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Breaches and bans - all you need to know about over-rate offences

India have been the best and West Indies the worst when it comes to completing their overs on time

West Indies fans weren't too happy with the ban on Jason Holder

West Indies fans weren't too happy with the ban on Jason Holder  •  Getty Images

There have been 485 of them since 1992; most have been brushed aside with a gentle rap on the knuckles, some have resulted in match bans, a few of them have brought about the threat of lawsuits, and a rare one was responsible for a mid-tournament captaincy switch that has since been outlawed.
We are talking about punishments for over-rate offences, for which the ICC invariably gets criticised: "too soft" when overs are lost but allowances are made, "too officious" when a captain gets banned despite allowances. The ICC finds itself in a bind over a breach-related incident again, this time being criticised heavily with West Indies playing their ongoing third Test against England without captain and talisman Jason Holder.
The first thing to know on the subject is that the process is subjective but not arbitrary. In a Test match, you are expected to maintain a rate of 15 overs an hour; in an ODI, you are expected to bowl your 50 overs in three-and-a-half hours or bowl the opposition out before that; a T20I innings should go no longer than 90 minutes. There are allowances made: injury timeouts, DRS reviews, sightscreen problems, longer drinks breaks in hotter weather, any external delay beyond the control of the fielding captain.
In April 2003, the ICC took the drastic step of bringing the captain under the ambit of match bans. In the six years leading up to that, starting 1997, international cricket lost 73, 59, 60, 77, 78 and, in 2002, a whopping 120 overs. On the final day of the Port-of-Spain Test of 2002, a fifth-wicket stand of two hours for just 73 runs frustrated India. There was still time for both outright results, but the draw became a real possibility. Now, imagine the situation if West Indies had not been caught short by 18 overs across their two bowling innings.
Such were the matches that eventually resulted in ICC getting stricter. Even as the amount of cricket has only increased since, there has never been a year since 2003 in which 60 overs have been lost. The data available - on the ICC website for all to see - is not always complete, but here are a few trends that might reinforce certain views and surprise you too.
West Indies are the slowest
This is perhaps no surprise. They bowl a lot of fast bowlers, they haven't had a great spinner since 1992 to build an attack around, and they have not been the most disciplined side. Since 2003, West Indies have been 88 overs short in a total of 45 over-rate breaches. Pakistan - 32 breaches and 69 overs lost - are a distant second.
Ricky Ponting, Graeme Smith and Sourav Ganguly are the captains under whose watch a high number of overs were lost. However, while Ponting and Smith captained 287 and 286 matches to be short by 36 and 34 overs respectively, Ganguly captained in only 64 matches since April 2003, but was in charge of a team that was short by 31 overs. Virat Kohli's side has been short by only one over in 129 matches played under him.
India's transformation
India began to transform as they became more and more spin-oriented under MS Dhoni, and then as a disciplined bowling unit on the whole, that still had enough spin, under Kohli. It might surprise you if you have seen a lot of Indian cricket in the 2000s, but India hold the longest streak without an over-rate offence. The last time they were found short was at The Oval back in 2014. Ravindra Jadeja has never been part of a side found short on overs. India's is a streak of 216 matches, comfortably ahead of Bangladesh's 190 at second spot. West Indies' best streak has been 48 matches.
It's not always pace
As you would expect, most of the breaches happen when a high proportion of overs is bowled by the quicks - when Faf du Plessis was banned recently, he bowled no spin - but there have been a few instances when sides have failed to maintain the acceptable rate even with spinners on. Rahul Dravid once bowled only 16 overs of pace in an ODI innings, and yet fell short by two overs - against Australia in Gwalior in 2003.
Do Big Three players get away with it?
That is the question always asked because the last few captains to be banned have been from West Indies, South Africa, Sri Lanka, West Indies again, Sri Lanka again, Sri Lanka yet again, Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Pakistan again. This is a question difficult to answer unless you sit with a stopwatch and note every allowance made for every delay during every match. If you agree, though, with match referees - and that's their job so there's little point doubting them without evidence - the penalties sound about right.
Since 2003, in all formats put together, West Indies have been short in 6.45% of their matches, Pakistan in 4.38% and South Africa in 3.69%.
Sri Lanka are an interesting case study. Their overall rate of breaches since 2003 - 3.24% - is close to India's and Australia's, but they have a big variance: excellent when at home, with the vast majority of the bowling done by the spinners, but slow when using quicks.
Do over-rate penalties in Tests need a rethink?
Now to the biggest gripe among fans with these over-rate penalties. When Holder was banned, his side was short by two overs, in a Test ended in three days. Is the over-rate relevant then? Once the rule is in place, you can't ask the match referee to be subjective in its implementation based on the number of days there were in the Test. So this has to be a question for the lawmakers. Also, even in a shorter game, if one side is bowling at a prescribed rate and the other not, there is a possibility the offending side's bowlers are taking extra time to recover between overs and between balls.
Days Taken For Result
Days Taken For Result Over Rate Breaches
 Two  1
 Three  11
 Four  22
 Five  28
For what it is worth, this is a poser for the lawmakers: in Tests with results, since 2003, there have been 62 over-rate breaches. Only 28 - fewer than half - of those matches went into the fifth day. Shane Warne recently suggested there should probably be no over-rate penalties if a Test ends in fewer than 225 overs, which is under half of the stipulated overs. Should the ICC make some allowance for matches that don't go the distance or end in fewer than a certain number of overs?
Graphics by Girish TS

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo