New Zealand in Sri Lanka 2012-13 November 5, 2012

Killing the ODI spinner by decree?

Only four men are now allowed outside the 30-yard circle in ODIs. The ICC intended this to invite more aggression from batsmen and fielding sides, but it may also have stifled attack and creativity in spin bowling

At the dawn of one-day cricket, the only fielding restriction applied to the format was the rule it had inherited from Tests: only two men on the leg side behind square. Since then ODIs have been through several facelifts. The 1992 rule change that allowed only two men outside a 30-yard perimeter spawned a new breed of opening batsman. Perhaps sensing that none of the more recent changes had helped enhance ODI cricket to any great extent, the ICC has now enforced perhaps its most radical change to the format since 1992. Only four men are now allowed outside the circle at any time.

Superficially, the rules should achieve what they are intended to do. Batsmen need no longer accumulate dourly in the middle overs and are guaranteed more frequent reward for their aggression. Fielding captains are forced to innovate and be more aggressive. In the first match played under the new rules on Sunday, Mahela Jayawardene employed his extra man in the circle as a catcher for much of the New Zealand innings and had a man caught at short midwicket in the 34th over as a result.

On the whole, strokemaking remains well rewarded throughout the innings, and ODIs are accorded the distinction they supposedly require to remain relevant in a three-format universe. But has the collateral been adequately considered?

"I'm not very comfortable with all these changes and I don't think it's the right way to go forward," Jayawardene said. "Unless there is sufficient assistance to the spin bowlers on the wicket, I feel the spinners will get targeted. They will try to bowl on one side of the wicket and become one dimensional, whereas the art of spin is about turning the ball and getting batsmen out. A spinner needs the cover, and you're not getting that with the new rules. As a batsman, it's easy for me, but as a captain, I feel for the bowlers."

The major problem for spinners is that they must now sacrifice one of their deep fielders down the ground in order to have three men patrolling the fence square of the wicket. This makes overpitching particularly hazardous and discourages flight. When batsmen use their feet, even if the spinner beats him in the air, the batsman need only muscle the ball beyond the fielder in the circle. On quicker outfields, a batsman might collect four from a ball that dipped before he anticipated and caught the toe-end of the bat before clearing mid-off or mid-on.

The other option for spinners is to have both men down the ground back on the boundary, and have a sweeper either side of the pitch. But this would greatly reduce the risk of slog-sweeping, as the batsman only needs to avoid a single deep legside fielder. If they were to put two men back on the legside, the off side is susceptible to shots played inside-out, and even slight errors in line will result in boundaries.

The ICC intended this rule to invite more aggression from both the batsmen and the fielding side, but in doing so, it may have stifled attack and creativity in spin bowling. The darters and arm-ballers that now abound in Twenty20 cricket may not find the new rule an insurmountable hurdle, but the servants of flight and guile will suddenly find their already difficult plight direr. Fewer men on the boundary means the variety of deliveries they can confidently attempt is reduced. Flat, fast and accurate becomes the preferred modus operandi.

"The two new balls have already made it difficult for spinners in some conditions, and now this new rule makes it tougher again," Jayawardene said. "Yesterday, the pitch looked much slower than the previous match and both teams would have been tempted to play two spinners, but both opted out, purely because of the new rule. The way things are going, unless you are a brilliant spinner who can bowl well in any conditions, most spinners will find it difficult to find a place in the playing XI. You'll probably just go with the part-time bowlers and see if you can get the job done that way."

By imposing a new ball at each end, the ICC has rid ODIs of one of cricket's most compelling sights. Countless youngsters have been inspired to bowl fast by the reversing delivery that dives late at the stumps like a snake suddenly smelling prey, but that is no longer achievable with balls that do not age more than 25 overs. Now, attacking spinners have been put in peril. Isn't its skill and artistry the reason most fall in love with the game in the first place?

Andrew Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's correspondent in Sri Lanka

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • I on November 6, 2012, 17:56 GMT

    And it's an absolute joke that no one has been able to develop a white ball that can last 50 overs, I'd be surprised if anyone has even tried. The red can go to 80 and beyond, and it's simply not true that white ball can't go beyond 34 without being discoloured to the point of invisibility

  • Johnathon on November 6, 2012, 16:41 GMT

    Switch hit already put in against the favor of the spinners, but now this is just getting ridiculous

  • Tim on November 6, 2012, 13:46 GMT

    While I'm not a big supporter of changing rules I think the game will be fine. It takes courage to be a spin bowler. You may go for runs at times. But fast bowlers are also going to be taken for more runs under the new rules. Spinners and captains will adapt, they will still play a big part in ODI cricket going forward.

  • Mark on November 6, 2012, 13:38 GMT

    Also good comments too by SLgirl and Madubashini. Good to update the game but shouldn't damage its essence. Which is why we like cricket in the first place.

  • Mark on November 6, 2012, 13:35 GMT

    Excellent points by Andrew Fernando. Agree with him. Good article.

  • Dummy4 on November 6, 2012, 12:59 GMT

    I don't agree with the article because at the end of the day only bad bowlers or bowling will be punished. We have seen spinners opening the bowling in 20-20 ODI with great success. A Ajmal, Warn, or Murli will always be difficult to be attacked even if all the fielders are inside the ring, whereas average bowlers like Ravindra Jadeja and Piyush chawla wll donate loads of runs even if they put 8 fielders in the boundary line.

  • Vivek on November 6, 2012, 12:00 GMT

    Why not have a bowling powerplay in the last 10 overs that can have 6 fielders on the boundary? That will ensure a level playing field for all..

  • Dummy4 on November 6, 2012, 11:54 GMT

    wait and see Ajmal the Magician taking more and more wickets along with other other quality spinners like Narine, Ashwin, Mendis, Swann etc etc............... until ICC reverts back to its previous rule............... :-P

  • Dummy4 on November 6, 2012, 10:41 GMT

    We will soon see a newer version of "Bowling Power Play" where fielding side gets the chance to set 5 fielders outside the 30 yard circle for few overs. Lets wait till that.

  • Jitender on November 6, 2012, 10:38 GMT

    @KURUWITA- Why everytim pepole runs after Indian team ,And for your kind information India is the country with best bowaling figures in spin as well as fast it is to make the game intresting ..thats all

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