December 9, 2012

More bouncers please

In the first of our new series on cricket rules and laws that could do with changing, we examine the case for unlimited short-pitched bowling in Tests

It used to be called the bouncer rule and came about as late as 1991. And its job was to restrict the bowler to one bouncer per over per batsman. In the beginning it was an "experimental" rule, and in 1994 it was turned into what we see in the current law book.

a) a bowler shall be limited to two fast short-pitched deliveries per over; b) a fast short-pitched delivery is defined as a ball which passes or would have passed above the shoulder height of the striker standing upright at the popping crease; c) the umpire at the bowler's end shall advise the bowler and the batsman on strike when each fast short-pitched delivery has been bowled; d) …a ball that passes above head height of the batsman, that prevents him from being able to hit it with his bat by means of a normal cricket stroke shall be called a wide; e) For the avoidance of doubt any fast short-pitched delivery that is called a wide under this playing condition shall also count as one of the allowable short pitched deliveries in that over.

It is perhaps the last significant rule made by cricket's "old" empire, before the game's power base moved east.

In the decade before the 1990s, West Indies had reigned over the world chiefly by means of a pack of fast bowlers who were able to use speed and the well-directed bouncer to test and dismantle the mettle of batsmen. The bouncers were not merely sustained, they were, perhaps more importantly, effective. The strong pack of pace bowlers led West Indies' unchallenged run through the '80s and caused a surge of opposition in the old world, which tut-tutted about the effect of "intimidatory" bowling on batsmen and the game's spirit.

Another reason given for the birth of the bouncer rule is that along with hurting batsmen, intimidatory bowling, by virtue of necessarily being fast bowling, led in part to unhealthy over rates. A surfeit of quick bowlers, with their long run-ups and bouncer barrages gave some Test-match audiences only 70-over days. (More than two decades later, with teams featuring medium-pacers and spinners, match referees still struggle to keep over rates up to 90 a day).

When the rule was instituted, there were, not surprisingly, a few objections. In 1994, umpire Dickie Bird called the bouncer rule "farcical" because umpires themselves had the powers to put a stop to what they thought was intimidatory bowling.

In the decades that have followed, the game is increasingly favouring batsmen: smaller grounds, flatter wickets, heftier bats, better protective equipment. If they get rid of the bouncer rule in Test matches, administrators will give bowlers some advantage and hand back the power of controlling intimidatory bowling to the umpires.

Using the bouncer as a negative tactic can be spotted as quickly as an outside-leg-stump line or a beamer can be. Having the licence to freely use the bouncer as an aggressive weapon will test both the stamina of the bowler and the skill of the batsman. Who knows, it may give coaches a chance to teach batsmen a wider range of skills beyond the hoick to cow corner or the upper cut to third man.

Sharda Ugra is senior editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Haroon on December 11, 2012, 2:27 GMT

    The best batsmen will find a way to cope, and that's what you want. Testing conditions separate the men from the boys. I remember reading that Imran Khan at the height of his powers was once bowling to the great Viv Richards, and Viv kept planting his front foot down the pitch and playing Khan like a trundler. So he decided to bang it in short, Viv still came on the front foot and hit him in front of square. IK was a 90mph plus bowler. That is absolutely breath taking from a batsman.

  • Dummy4 on December 11, 2012, 0:20 GMT

    All these silly rules of 1 bouncer, field restrictions, etc have already destroyed fast bowling. Look at how many genuine fast bowlers are playing in World Cricket today?

  • Jaydeep on December 10, 2012, 21:26 GMT

    i would love to see this implemented. it would make for great cricket. but something like this needs to be accompanied by rethinking in certain other areas -- the fifteen degree rule and proactive dope testing (for nandrolone and other assorted goodies) come to mind. the two in combination have been known to drive people over the bend.

  • Dummy4 on December 10, 2012, 17:16 GMT

    When there is no limit on the number of boundaries a batsman can score of an over then why restrict the bowler with 2 bouncers. Would be fair to relax the current bouncer law and watch how many of the batsmen can score as freely as they are used to in the past few years.

    This not only balances the game between batsmen and bowlers but would thrust the importance of innovation on the part of coaches/batsmen to come out and tackle the bouncers. Even today i see people love watching the cricket ball zip past the batsmen's nose rather than zip on the turf to thud on the hoardings near the boundary line.

  • Tony on December 10, 2012, 15:57 GMT

    @ Michael Gering- good suggestion. But what if a batsman is struck in his ribs, shoulders,neck ,chest and like? And maybe it will have some unintended consequences- One many batsman may want to junk helmets. So they may get bolder. Conversely some batsmen may become more defensive and want to junk hook/pull and simply sway out of the line. But a good suggestion.

  • Dummy4 on December 10, 2012, 15:47 GMT

    It is definitely true. With this rule introduced many towering batsman would look tiny and their career averages would diminish substantially. These rules just protect and give advantage to the coward batsmen :)

  • Dummy4 on December 10, 2012, 15:05 GMT

    I would give a batsman out if hit on the helmet! The helmet is there for the batsmans protection. Good. But in the old days you would be injured if hit on the head. So you should not be injured, but surely still out?

  • Mark on December 10, 2012, 11:43 GMT

    @Rajeev, I totally agree. There is no rational reason not to give LBW to balls striking outside the line of the stumps. These artificial encumbrances related to bouncers, chucking, and lbws ought to be removed. There is no logic behind such things. Cricket should be war. It should be scary and painful. Whiny idiots who want the ball pitched up on off so that they can drive the ball through covers all day can go play crap sports like baseball. BTW, border is wrong. IF a fast bowler bowls 2 bouncers, he will be afraid at bowling at the chest because if it goes slightly off, he'll be penalized. This is a huge advantage to the batsmen because it let's them play forward. Why do you think guys who can't hook or pull to save their lives like Tendulkar have 50+ averages?

  • Owen on December 10, 2012, 11:14 GMT

    @Stephen Moore - my sentiments exactly! Also, bowlers talk about using bouncers as a surprise tactic, and if you are bowling more than 2 bouncers (bouncers being different to short-pitched deliveries) per over, then it hardly becomes a surprise.

  • Owen on December 10, 2012, 11:13 GMT

    @jcmcilhinney - I see your point, although the way cricket (and life is going these days) is going, we see less and less decisions being made my the judgement of one person. Everything has to be legislated, and in many cases nowadays umpires (and officials of any walk of life) are too scared to enforce a judgement-based rule which isn't black&white - I am not in favour of this type of behavior btw, if officials used their judgement more in the grey areas of the rulebook, then this might work, but I don't think they would.

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