Australia take advantage of ball-change rule October 23, 2007

The death knell for bowlers



Australia have made the most of the new ODI rule making it mandatory to change the ball at the end of the 34th over © Getty Images

There are enough reasons to not want to be a bowler in ODI cricket. Flatter surfaces, heavier bats, shorter boundaries, limited bouncers, batsmen get the benefit and umpires the line; the white ball loses its shine quicker and whenever it got old enough to reverse, batsmen would whine and get it changed, ostensibly because of the colour of its skin.

For the ICC, it seems, the balance wasn't tilted enough, so they decided to make the ball-change rule a compulsory one, effective after the 34th over of each innings. Though the ball given isn't brand new, it is harder and fresher, negating reverse swing and offering more bounce and pace. Thus exists, according to Mickey Arthur, South Africa's coach, a greater opportunity for it to "ping off the bat more," and bring a greater amount of runs in the last 16 overs.

So far not enough ODIs have been played to really prove or disprove that assertion. In any case, the number of runs scored in that 16-over stretch will depend on many other factors, not least the 34-over situation preceding it. But from the three series in which this rule has been in place (Australia-India, England-Sri Lanka and Pakistan-South Africa), very roughly on average between 95-100 runs have come in the period after the ball-change and generally when wickets have been in hand.

"Definitely it has made it easier for batsmen," says Arthur. "Scores in the last 10 overs, especially here in the subcontinent, will be bigger because of the change. The ball is not reversing as much as it used to, it is a lot harder and it goes off the bat quicker. Runs are going to be a little bit more plentiful at the back end."

The subcontinent assumption is an intriguing one, for the rule has so far been seen only in this region. Yet the results have varied: until the third ODI between South and Pakistan in Faisalabad, the most runs in the last 16 overs have so far been made by Australia who took 138 against India in the second ODI, 131 in the sixth and 130 in the first. In Sri Lanka and Pakistan, by contrast, the most has been 119 (by South Africa in the first ODI in Lahore).

Until that sample size gets bigger, it is the symbolism of the rule that is significant. Take the second ODI at the Gaddafi Stadium. Graeme Smith somehow itched, scratched and managed his way to a fifty when chasing 266.

On a wearing pitch, he was dropped thrice, bowled off a no-ball and couldn't get Pakistan's spinners off the square. He finally fell in the first over after the change, but his target, his team's goal he admitted later was always to get to that ball change, presumably to propel thereafter. His coach said, "Most balls were being changed. All teams have strategies to get the ball changed in the last 10 to nullify reverse and to get a harder ball to ping off the bat more. By making it compulsory it's good because they take out the iffiness of the change."

Shoaib Malik sat on the issue's fence, not surprising perhaps for an allrounder. "It's pretty even for both. With a softer ball a bowler loses pace so a semi-new one at least gives them that. And batsmen benefit too."

Fast bowlers, predictably, don't beat around the bush. Mohammad Asif said some months before the rule came in that reverse swing in ODIs was in any case dead, because the ball would inevitably get changed when there was even a sniff of it. Now the death of reverse swing has become legislation.

So it is understandable that Waqar Younis, as honed a proponent of reverse as there ever has been, is glad he isn't playing today. Had the rule been in place during the mid-90s, lost to the world would've been those spectacular latter-half bursts: 5 for 25 against South Africa in 1993 as they collapsed from 159 for 1 to 198 all out chasing 209 and his partner Wasim Akram's 5 for 16 six days later, which turned 151 for 3 chasing 172 to 162 all out.

And because bowlers don't get the last word anymore, it is only right Waqar does here. "It's the death knell for bowlers. Where do you go from here? Fifty-overs cricket and Twenty20 are geared towards batsmen anyway and now they get a new hard ball after 34 overs. Reverse swing was a mystery and it should still have a place in the armoury of a bowler.

"The changing of the ball has always been a contentious issue, because it's discoloured and they [batsmen] can't pick it. But if they want to change the ball, give the bowler the same type of softness but cleaner."

Osman Samiuddin is the Pakistan editor of Cricinfo

Comments