October 20, 2013

Bowlers are becoming an endangered species in limited overs

Heavier bats, shorter boundaries, and the two new balls are killing the contest

John Lennon's song "Give Peace a Chance" became the rally cry for anti-war protesters. Soon the refrain at cricket grounds could be: "Give bowlers a chance."

In the short forms of the game there's a chance bowlers will become an endangered species if the trend of heavier and better bats and shorter boundaries continues. This tendency has led to a surge in boundaries in general and sixes in particular. While this may sound like a favourable result in a game competing for the entertainment dollar, the long-term consequences may not be so desirable.

In the second ODI between India and Australia, 64% of the runs scored off the bat were accumulated in boundaries. Singles accounted for around 28% of the scoring - the majority of which would have been at the easier end of the scale, with the infielders back on the 30-yard circle - and about 43% of the deliveries were dot balls.

This means a reduced reliance on fielding and running between wickets - two of the more exciting skills in the game.

As the boundaries have been shortened and the bats have improved, the preference for power over artistry in batting has increased. Throw in abundant protective equipment, the prevalence of flat pitches, and the restrictions on bowlers and their field placings, and suddenly being a leather flinger is becoming about as attractive as eating a cold curry.

Even the new ball at each end isn't the advantage it first appears to be, as it reduces the chances of the old ball swinging, and the increased hardness means the batsmen can hit them further. Add a bit of outfield dew in the evening and that curry's looking really unpalatable.

However, administrators still aren't satisfied with their efforts to punish bowlers. The improvement in bats means the ball, once hit, travels faster. Hence there's a greater likelihood bowlers will be sconed by a straight drive. Additionally, the unfortunate fielders placed in a catching position 15 metres from the bat are more prone to hand injuries.

You can't blame the bowlers for thinking they are being served up as cannon fodder for the pampered batsmen.

More and more we're hearing commentators say: "The batsman is not frightened to take on the outfielders." That's because the odds favour them. But if sixes become even more prevalent, there's a danger the spectacle will become monotonous.

If batting skill is reduced to power-hitting, the bowlers will be less inclined to rely on guile for their wickets. There's no incentive for the faster bowlers to seek a length where the ball might swing, if sixes are constantly being crashed down the ground. Spinners too will be less inclined to employ flight to deceive batsmen.

We're already seeing the slower-ball bouncer and the wide yorker being regularly used to contain the hitting. Eventually bowlers will rely heavily on batsmen getting themselves out rather than on ambushing them.

The short-form games are designed for exciting close finishes. If huge first-innings totals become the norm, close finishes will become less prevalent, as the chasing team implodes, seeking an impossibly high run rate. Instead of fans who enjoy a contest, the game will attract spectators who would have revelled in the Lions-versus-Christians debacles.

Bowlers need to be offered a crumb in the shorter forms of the game otherwise they'll revolt, as they have done in the past, using extreme methods like Bodyline and chucking.

The problem is, bats can be further improved but little can be done to the ball to improve the bowler's lot. There must be consideration given to curbing the influence of the bat and placing more emphasis on the skill of the user. Making the boundaries fairer would be a good start.

Another move would be to redress the imbalance in the rewards system. Batsmen are being conditioned to believe rapid-fire boundaries bring bigger paydays than a well-constructed longer innings. Consequently they seek increased hitting power. If these trends continue, sooner or later the bowlers are going to declare war.

Former Australia captain Ian Chappell is now a cricket commentator for Channel 9, and a columnist

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • dan on October 25, 2013, 15:30 GMT

    i love the modern game, its far more exciting than cricket 15 years ago.

    i love the amount of sixes and fours. i like teams scoring 300 runs.

    i reckon modern bats,smaller grounds and field restictions make the modern game exciting.

    cricket should reward skill, i love the ramp shot, i love the switch hit and the bowlers being put under pressure.

    i reckon in 10 years most batsmen will be able to switch hit.

    i have no problem with using carbon fibre tape on the back of the bat, which the icc banned.

    the icc should investigate ball science instead of 6 stitches(have 8 stitches) have a higher thicker seam(have a seam 5mm thick) or drill holes in the cork of the ball and fill with heavy and light substances( the ball still weighs 156g) but has weights in it so it dips,drifts and swings more.

