Tardy over rates have been a malaise that has worsened in modern cricket. Virtually every international team breaks the existing law, which requires 15 overs to be bowled in an hour. A striking example of how a team can break the rule blatantly and not be punished came on the third* afternoon of the final Test of the Ashes, when England bowled 11 overs in an hour in their aim to restrict Australia's run rate. No action was taken, though England might have hurt their own chances of a victory as they were robbed of time in the end. ESPNcricinfo spoke to five experts for their prescriptions to remedy the long-growing problem.
'Suspend the captain immediately'
I first wrote in 1991 that the captain should be suspended for two Tests if the overs aren't bowled in a day. I still believe that is the best way to fix this problem. The administrators also need to make some compromises. They would include:
1. A back foot no-ball law, so that no-balls are virtually eradicated from the game (this can be done without re-introducing draggers), and this would help speed up the over rate.
2. Permanent sightboards, so that they don't have to be adjusted for a bowler changing from over to round the wicket. And remove all advertising from the sightboards, as they pretty well always cause interruptions to the game. Surely this amount of money can be made up in some other way.
3. Change the boundary law so that it's whatever you run unless the ball hits the rope. This will eradicate the need for replays to see whether the legs, hands, toenails or nose hairs are touching the rope.
4. Reduce the DRS to purely line decisions (which are the only ones that can be guaranteed to give you a 100% result), and ask the umpires to start making decisions. This way you might even improve the standard of umpiring as well.
5. Drinks are only allowed once a session unless there are special circumstances (i.e. temperatures over a certain figure), and after a reasonable time an injured batsman is told he either retires or gets on with his batting. You can't have physios holding up the game while a full medical is completed - this can be done off the ground.
6. There needs to be a more satisfactory solution to the bad-light law. The umpires should also be told to remind the captain regularly that he's heading for a suspension if the over rate is slow.
With the administrators making those concessions they can then afford to demand the players bowl a certain number of overs in the day without any reductions. If they don't bowl them on any one day, the captain is suspended.
There will be a huge scream the first time it happens and then the overs will be bowled on time without fail from then on. This will also eradicate over-time, which is a blight on the game. Six hours of cricket is enough in one Test day for everyone.
'Ten penalty runs per over'
For 20 years I have been saying this: it is not going to work, suspending the captain. There is nothing the umpires can do because there is nothing in the laws, which is stupid really. Many times the umpires will tell the captain, "Listen, you are bowling it slow. Better move on." But captains do not take any notice because umpires cannot punish them. The punishment has to fit the crime.
The crime is bowling slow deliberately - then there should be a punishment, but the punishment should hurt them in that match. It is no good saying, "We will fine them", because they earn so much money that they do not care anymore. Some countries like India have a small salary but high fees for playing. But even if you fine them 10% of the match fee, it is nothing. It is peanuts for all the advertising money they get from broadcasters.
The other issue is allowing concessions to the players. People have tied shoelaces. People have walked in front of sightscreens forever. People have got hit on the hand and called the physio to rub it and put the spray on. They make all these excuses, so they don't really fine them. And if they do have to fine them, they find every excuse under the sun not to suspend them. And if it is a big-name player, if he is a captain of India, England, Australia, it is extremely rare for that to happen. It is nonsense.
You work out how long they have been bowling. You allow him 15 overs an hour, which is four minutes an over. Then, based on the time the opponent declares or is bowled out, you divide the batting time by four minutes and determine the number of overs that needed to be bowled. If, say, you are six overs short, you penalise them with ten runs an over. So you give 60 runs to the opposition. That will stop this problem immediately. In tight matches, where runs are absolutely priceless, as witnessed a few times during the recent Ashes, if you give the opposition 20, 40, 60 runs, they will get them down and move them.
"It is no good saying, 'We will fine them', because they earn so much money that they do not care anymore"Geoff Boycott
'The DRS must be scrapped'
Slow play has always been Test cricket's Achilles heel. That's why Twenty20 appeals to the wider fan base. In a nutshell, the ICC must change the following:
The DRS must be scrapped as is and replaced by a one-unsuccessful-challenge system, with no predictive-path technology. The system must only be used to protect against an umpire's obvious mistake.
The no-ball rule must be changed back to the back-foot rule to reduce the amount of no-balls bowled, and also eliminate the constant referring to them in replay.
Deterrents must be put in place for breaking the spirit of the game. In the case of slow play there need to be severe run penalties on the spot after an initial warning, with match bans for captains after the match concludes.
Overall the umpires must regain their confidence to set the tone for teams to play at the appropriate speed, and in common-sense playing conditions. DRS and playing conditions are killing the true meaning of umpiring. This ultimately erodes the controlling of the game, allowing for teams to exploit it.
'Have a penalty that impacts the result of the game in question'
Generally it is only when a team runs out of time to score the target of runs that a fielding team's over rate is discussed disparagingly. In recent times, ignoring rain-affected matches, fewer Tests end in a stalemate than ever before. But when they do, unrest surely follows.
Since Sourav Ganguly successfully challenged sanctions against him for maintaining slower-than-required over rates, umpires have become more vigilant about recording any stoppage in play that may hinder the fielding team's attempts to complete the minimum requirement of overs. In fact, umpires bend over backwards to assist fielding captains, who often appear to be unable or unwilling to help themselves.
The crux of the problem is that no actions are taken until the match is completed. A team can be ahead of the over rate when the final stanza begins. But if a loss is imminent, then the over rate can slow to a crawl. Bowlers can amble along between deliveries, regularly re-tying bootlaces, and captains can make endless fielding alterations as if the match situation demanded it. If a team wants to bowl ten overs in an hour when 15 is the requirement, then that's all they will bowl. After all, at the end of a Test match, the over rate will be calculated and averaged over all five days.
If there was a simple solution, it would already be in use. Surely the best resolution will be a penalty that impacts upon the result of the game. Perhaps if the calculations were completed each day, and ten penalty runs awarded for every tardy over, play would actually finish in daylight. In limited-overs cricket, the calculation could be applied at the moment when the final over should have been bowled.
'Make the fines substantial'
As far as New Zealand goes, my experiences with delaying the game were not that often. Unfortunately, in a high-profile series like, say, the Ashes, a team like England, who are quite ruthless, would like to make the best of an opportunity without losing the game.
Most of the delaying tactics used by teams, all simple, are quite evident on the TV: the captain speaking to the bowler regularly and setting fields, other players talking to the bowler at the top of their mark. The latest one (in the Oval Test) was whether the ball was wet and whether it was able to be bowled.
Some experts point out the ICC must use a stringent measure like immediately banning the captain to deliver the message. Taking players out of the game would be might alter the whole feeling of Test cricket, in the sense you have lost one of your best players due to a rule infraction. One way to deal with it is to do it without devaluing the game is to make the fines substantial.
Also, you cannot solely blame the captain, because it is usually a team-management decision. Most times the coach is involved and the captain is basically out there orchestrating it. So the authorities could consider imposing action against the coach, which might perhaps speed things up.
*The day was erroneously mentioned as the fourth
Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo