Events and people that shaped the game

No. 41

Fifteen-over field restrictions

They gave rise to pinch-hitters, Powerplays and cunning bowlers

Rob Smyth

May 1, 2011

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Mark Greatbatch drives powerfully, New Zealand v South Africa, World Cup, Auckland, February 29, 1992
Mark Greatbatch: the original exploiter of the fielding restrictions © Getty Images
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1992

Most revolutions have a striking, photogenic face: Nelson Mandela, Che Guevara, Vanilla Ice. One-day cricket's was bloated, harsh and moustachioed. But Mark Greatbatch's place in history, as the first pinch-hitter of real substance, can't be denied. Four years before Sanath Jayasuriya there was Greatbatch, flogging bowlers over the top, sweating out a period of dismal form, taking New Zealand beyond their wildest dreams in the 1992 World Cup.

Pinch-hitting, facilitated by the 15-over field restrictions - only two fielders allowed outside the circle - that first appeared in South African domestic one-dayers in the mid-1970s, were adopted by World Series Cricket in 1977-78, and eventually standardised in 1995, overturned one-day norms and mores.

The key overs were now 0-15, not 41-50; the new ball, once the implement with which bowlers held court, was now a batsman's weapon. The inevitable killing of the golden goose meant a silly season of unlikely openers - Phil DeFreitas, Matthew Hart, David Brain - but elsewhere on the ranch were even more profitable progeny: a breed of middle-order strokemakers led by Sachin Tendulkar and Mark Waugh were promoted to show that the best way was to go through the circle with finesse, not over it with force.

But while the first 15 overs got eminently watchable - if it's run-scoring that you wanted to watch - the middle overs remained dull and predictable, with batsmen biding time till the death. So to spice up overs 20-40, Powerplays were born in 2005: The field restrictions were mandatory for the first 10 overs, after which the bowling captain could decide when to apply them for another five-over period.

The odds were stacked against the bowlers, but not heavily enough for the ICC, who in 2008 brought in the batting Powerplay. Many thought this would break bowlers' spines, but that hasn't quite happened, and batting sides haven't quite consistently mastered the art of just when to take their Powerplay, often losing wickets in a clatter in an attempt to up the rate.

Rob Smyth is the author of The Spirit of Cricket - What Makes Cricket the Greatest Game on Earth. This article was first published in Wisden Asia Cricket magazine in 2003

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