    having 2 new balls takes reverse swing out of the game but bowlers should able to get double the amount of conventional swing

    i agree that 4 bowlers should to bowl 12 overs get rid of part timers

  • Mukesh on October 25, 2013, 12:11 GMT

    Mr rookie4u, I dont understand where does the BCCI come into the discussion here. This article is to highlight the massacre of bowlers by the ICC Technical team. 100% agree with Chapple here, the bowlers are being killed by constant change of rules. I am really struggling to understand why does cricketing rules need to be changed almost every year. What is ICC trying to achieve? A good game of cricket is about the equal contest between bat and ball and current rules are heavily stacked against bowlers. Few rules I never understood (after playing and following cricket for 25 odd years now) Legside wide in ODI: Ball misses legstump by a centimeter, its a wide, Why?? LBW: Ball pitches outside legstump, batsman is not out, even if the ball is hitting the stumps, Why? These are few rules that need to be reconsidered to make the contest even. There could be a minimum boundary rule of 75m but you can see the batsmen these days are hitting close to 90m consistently

  • Dummy4 on October 24, 2013, 17:52 GMT

    If bowlers are not allowed to bowl more than 20% of the max balls their side bowls, there is no reason why a batsman should be allowed to bat more than 20% of the balls his side faces. May come back in case all the batsmen who followed him get out.

  • siddhartha on October 24, 2013, 8:41 GMT

    agreed.These 65-70 m boundaries are absolute joke. The boundaries should be minimum 80-85 m.Also 5 players outside the circle should be allowed.Sir vIv averaged 47 and had strike rate 90 back in 80's.With these current settings he would have averaged 70 and Strike rate 120 for sure.

  • Mush on October 23, 2013, 2:03 GMT

    This is how the beauty of the game has spoiled. Cricket administrators here have worked around the strength of home side. Preparing utterly rubbish flat pitches with shorter boundaries. Poor bowlers are mere spectators with ordinary batsmen toring them apart. That is why we haven't seen too many class bowlers to join the likes of Kapil and Zaheer.. Extremely ordinary set-up for bowlers. And hence you see Indian side struggling massively when they go to England, Australia, New Zealand. Not to forget the next world cup being down under, I'm sure BCCI will try their best to bully and get placid pitches there as well. I fail to understand why cricket is slowing getting to a point where it will be viewed only as a batsman's game.

  • Andrew on October 22, 2013, 18:43 GMT

    I think Chappell is right. If hitting sixes becomes the norm, as is already starting to be the case, then it's going to become boring. The thrill in cricket lies in the contest between bat and ball. Insure this thru these measures: 1. Why have the ten over restriction for bowlers? Allow 15 for one and 12 for two more. That brings a strategical dimnension to the game. 2. Keep the boundaries were they used to be: at the adversitising board and if it's stopped before and the fielder touches it in the process so be it - no boundary. 3. Keep the powerplays (another slightly strategic dimension) but allow more fielders outside the circle. 4. Go back to one ball. The two-ball-experiment didn't work out. 5. Allow two bouncers per over. 6. Get rid of overthrows. After those changes 250 is again an almighty total and a six is hit as often as a wicket is lost, which is how it should be.

  • Towfiqur on October 22, 2013, 8:31 GMT

    Personally I think limited overs cricket despite its success is flawed. Look at first class cricket and Test cricket, teams win by bowling out other sides as well as scoring the runs. Limiting overs and asking bowlers to get them all out within that time is probably going to result in high scoring draws, but what if the wickets become the target for the team bowling second and runs become the target for the team batting first? At least then bowlers, captains and of course batsmen will think about their wicket before becoming adventurous.

    Also please get more bowler friendly cricket balls, watching a new ball bowler in limited overs cricket mostly dull because almost nothing happens with the ball, rather batsmen get to set a foundation rather than trying to survive which is much more exciting to watch.

  • David on October 22, 2013, 0:54 GMT

    @ Johan Kotze. I am still reeling from the fact that I actually agree with something Chappel wrote. One thing that is clear is that he is definitely not beholden to the BCCI.

  • Dummy4 on October 22, 2013, 0:29 GMT

    The new rules are cruel on the bowlers. Players now feel 300 is a not tough target.It's not because batting has improved over the years because of 20 20. Bowlers have not been allowed to bowl to their strengths with a level playing field. Its no fun giving almost a new ball to spinners and expect him to be effective with a open outfield. There should be only one ball used and field restrictions removed totally. Even the power play in the first few overs curtails the effectiveness of great fast bowlers.We don't need tall scores and power hitting. We need a good cricket match in which better team wins and not the more powerful one. Keep all the fun in T20. Keep it away from ODIs. Great article Ian. Good assessment.

  • Cricinfouser on October 21, 2013, 22:22 GMT

    Stadiums in Aussie, SA and England are fine. Even the pitches are mostly sporting and ensures good match. But in India it's opposite. Most of the matches are high scoring and they are prepare flat to help the Indian team. No wonder, Indians get hammered when they tour abroad.