lillee briefly used one in the Perth Test in December 1979. Aside from the dreadful clanging noise when ball struck metal, Mike Brearley complained the bat was damaging the ball. A row ensued, Lillee threw his toys out of the pram (as well as the bat) and MCC again moved quickly to rule that wood was the only acceptable material.

Dennis Lillee argues with Mike Brearley over the use of aluminium bats
© Getty Images

World Cup rain-rule (1992)
"South Africa need 22 runs off one ball." That was the message that flashed through the gloom at the Sydney Cricket Ground, to send South Africa tumbling out of the 1992 World Cup. The competition's rain rules followed close behind. Devised by Richie Benaud in one of his less shrewd moments, the idea was that the reduction in any target would be commensurate with the lowest-scoring overs of the side which batted first. Unfortunately for South Africa, Meyrick Pringle had sent down two maidens in England's innings, so when the rains arrived with a gettable 22 from 13 balls still needed, the target was reduced first to an improbable 22 from 7, and finally - as the delay dragged on - to an impossible 22 from 1.

Zone 6 City Challenge (2001)
A worthy but ill-fated attempt to return English cricket to its inner-city roots, this damp squib of a competition was contested at Bristol's Nevil Road ground and featured teams representing London, Birmingham, Bristol, Manchester, Southampton and Leicester. Played over six overs per innings, each side started with 100 runs on the board, which could be frittered away if you lost a wicket or doubled if you played your shots into specified scoring zones. It was all too progressive for the Gloucestershire weather gods. The first game was washed out without a ball being bowled, and when the sun did finally come out in mid-afternoon, the tournament was abandoned to ensure the ground would be ready for a C&G Trophy match the following day.

Super Sixes (1999 to 2003)
An unloved innovation designed to disguise the dearth of genuine competitors in any given World Cup, the Super Sixes were axed after causing mass confusion in consecutive tournaments. Successful first-round teams carried forward their points into the new group stage, which meant that, after a disastrous start to their 1999 campaign, Australia had to win every one of their remaining games to stand any chance of success (which they did). And in 2003, the underdogs of Kenya began the Sixes stage in a formidable position thanks to one bone fide win over Sri Lanka, and a forfeited victory, courtesy of New Zealand's refusal to play in Nairobi. Next year, we have the Super Eights to entertain us instead.

Ricky Ponting and the Super Series trophy
© Getty Images

Super Cup (1999)
AKA the Superfluous Cup, this was a short-lived concept, one of several such schemes in that desperate end-of-millenium era for English cricket, when any and every innovation was grasped in a bid to inject new life into the flat-lining county game. It replaced the Benson & Hedges Cup, with entry restricted to those teams who finished in the top half of the preceding county championship, so as to keep interest alive in otherwise dead end-of-season games. But after England's desperate World Cup campaign earlier in the season, everyone had had their fill of one-day cricket by the time this competition clicked round. For the record Gloucestershire, the supreme one-day side of the era, won the event, to underwhelming acclaim.

Super Series (2005)
If this week's list contains more "Supers" than Big Gay Al from South Park, that's because anything that needs to preface itself with such a word is invariably not. And judging by the overwhelming dearth of quality in last year's ICC fundraiser, it's pretty fair to suggest that the Super Series concept will be quietly shuffled to one side like many more before it. Timing was part of the problem. The truly Super series had concluded three weeks earlier, when England prised the Ashes from Australia's grasp, and it was left to England's very own Superman to provide the most ringing endorsement of the competition, during his slurred address to the nation in Trafalgar Square on the morning after the Oval Test. "To be honest," said Freddie Flintoff, "I can't think of anything worse."

Supersubs (2005)
Well, it would be rude not to mention the least Super of cricket's myriad innovations - the universally unloved Supersub rule. The ICC Cricket Committee hit upon the concept in a moment of weakness, as they debated how to inject new life into the staid old 50-over format. Let's not bother with a trial in domestic cricket, they cried! The idea is foolproof enough to look after itself. In fact, after six months of embarrassingly imbalanced contests, with the side winning the toss invariably claiming an enviable advantage, the teams concerned took it upon themselves to do away with the ruling, by agreeing not to field their nominated substitutes at any stage of a game.