April 3, 2015

Rule changes ODIs could use

The World Cup has breathed life into the format, but we still need to give bowlers more of a say and make the middle overs more watchable

Fast bowlers operating with a new ball against set batsmen in the 26th over will add zing to the middle overs © Getty Images

This World Cup has been exciting on many counts. Some of the best strikers of the ball played some of the most adventurous shots. Swing and reverse swing came back into action, while spinners who bowled slower in the air and attacked, succeeded. But it was really aggressive captaincy that added a whole new dimension and zing.

The fact that the bat dictated terms over the ball a little too much was the only grouse. As the tournament progressed, a template emerged that almost guaranteed a result in your favour: keep wickets in hand while the two new balls still have their shine, without thinking too much about the scoring rate, and expect to score close to 200 in the last 20 overs. During commentary Sanjay Manjrekar pointed out an important facet of play between the 41st and 50th overs. He said that you didn't have to be an extraordinary hitter to score at ten runs per over at the back end, and only an extraordinary death bowler could restrict the opposition for less than ten per over.

That's a bit unfair, isn't it? If it's a contest between the skills of two individuals, the dice must not be loaded too much in favour of one. While the five-fielders-inside-the-circle rule has ensured that singles aren't readily available in the middle overs, it has become a liability in the last ten overs. For a layman, an extra fielder inside the circle might not seem to make a huge difference, but a cricketer knows that it has the potential to add at least one boundary per over if the batting team has wickets in hand.

Another trend that emerged this season was the tendency for teams to go into wicket-preservation mode, at least till the 30th over.

Can something be done about these imbalances? Well, I'll throw up a few ideas for you to chew on.

Start with one new ball; introduce the second in the 26th over
There's a lot of debate about the two new balls - one from each end. It's said that spinners are hard done by because the ball never gets old enough for them to work with comfortably. However, the numbers ever since this rule was introduced reflect otherwise, for good spinners have continued to thrive.

Spinners pre- and post ODI rule changes
Period Matches Average Econ rate Strike rate
Spinners since rule change (Oct 2011) 449 35.59 4.78 44.6
Spinners before rule change 450 34.24 4.64 44.2

In this World Cup Daniel Vettori, R Ashwin and Imran Tahir not only made their presence felt but also helped their teams win crucial matches. Obviously gripping a slightly newish ball isn't an issue.

I'd like to make my slightly radical suggestion. How about starting with only one new ball and using it till the 25th over and introducing the second new ball in the 26th over? Imagine a middle-order batsman happily milking the middle overs, asked to face the opposition's best fast bowler with a brand new ball. Say Suresh Raina or Glenn Maxwell is up against Mitchell Starc or Dale Steyn bowling with a new ball. There won't be a dull moment, for the captain would immediately introduce a slip or two and the newness of the ball would ensure that bouncers travel faster too. The middle overs won't be the easiest overs to bat in anymore, and that will add a whole new dimension to the game.

Change the Powerplay overs around
The first set of ten overs has also confirmed that teams have started relatively slowly - unless they have a Brendon McCullum at the top. Teams can be allowed slow starts, provided the duration of the Powerplay is brought down from ten to eight overs. The earlier we lift the field restrictions, the sooner we'll see spinners in action, and since there's another new ball due in the 26th over, it's important to introduce the spinners as early as possible.

Let the second Powerplay be increased to seven overs from five. It should also be made mandatory to take it from the 26th over to the 32nd. Though we call it a "batting Powerplay" and it's the prerogative of the batting team, teams rarely opt to take it before the 36th over. During the World Cup the batting Powerplay was taken 21 times out of 90-plus innings before the 36th over mark, but never before the 30th over. The idea behind delaying the batting Powerplay is to increase the span of the slog overs from 10 to 15, and that's why most teams play hide-and-seek till the 35th. But if you move it around a little, teams will be forced to play a different brand of cricket. The middle overs won't be dull for two reasons - a new ball and field restrictions.

Six fielders in the deep in the last ten will mean that the likes of Glenn Maxwell will have fewer gaps to exploit © Getty Images

Six outside the circle in the last ten
While there's debate about that extra fielder inside the circle, I'm of the opinion that it's a good move for the first 80% of the game. As mentioned earlier, an added fielder in the circle has meant that easy singles aren't available in the middle overs, but it is a huge issue in the back ten.

I suggest allowing as many as six outside the circle in the last ten overs. In any case, it's almost impossible to stop the likes of AB de Villiers and Maxwell, and giving them an extra open space in the deep has made the contest extremely lopsided. By allowing six fielders in the deep for the last 60 balls you'll automatically put extra pressure on the batsman to clear the fence, for chip shots over the infield won't be enough and mistimed shots would mean losing your wicket. Also, that might force the batting team to change their strategy of waiting for the last ten overs to cut loose. They might want to take extra risks in the middle overs, when there are only four outside the circle. Currently there's little risk and a lot of reward in the last ten overs. Change that balance.

Increase the quota per bowler
The endeavour of organising a cricket match should be to allow the highest quality of cricket to be played over the longest duration. While the new rule of having an extra fielder inside the circle has pruned the role of bits-and-pieces cricketers, it still continues to be the bane of 50-overs cricket. Since most games are high-scoring events, the choice is always to have a part-timer who can do a little bit of both - ideally a batsman who can bowl a bit. Also, you need seven batsmen to last 50 overs.

This is not a suggestion that has not been made before, but how about increasing the quota of overs for every bowler from ten to 12? That way the majority of the overs will be bowled by the best four bowlers, and that will automatically ensure a higher quality of cricket. Or whoever gets a wicket gets an extra over to bowl - up to a maximum of three extra overs. That way a bowler who's in form will get more overs on the day, and that can only be a good thing.

This World Cup has reignited the spark for 50-overs cricket and if we can restore the balance between bat and ball a bit more, it will only get better.

Former India opener Aakash Chopra is the author of Out of the Blue, an account of Rajasthan's 2010-11 Ranji Trophy victory. His website is here. @cricketaakash