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Explainer - Why did India and Pakistan have five fielders inside the circle in the death overs?

A lowdown of ICC's new slow over-rate rule that played a key role in the India-Pakistan clash on Sunday

Sidharth Monga
Sidharth Monga
Fakhar Zaman chose to walk off even though there was barely an appeal against him, India vs Pakistan, Asia Cup, Dubai, August 28, 2022

Both India and Pakistan were found to be behind the over-rate  •  AFP/Getty Images

Is it me or were India and Pakistan overly attacking with their fields in the death overs of their Asia Cup opener on Sunday?
Your observation is accurate, but it was forced on them. Their over-rate was so slow that they were forced to bowl the last three overs each with an extra fielder inside the 30-yard circle.
What is this rule and when did it come into play?
This new playing condition came into effect in January 2022. Simply put, any over that begins outside the stipulated time limit of 85 minutes for an innings has to be bowled with at least five fielders inside the ring. An over is said to have begun when the bowling side is in position to bowl the first ball.
Why 85 minutes?
That is the time an innings should not exceed to achieve the desired over-rate of no less than 14.11 overs an hour. Or, four minutes and 15 seconds for an over. In the case of an 18-over match, the 18th over must begin inside 76 minutes and 30 seconds.
I imagine it would be chaos in case of rain-shortened innings. Especially when the interruption occurs during an innings.
That's a good observation, but the ICC has made a provision for that. If three or more overs are lost in a delayed or interrupted innings, bowling teams have to be in position to start the penultimate over by the time the innings is supposed to end. And in innings shorter than ten overs, there is no such penalty unless the team is so slow that it has already incurred the penalty at the time of the interruption that reduces the duration of the match.
But a host of Pakistan players struggled with cramps. How is that fair?
Several allowances are made including and not limited to treatment given by authorised medical personnel in the field of play. Other allowances are time lost in replacing an injured player, during third umpire referrals and DRS reviews and any circumstance, which according to the umpires, is beyond the control of the fielding side.
In the India-Pakistan match, Ravindra Jadeja spent precious seconds changing his gloves immediately after Haris Rauf had a long treatment. Do fielding sides get allowances for such delays?
Yes. This is an example of an event that is not in the fielding side's control. On top of that, if the umpires deem the batter's act to be deliberate time-wasting, that time lost is deducted from the allowances "granted to such batting team in the determination of its over-rate" over and above other penalties under "unfair play".
That creates a problem that the ICC playing conditions are silent on. If a team batting first is found wasting time, it will incur the in-game penalty when it bowls, but what about batters wasting time during a chase?
Does this all mean taking wickets is not a good idea because of the time it takes for batters to change over?
Not quite. Once you have taken five wickets, every subsequent wicket earns you one minute of allowance. If you bowl a side out, the innings is deemed completed at that instant.
Who keeps track of the time?
The third umpire. So if you think that official has a cushy job, just think again.
How do teams keep track of all the allowances made?
The umpire at the bowling end informs the fielding captain, the batters and the other umpire of the scheduled time by which the innings should end. After every interruption, the same drill has to be followed to advise them of the rescheduled closing time. The umpire shall also inform the same parties of any allowances as and when they occur barring the allowances for the sixth to ninth wickets, which the teams have to keep track of themselves.
Apart from this stated playing conditions, the umpires keep captains informed of their over-rate as much as possible especially when they are behind.
What about the fans? Who tells them what is happening?
In venues with the capability, it is requested that the innings timer and over-rate are displayed on the replay screen at all times. Otherwise, it is expected that the over-rate is displayed on the replay screen at the end of every over for at least five seconds.
That's all well and good, but we had a perfectly entertaining match. What difference does it make if overs are not completed in time? Do we really need in-game penalties for over-rates?
Apart from many fans wanting T20 to be a contest that finishes quickly and broadcasters losing viewership if a match goes into after hours, there is also a possible competitive advantage to be had by bowling overs slowly. You get more time to think and plan, your lack of fitness and planning is not penalised, and you can also break the momentum of a batter who is on a roll. It is a little similar to tennis where the server has to start the next point within a stipulated time frame.
Now whether this is too extreme and might lead to farcical circumstances where a team is bowling part-time spinners when it would rather be bowling a quick is something for the lawmakers to keep reviewing.

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo