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Cricket rules

June 13, 2013

ODI Rules: The haze around a maze

Krish Sripada, India

Rohit Sharma ducks a bouncer, India v South Africa, Champions Trophy, Group B, Cardiff, June 6, 2013
The two bouncers per over rule evens the imbalance between batsmen and bowlers to some extent © AFP
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Series/Tournaments: ICC Champions Trophy

While the purists love Test cricket and the new converts love Twenty20, the ODI format finds itself at the crossroads, even as a few new rules have been infused to save it from an identity crisis.

Cricket has never caught up with the masses like football has and part of the reason may lie in its complexity. Frequent changes in rules would only make it harder to follow. More importantly, one wonders about the thought process behind these changes. By logic, rules should be changed to preserve the spirit of the game while adapting to modern trends. One-dayers were simple a few years ago, with fielding restrictions in the first 15 overs and only two players allowed outside the circle. In the recent past, however, ODI rule changes somehow seem less technical and more cosmetic.

The concept of Powerplay is still a fresh one and yet, it has already been tinkered around with. The first Powerplay rules were introduced in 2005, when the innings had a 10-over mandatory Powerplay block at the start of the innings followed by two additional periods of five overs each that could be taken anytime during the innings. In 2011, a rule tweak meant that the two five-over blocks had to be used between the 15th and 40th overs. The latest change has done away with the bowling Powerplay altogether. Instead, the new rule states that a maximum of four fielders are allowed outside the circle during the non-Powerplay overs.

Try explaining this to a novice - a maximum of two players outside the 30-yard circle in the mandatory Powerplay, a maximum of three fielders during the batting Powerplay and a maximum of four players outside the 30-yard circle for the rest of the game. Imagine how football fans would react if only four defenders are allowed inside the penalty box when Messi attacks the goal. Imagine how drab a Kobe Bryant spinning lay-up would look if only two opponent players were allowed to stand in the paint. But, perspective is important: This is not a rule that deals with the technicality of the game, per se. It interferes directly with the captains' strategies; as if a cricket captain didn't already have enough on his plate.

Another rule allows bowlers to bowl two bouncers in an over instead of one. Fast bowlers, specially those of Dale Steyn's ilk, would be smacking their lips. This rule is slightly more technical and almost mimics the Test rule, so it is commendable to a certain extent. While the fielding restrictions tend to favour the batsmen, the bouncer rule tends to favour the fast bowler. Can we say, one all?

Two new balls are being used from either end, the intention being that the balls would stay relatively new by the end of the game. However, former England captain Mike Atherton made an interesting observation during an interview with fast bowler James Anderson. The latter felt the introduction of two new balls might not always work in the bowler's favour. He is right. If it is a good pitch and the conditions are bright and sunny, the two new balls could virtually translate into a massacre for the bowlers. Under overcast conditions, the new balls with their distinct seam movement, could give the pacers some genuine swing. But cricket, unlike most other sports, is already heavily dependent on the conditions. The toss is rarely as important in any game as it is in cricket. What was the alternative? A 30-over-old tattered ball reversing sharply, allowing skillful bowlers to conjure magic isn't such a bad option. The previous practice of changing the ball after 33 overs tried to address the fact that some balls go soft and soggy after about 30 overs. This has more to do with the poor quality of the balls than with anything else. Instead of addressing the core issue, the rule would now tinker with the way the game is played, virtually taking reverse swing out of the ODI game.

The changes seem to nudge the ODI game towards T20 territory. But the ODI format will lose its identity if you replace strategy and tactics with slam-bang action.

In cricket, the dimensions of the ground aren't fixed. Some grounds around the world are ridiculously small, with some boundaries just about 60 yards from the pitch. Big bats, fielding restrictions and brand new balls conflate into carnage for the bowlers. Interestingly, most of the new rules seem to say just one thing to the spinner: We don't need you in the ODI game, anymore.

The changes seem to nudge the ODI game towards T20 territory. But the ODI format will lose its identity if you replace strategy and tactics with slam-bang action. If tennis players had to limit their net approach or baseline forehand winners to a particular number every set, would it be any fun? The new rules are confusing in a game that is already befuddling to outsiders.

