April 8, 2013

Allow three bowlers to bowl 12 overs each in ODIs

It's time to tip the scales slightly in favour of the bowling side, and thereby improve the quality of the contest

For a long time now, rule changes in ODIs have largely been geared towards helping batsmen score more runs, without caring about what it does to the balance of the contest between bat and ball. The Powerplays, the free hits for no-balls, and the reduction in the number of fielders allowed outside the circle in non-Powerplay overs, from five to four, are all examples of how the bowlers have been hit. Add to this meatier bats, smaller grounds, and batting beauties that go under the name of excellent pitches, and it's clear there's often little in it for bowlers in these matches.

The odd change has helped their cause - having two new balls helps fast bowlers outside the subcontinent - but those can hardly compensate for several others that go against the bowlers. In fact, this rule arguably favours batsmen on the slower tracks of the subcontinent, with the ball remaining hard for a longer period, and thus allowing batsmen to play their shots more comfortably. The five-inside-the-circle rule might, in theory, help the fielding team attack more, but on the flat tracks that ODIs are usually played on, it only denies the fielding team another boundary fielder.

The numbers show that ODI run rates have been steadily increasing over the decades, from 4.58 in the 1990s, to 4.89 in the 2000s, to 5.02 since the beginning of 2010. The rate in each year of ODI cricket since 2007 has been more than 4.90.

To redress the balance, it's time to allow the best bowlers in a team to bowl more overs. This isn't a new idea, and has even been adopted by the Indian board for the 2012-13 domestic season (one bowler from each team can bowl a maximum of 12 overs, with the others bowling not more than ten). Anil Kumble, who played a major role in introducing this change, and is a big fan of easing the ten-over limit: "I believe that 12 overs for one bowler in the one-dayers will not only provide a better contest between bat and ball but will also bring in more room for strategising for the captains."

I'd go further and allow three bowlers 12 overs, which will allow the best ones a greater say in the game. It'll give the captains more options, and help neutralise the effect of the batting Powerplays.

Currently, captains are often forced to use their best bowlers during this period, leaving them thin on resources during the final overs of an innings. These extra six overs will allow captains to use the best bowlers during the batting Powerplay and yet have overs from them left to utilise towards the end of the innings.

The best bowlers bowling more overs will also enhance the quality of the contest, with the fifth bowler needing to bowl fewer overs. In turn, it'll force batsmen to score off the better bowlers, instead of waiting to milk the fifth bowler.

There's also a case to similarly increase the number of overs a bowler can bowl from four to five in T20 internationals. Anything that enhances the contest between bat and ball needs to be encouraged; at the moment, it's mostly one-way traffic, with batsmen getting all the advantages.

S Rajesh is stats editor of ESPNcricinfo. Follow him on Twitter