December 18, 2009

Disarm the bowler, kill the contest

Administrators must keep cricket from turning into a computer game where the player can hit a six off every ball
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Rajkot was a cricket occasion, not a cricket match. It was a spectacle, not a contest. It wasn't good for cricket.

Yes, there was a close finish; yes, Sri Lanka chased a virtually insurmountable target with great gusto; yes, India's bowling in the last three overs was top-class, but the ball was rendered incapable of throwing up a challenge. At the heart of cricket's magic, the reason all of us are so enamoured by it, is the fact that every ball is a contest. The bowler conceives the challenge, sets his line, his length, his movement, the placement of fielders, and presents it to the batsman, who must then unravel it and respond.

And then there is another challenge. It is relentless and it must be that way. The moment the delivery of the ball to a batsman is no longer a challenge, the contest ceases. It is no longer cricket. Or maybe it would be to the same extent that boxing would remain a sport if each boxer is allowed three minutes at a punching bag and the winner determined by who hits the bag better.

And so it is imperative that we get the surface right. The vagaries of the surface, and therefore their role in the presentation of a challenge by the bowler to the batsman, lies at the heart of cricket: favouring the batsman a bit one day, then ensuring that he has to hop against the bounce or crouch to smother the turn the next day. It is the inherent mystery in the surface that defines the contest. And that is what cricket's administrators have to protect. They must be obsessed by the need to retain the contest. Chocolates must have their cocoa, cricket must have its contest; neither exists otherwise.

In Rajkot, 825 runs were made in a hundred overs. Many cheered, as they might have in ancient Rome when Christians were thrown to the lions. The hitting of a boundary was no longer an event, no longer a victory for the bat over the ball. It was routine, almost par for the course. Was the bowler thinking of getting a batsman out or was he fearing where he was going to be hit? Was there a sigh of relief at a dot ball? Did submission accompany a bowler back to his mark in place of aggression? The earlier we outlaw such pitches, the better it is. We must start today. An 825-runs-a-day wicket is as bad as a 200-runs-a-day wicket.

The moment the delivery of the ball to a batsman is no longer a challenge, the contest ceases. It is no longer cricket

Having said that, let us pause a moment and see if another point of view exists. Could it be that what we are seeing is a redefining of possibility? Is this just a quantum jump of the kind we are seeing in the computing world? Are batsmen compelling us to reassess the definition of risk? Are they taking us to a world we didn't know existed? Is this going to be the norm from now? Will we hit 1000 runs in a day? Possibly. Certainly hitting through the line and driving in the air are not as risky as once thought. But even if we grant that we are at an exciting phase in the evolution of the game, we must never reduce a bowler's chances of taking a wicket. Otherwise how are we different from computer games where the player sets all the parameters and the batsmen hit a six off every ball?

Maybe we can start, us in the media, by defining what a good pitch is; not one on which batsmen can score a lot of runs but one on which ball and bat have equal opportunity. Every time a curator says, "I have prepared a good wicket", let us ask him what he really means.

Bowlers are not waiters, they should not have to serve deliveries on a platter at a batsman's command. We have already produced monster bats and brought the boundary rope in so much that on some days it looks like we are playing in a small park. And increasingly we produce pitches like the one in Rajkot. Is it inconceivable that a day will come when a bowler is given a list of balls he can bowl, it is announced on a public address system, and then we all wait to see what the batsman does with it?

Hopefully that is a doomsday scenario, but it doesn't reduce the great need for the cricket world to come together to ensure that every cricketing occasion is a contest between ball and bat. We must be obsessed by the need to maintain it.

Harsha Bhogle is a commentator, television presenter and writer

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • R00ster on December 21, 2009, 4:28 GMT

    very well written Harsha. if there is one thing that will make the five day game extinct it's these dead and dusty wickets that are criminally altered in batsmen's favor. none wants wans to give bowlers any freebies. certainly not i. but at the same time it has to be a fair contest. additionally , these free hits and power play restrictions are awful. having said all of this , the way the insurance is bought for cricket matches and the involvement of merchandising and televison revenue you can forget about the good old days green tops.

  • acrazycricketfan on December 21, 2009, 2:53 GMT

    The ICC is to be blamed for this.Never mind the ODI's.Even in the tests too , the host nations are given the preference to produce pitches to their bowlers likings.ICC should act immediately & see that all the grounds all over the world produce the same kind of pitches & then we can compare the talents.The way the pitches are prepared right now , I dont see good technically correct players deserve their recogition as a lot of players who dont have that technique to survive the international standards hit all over the park with these kind of pitches.WAKE UP ICC.

