May 20, 2010

Break the laws

With MCC set to change a few of the rules of the game, we look at 11 that could do with tweaking, or scrapping altogether, to make cricket more interesting and fair

Ban leg-byes
Few other sports reward participants for failure, but that's what leg-byes do in cricket. It is incongruous that a batsman who is not good enough to get bat on ball can still benefit because the ball hits him on the pads or body. Too often in limited-overs games batsmen swing wildly knowing as long as they get something, anything, in the way, the odds are they will be able to scramble at least a single. A ban would immediately help address the horribly uneven balance between bat and ball.

Disallow backing up
The running out of a non-striker was, for some odd reason, always deemed unsporting, but attempts by the batsman to steal ground on the fielding side are not? In baseball, the closest similar sport, a runner can try to steal ground but knows he risks being run out if he goes too far. As Gideon Haigh noted: "For a sport that relies on the third umpire to make decisions based on millimetres and split video frames, it is utterly inconsistent to allow the non-striker to gain an advantage of this magnitude."

When the MCC decided the non-striker could not be run out it inadvertently legitimised cheating. In last weekend's World Twenty20 final more than once the non-striker was so far down the track that he was almost home when running a bye before the keeper, standing back, had gathered the ball. A bad law change not thought through. Reverse it and let the umpire decide if a batsman has genuinely been hard done by.

Give lbws on balls hitting outside off stump
Why should a batsman who is beaten all ends up not be out simply because the ball strikes him fractionally outside the line of off stump? What's the difference between a delivery on off stump and outside it if the ball is going to hit the stumps? The leg-side law makes sense, introduced to prevent bowlers coming round the wicket and firing the ball in at the batsman's pads with a packed leg-side field. But the off side? Another law designed to mollycoddle the batsman. Pads are there to protect not to defend.

Don't offer players the light
Something that bemuses the uninitiated is the sight of players trooping off for bad light; something that infuriates spectators is umpires waving around light meters. In a world where cricket vies for entertainment dollars, bad light is an anachronism. When batsmen had a bat, a box and little else to spare them, it made sense. But now they are protected from head to foot and so they ought to be made stay out and play unless it is raining or, in the view of the umpires, it's downright dangerous. Karachi in 2000-01 showed what can be done when the will is there. Unfair? Not really. Like a wearing pitch, the forecast will feature in the captain's decision at the toss.

Legitimise ball-tampering
Possibly cricket's single most contentious on-field subject, and one that has tarnished careers and even caused a Test to be abandoned. Whatever people say, tampering is as old as the game itself. So stop spending years trying to legislate, do away with the hypocrisy and double standards and legitimise it. No foreign objects such as bottle tops, but otherwise anything goes, and it's the same for both sides. The one proviso would be the fielding side lose the right to gripe endlessly about the ball - another bonus for spectators - and only the umpires can order it to be changed if it disintegrates. Richard Hadlee has said, "As long as the bowlers or fielders use whatever means they have on their persons, I don't see anything wrong with it."

Permit more bouncers in ODIs
It's a man's game. Or so they say, but they constantly wimp out with the laws. A classic example is the rule that allows only one bouncer per over in ODIs. How about at least allowing one bouncer per batsman in an over, permitting the bowler to have a pop at both opponents in an over?

Be consistent in the use of substitutes and runners
Either you allow them on all occasions or ban them altogether. Clarity is needed. A fielding captain can refuse a batsman a runner for cramps, but when he's on the batting side he can't do anything when a substitute is used for a batsman who has already batted and doesn't field. The reverse is not allowed. Graeme Smith fielded for 50 overs and then had cramps in the 40th over of a chase in the last Champions Trophy and Andrew Strauss refused him a runner. Perhaps in the case of a batsman resting after batting, his team should be asked to field with only 10 men. Sanjay Manjrekar reckons there is no place for a runner in modern sport. "Besides giving batsmen an unfair advantage, having runners presents cricket as a soft sport to outsiders. You are saying, 'Oh, you are hurt, are you? We will get someone to run for you.' I think that's ridiculous in this day and age."

Allow the fielder to touch the boundary rope
Why should a fielder be penalised for being athletic? Why should he not be allowed to lean over the boundary, using the boundary as an aid, as used to be allowed - and as is still allowed in baseball - as long as his feet are in the field of play? It will also save time spent on endless replays to determine whether the fielder touched the rope while trying to save a boundary.

Ban overthrows for direct hits
A pet peeve of Sunil Gavaskar's. Why should a fielder pay for a direct hit, a show of excellence?

Also, rewrite the laws so a batsman can't take an overthrow when the ball ricochets off his bat while he is trying to slide it into the crease. Why appeal to his spirit of sportsmanship and hope he doesn't take the run? As of today, some do, some don't, and it sometimes leads to conflicts among players. Would the batsman who refuses to take the extra run in most situations do the same if he requires that run off the last ball to win a World Cup final?

Allow two bowlers 12 overs apiece in an ODI innings
There is no stipulation that a batsman must retire after he gets a hundred, so why not two more overs for two bowlers? Four more quality overs will only add more drama to the contest, especially on flat tracks.

Don't give a batsman out if he is in but his bat is in the air
As things stand today, if a batsman dives to get inside the crease and his bat has touched the ground beyond the line but has jerked up into the air at the moment the bails come off, he is given out. This is clearly unfair as the batsman is being given out after having made his ground.

Martin Williamson is executive editor of Cricinfo and managing editor of ESPN Digital Media in Europe, the Middle East and Africa; Sriram Veera is a staff writer