If there have to be changes, they need to address the quality of the game. For example, a direct hit shouldn't result in overthrows; the ball should be declared dead once it hits the stumps. That will encourage fielders with a good aim, instead of penalising them. A decision should be taken on whether the switch hit is a valid shot. The rule which prevents fielders from moving laterally in anticipation of the batsman's shot at least deserves attention, if not change. These are the nuances which should be addressed, not how many fielders there should be outside the circle. The beauty of the game lies in balance between bat and ball. The recent changes, barring the two bouncer per over rule, are largely playing to the galleries, instead of adding to the quality of the game.

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Posted by Ayan on (June 19, 2013, 17:40 GMT)

I want to add rule. The rule is to make a power play of 5 overs for bowler. At first bowling power play restricted bowler to maximum of 3 fielder outside but this time the should allow minimum of three fielder outside the inner circle with allowing more fielder outside it will benefit the bowler to stop runs and take wickets. And it should be taken after 20 or 25 over or maybe after 40 overs.

Posted by Sudhakar on (June 18, 2013, 5:25 GMT)

I don't understand this fuss around rule changes. It's certainly not confusing to ardent cricket fans. Cricket has always a remained a complex sport with complex rules, and the rule changes for followers is fairly straight forward to follow. If at all these rules only skew statistics and make comparisons of batting records over different generations wrong. We have seen ODIs evolve from 60 overs to 55 and to now 50 - with batting and bowling powerplays introduced. The rule changes are exciting.

Posted by Ravin on (June 17, 2013, 20:48 GMT)

Never agree with the 2 new balls rule. A long time ago someone on this forum suggested - use 2 new balls uptil the 34th over and then let the fielding team decide whether they would like to continue with 2 balls or use just one from now to get a) some reverse going b) soften the ball further on slow pitches. Atleast this brings in bowling strategy. Hence one ball just gets 34 overs old and never becomes difficult to sight. Also the four fielder rule is plainly there to encourage that T20 garbage and not some genuine cricketing genius.

Posted by shankar on (June 17, 2013, 20:25 GMT)

Imagine if there was a rule in tennis that in the second set, one of the players will have to play left handed (if he is right handed). Well, obviously, more often than not, the other guy is going to win that set. Likewise, there should be no field restrictions whatsoever in ODI cricket. It takes away the element of surprise and that to me, is the whole point of watching and enjoying any game. Let the batsmen in the middle think on their feet to the field settings and pace their innings. Kinda like chess, where you (almost) never know what the opposite player is going to throw at you. It will also make the spectators and the TV viewers don the thinking cap and thus be more involved with what is going on in the field strategically. Right now, spectators already know what is going to be dished out. For example: If it a powerplay, then batsmen will try to score at 8-10 runs per over. Cricket needs to do away with pre-planned cosmetics, and let the players play pure, unadulterated cricket.

Posted by Asim on (June 17, 2013, 20:13 GMT)

To me 50 overs a side is too long for an ODI game. Reducing it to 45 or 40 overs a side will make it more interesting and there with be less one sided games and no boring period in the middle overs. Also remove all the fielding restrictions and allow unlimited bouncers and it will make games much more competetive and less confusing.

Posted by Prashanth on (June 17, 2013, 19:31 GMT)

Try explaining a game of basketball with all the fouls involved. You got to be kidding if you that its easy. BTW, what is our goal here? The rules were changed to make it exciting for the cricket followers not for making it easy to explain to an outsider. Powerplay came in to being in order to avoid dormant middle overs and make the game more interesting. Max. of 4 fielders outside the circle has meant that more singles are being saved inside the circle and encourages batters to take additional risk. Its very easy to criticize but I do not see even a single good suggestion that can make the game more interesting i.e. if its not interesting already.

Posted by Rupesh on (June 17, 2013, 18:32 GMT)

Sensible article. The rule changes aimed at hurting the spinners are misguided. A side should be _allowed_ to change balls after 33 overs, but not _required_ to do it. The many variations on fielding restrictions are pointless, and powerplays don't' add any excitement or any strategic interest. Simplified restrictions should be in place so that not everyone is on the boundary all the time, but that's it.

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