  • ofni on December 20, 2009, 13:32 GMT

    Here are my two bits -

    1. Get rid of bouncer restrictions - let bowlers bowl as many bouncers as they wish per over. 2. Change the leg side wide rule - If a ball pitches in line with the stumps and then goes outside the leg stump it should NOT be considered a wide.

    These two simple changes allow the game to be better balanced between the ball and bat - even with all the other rules (powerplay et. al) in place, dead pitches and smaller boundary lines.

  • ashok16 on December 20, 2009, 5:49 GMT

    Good article. About time. Also why is the power play considered such a sacred cow. The two fielder maximum outside the circle has turned out some worthless batting talent while killing the incentive for bowlers. Now we have a bewildering complexity of power plays. Why not just say a maximum of 5 players can field outside the circle at any time and be done with it. With the way cricket is set up right now, I think umpiring and bowling would be better served by robots.

  • noufal2010 on December 20, 2009, 1:44 GMT

    Yes ,this kind of batting formula never help the cricket,it is just show of batting not technically

  • nomro on December 19, 2009, 21:58 GMT

    A kid growing up on a regular diet of T20 may grow up with an inability to differentiate between a Sachin Tendulkar & a Shahid Afridi, in the years to come.

    He may grow up with the wrong impression of who is the greater batsman of the two.

  • mahesh3 on December 19, 2009, 18:32 GMT

    The title is apt and it means a lot, we cannot have any sport going forward or sustain its popularity with one sided contests, here in this sceario was bat dominating the ball, from the word go, cricket from its earlier days was considered a gentlemen's game and it stood its reputation, with even stevens when considering the oppurtunites the wicket offered to its players, as the days gone by and during the current trend of commercialiazation of the game, it is evident that the people who put in money would like to rule the game, hence the current scenario, where ICC has no control over the type of wickets being prepared and there are all but restrictions on the bowler these days. I see there would be a day when there is no term in cricket named as bowler, there would be 11 batsmen or more if they wish, they would go out and bat with the machines bowling to them and whichever team scores the most , they win. I don't know how much attractive this would be, But I bet there is no differ

  • alipk52 on December 19, 2009, 18:28 GMT

    Indeed, cricket is going towards downfall, pitch should'nt be batting nor balling, realy if we see normal tracks in future, then anyone who perform well, will win, and this is a kind of entertaiment cricket requires, and i would like to make you look towards test cricket as well, we are seeing batting tracks in majority test matches since many many years, which results in draw at the end of match.

  • S.K.Chowdhury on December 19, 2009, 17:43 GMT

    Thanks Harsha, I have seen the battle between Aus and SA in world cup semi-final 1999 or in 2006 either. That was only 213 runs all total Aus made and unforgettable tie....yeah huge runs from both sides don't turn a match alive.....a real battle is among batsman and bowlers, fielders. But now a day's pitches becoming desert for bowlers and paradise for batsman! High scoring matches becoming more likely. We may not find one day batsman like S. Tendulkar, Jayasuria, Lara, Ponting no matter because teams will get runs and more runs without them because cricket is not going to find any Washim Akram, Glen Macgrath, S. Pollok or Waqur Younis or Murali because no one will dare to become a bowler in such dead pitches and this is not cricket. All rules of cricket is changing it's becoming a computer game....its losing its uniqueness..everyone wants runs even 8 runs per over but not want see the true art of in swing or out swing how batsman survive himself against such bitter attack

  • citizen1_8 on December 19, 2009, 17:10 GMT

    I agree that a contest between ball and bat is good.It just does not appeal to the paying audience.While watching in home,I know what a bowler or batsman is trying to do over all the analysis shown through numerous replays from the television. However,when u r one in the crowd,all u knw is a dot ball,4,6 or wicket.So "most people" wud choose 4 or a 6 over a dot ball.Yes, a wicket is cheered but only when the home team is bowling.This applies to all countries.So batting friendly pitches are the way to go(for ODI & T20). But the size of the ground can be bigger so that the batsman has to work hard, run harder & earn their runs rather than mishits flying to sixes-this would call for an intriguing contest like in Nagpur.I see people complaining about cricket is all about money.Well,its nt BCCI paying the money right?Its the public right?All are not millionaires u see, they pay a lot.So BCCI just tries to satisfy,what is wrong in tht?Wudn't you want your monies("most people") worth?

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