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Feature

Make the ads fade to black

Flashing advertisements on the sightscreen behind the batsman causes bowlers and umpires to be unsighted leading to dropped catches and possibly even injuries

Yuzvendra Chahal picked 2 for 25 in his four overs, Rajasthan Royals v Royal Challengers Bangalore, IPL 2015, Ahmedabad, April 24, 2015

Seeing Red: Yuzvendra Chahal was thrown off by an advertisement on the sightscreen behind the batsman and missed a return catch  •  BCCI

In the 10th over of the Rajasthan Royals innings, Karun Nair offered legspinner Yuzvendra Chahal a return catch. It was not a powerful blow. More of a push that popped back to the bowler at an easy pace. Chahal stuck a hand out, but couldn't hold on. His impatient captain Virat Kolhi let his disappointment known, but Chahal had other things on his mind. He had hurt the little finger on his spinning hand, and immediately gestured to show he didn't pick the ball.
How could he have? On the sightscreen behind the batsman was an advertisement. Not just a static advertisement, but a glowing, electronic one. Trying to pick a white ball in the white advertising is worse than trying to pick a red ball in a static-but coloured background. On air, two former India bowlers who have played in the IPL, called it immediately. Left-arm quick RP Singh was the first to point out Chahal seemed to have lost the ball in the lit sightscreen. Left-arm spinner Murali Kartik responded, "I don't know about you, RP, but I often had trouble picking balls hit back at me in the IPL."
Two of the refreshingly sharp young commentators spoke from experience, and made an important observation. A catch had been dropped, and Chahal had to go off the field with only one ball bowled in the over, which meant he would miss out on bowling 21% of his quota even if he was to come back after repairs. If you went by Chahal's reaction, and by the instinctive comments of two Test cricketers who have played in the IPL, the advertising on the sightscreen played its part.
Which should raise the question: if the batsman gets the right to a clear background when facing the ball, why shouldn't the bowler enjoy similar privileges? Of course not every ball is hit back at the bowler, but the ones that are have a lot riding on them. The reaction time for a bowler when the ball is struck at him is little. And while the other fielders don't get a sightscreen to catch the ball against, they don't have to contend with a glowing advertising in white font either.
More than the return catch, though, the safety of the bowler and the umpire should be important to the authorities. Neither of them wears a helmet although the day is not far when an umpire might. With modern bats and freed minds, batsmen are hitting balls harder than ever before. An umpire died last year of a ricochet off the stumps at the non-striker's end. A sudden freakish spate of on-field injuries has made us suddenly realise that ours is a dangerous sport, and safety - apart from the batsman's - has not been given the attention it deserves.
Those who have played cricket consider it a miracle there hasn't been an accident yet. "Sooner or later a bowler or an umpire is going to getting seriously hurt," Ian Chappell said at ESPNcricinfo's Lunch With Legends recently. "Because the ball is getting back so quickly they have got no time to react. They have got a similar problem in baseball, another game that I follow. It has got to a point where last season they were offering pitchers padded caps. Even if we don't believe that the balance [between bat and ball] is out of whack because of the depth of the bat - and if they don't believe that they are out of whack - there is this danger aspect, and they [authorities] have got to seriously look into that."
It will take time and deliberations to regulate the thickness of the bat, but in the mean time do we really want to impede return catches in the already full-of-dropped-catches league and also put the bowlers and umpires at more risk ? And for what? The extra buck after about 240 degrees of the boundary is already sold to the advertiser? Not worth the cost, be it a dropped catch or an injury.

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo