The ICC are considering some radical changes to shake up test cricket. Well, some reports have used the word “radical” but really they’re just tinkering around the edges.
The truth is that test cricket doesn’t need any radical changes because it’s already the best game in the world by a distance. The proposed changes are therefore just ideas which won’t really affect the game too much. It’s not like that daft plan to introduce 4-day tests. You know, that crap idea traditionalists like me want to shove up Colin Graves’ arse.
So what are the proposals?
A) To speed up over rates by introducing penalties for teams that take longer than 45 seconds to change ends.
B) To use the same type of ball around the world in the upcoming test championship.
C) To make every ball after a no ball a “free hit” like they do in ODIs.
What do you make of these ideas? I’m in two minds. I don’t really see the harm in them. But I don’t exactly see the point either. Let’s look at them one by one.
Introducing penalties for slow play isn’t a bad idea. Most sports do it. Even golf. What’s controversial is the idea of having a clock (presumably a visible one spectators can see) counting down from 45 seconds. Is this really necessary?
This idea has been compared to snooker’s ‘shot clock’. It’s a somewhat Americanised concept that might be appropriate in some tournaments but would surely never be used at The Crucible. So why should it be used at Lord’s during an Ashes test?
I imagine Graves and Harrison see this as a great way to enhance the entertainment. Perhaps the tannoy could play the music from Countdown as Joe Root and Co scurry feverishly into position, followed by an audible “whamp, whamp, whaaaaamp” if the clock reaches zero and the bowler isn’t already at the top of his mark. This idea would surely appeal to mums and kids. Ahem.
Back in the real world, however, although there’s clear need to speed up over rates, I’m not sure a shot clock is the way to do it. It doesn’t really fit with the atmosphere of test cricket. Nor do I think it’s particularly practical or fair: the first time a team takes too much time they’ll be given a warning. Subsequently they’ll be penalised five runs. That’s the same penalty as ball tampering!
What happens, for example, if a batsman is going berserk and there really is a genuine needs for a captain to tinker with the field longer than usual? What’s more, sometimes slowing down the action can actually add to the drama. It makes every ball more of an event.
Consequently, I think there are probably better ways to speed up the game. For example, just encourage the umpires to penalise slow play. This way they can use their judgement when the fielding captain is taking the piss.
The second idea – using the same ball around the world – just seems like common sense to me. The only caveat I’d add is that it must not, on pain of death to all ICC committee members, be the cursed Kookaburra ball.
I’m not sure what other countries would make of using the Duke exclusively, but I’m sure they can find a ball with a relatively pronounced seam that stays hard for a reasonably long time, swings a bit, and gives the bowler a chance. The bleedin’ Kookaburra often results in dull as dishwater contests.
Overall, however, I think using the same ball throughout a competition is logical. If the rules are the same for every team then why shouldn’t the ball? Having said that, however, I don’t have a problem with variety either. Once again I don’t see this issue as a particularly big deal.
Finally – and I expect this one is going to raise the most eyebrows – let’s consider the ‘free hit’ idea. Does this sort of gimmick have a place in test cricket?
First I have a confession to make. I’ve often advocated (in private conversations of course) that they should have free hits in red ball cricket. I’ve been doing it for years. Why? It’s partly to wind up traditionalist mates by making a somewhat mischievous / facetious suggestion, and partly because I dislike it when bowers bowl no balls. It’s annoying.
Therefore I quite like the idea of punishing bowlers who overstep. What’s more, I’m a batsman myself, so the more opportunities I get to swing the bat in a carefree way in a consequence-free scenario the better.
What’s more, I do think adding free hits to test cricket would be entertaining. Imagine Alastair Cook batting in his bubble for hours. When the bowler bowls a no ball he suddenly has to switch gears (not to mention mindset) and try to hit the bowler for six – something he’s not particularly adept at. The results might be mildly amusing
The same might apply to Jimmy Anderson aka The Burnley Lara. It would be quite amusing if, in the middle of being peppered by Dale Steyn, he suddenly gets the opportunity to retaliate and do Steyn’s figures some damage.
The problem, of course, is that rules like ‘free hits’ don’t really sit comfortably in the test format. It would be an uncomfortable marriage and they’d seem out of place – a random invasion of white ball protocol into a red ball occasion.
What’s more – and I keep coming back to this with all the ICC’s suggestions above – what’s the bloody point? Would it really change the game enough to make it worth doing?
Overall, although all these suggestions have some merit, and they’re probably coming from a good place, I sense they’re all a bit “meh”. Is there really much point in introducing them?
As I said at the top of this article, test cricket is clearly the best game in the world. Does it need gimmicks? The authorities would be much better off simply promoting good wickets i.e. surfaces that create a fair contest between bat and ball, and then letting test cricket’s magnificence speak for itself.
What do you all think?