May 13, 2011

Universal DRS is good, but it needs fine-tuning

And the ICC cricket committee's other recommendations are just as welcome. But how about curbing frivolous appealing?

Until Chris Gayle came storming in, the IPL was in danger of being remembered as a tournament where a battle-scarred captain was unhappy with the pitches given to him, franchise owners were unhappy with the cities they were in, and cheergirls were unhappy with the advances made towards them. Gayle reminded us that cricket needs to take centre stage. By hitting a cricket ball out of the ground, he also made the sidelights less important than the headlines.

It has been fascinating watching him dismiss a cricket ball - even though his supporters in the Caribbean must wonder why he is wearing red and gold rather than maroon. In the World Cup, Gayle looked burdened, the joie de vivre missing from his game, like a comedian with a tragedy befallen him. Now he does a jig when he takes a wicket, smiles broadly, and I have little doubt that bat is meeting ball in that decisive way because his mind is unburdened. Even the most seemingly laidback are fashioned out of pride and competitiveness sometimes. In the hard world of sport, a gentle word spoken can create wonders. The problem with West Indies is more off the field than on it.

With Gayle leading the way, the Royal Challengers Bangalore have won six out of six. Few of those, though, have been close, and it is something that merits discussion within the IPL. You cannot manufacture close games - I certainly hope not - but they are a measure of competitiveness. The IPL is a first-rate cricket tournament, and as you debate shortcomings on a balance sheet, so must you debate the hopefully temporary absence of close finishes. I suspect the discussion will lead towards talk of the shallowness in the pool of home-bred cricketers, but that is as yet a hypothesis, not a conclusion.

Meanwhile the ICC has been doing some brainstorming and I am glad to see that the brain has won over the storm. The proposal to extend use of the DRS is good in theory but it must remain free of the complex 2.5-metre clause that confounds everyone. The equipment has to be uniform; that means budgets must be found, and those cannot come from the television rights-holder. And the integrity of the men and women manning the technology must, at all times, be above board, because in essence the judge is now the technician rather than the umpire.

The suggestion to do away with the runner was probably inevitable, but it takes away a little bit of the gentlemanliness that once marked cricket. There was honour in winning fair and square rather than against an injured opponent, but it was always going to be up against the deeds of sly cricketers who misused the law. You can no longer have a quaint thatched-roof dwelling in a steel-and-glass township. If the runner does go, the players have to grin and bear it because they were the cause.

And now maybe we need legislation against frivolous appealing. Till such time as it exists, nobody can ask for a player's word to be taken.

The original purpose of the Powerplays, to drill some enthusiasm into the middle overs, was not being achieved, and hence the suggestion that Powerplays be used only between overs 16 and 40. I will be interested to know what captains think of it, though there are already some eminent ones on the panel that made the recommendation. It might seem that the playing conditions are intruding too much into the flow of a game, but even the mandatory time-outs in a 20-over game are slowly being accepted. It will mean that captains and cricketers have to be even more versatile and quick on their feet, and that cannot be bad.

And the game is being asked to take another look at a concept that existed 20 years ago. Two white balls, one from each end, were then used in 50-over games in Australia. Eventually it was felt that the seamer had too much of an advantage and that the spinner too little to play with. By the time a ball was 20 overs old, you were in the 40th over. But much has happened since. In this World Cup fast bowlers often got a ball that the spinners had already used, and in the IPL we are seeing slow bowlers quite adept at using the new ball. Using two balls might lead to peculiar situations, though, where the ball might reverse more at one end than the other, and certainly not do so as much as it now does. But at least the umpires will now be obliged to take a look at it every over when they take custody of it.

I hope the cricket committee's recommendations are accepted, because that is the reason the committee has been constituted - to get the players' views. It is the best way forward for the game: the players work the playing side, the administrators the commercial side. It rarely works when those roles are interchanged.

Harsha Bhogle is a commentator, television presenter and writer. His Twitter feed is here