A long time ago, in a cricketing galaxy far away, there was a generation of great bowlers. They were fast. They were fearsome. Batsmen were so nervous at the prospect of facing them that they’d throw up in the dressing room.
These days it’s a different story. The bullies have become the bullied. Flatter, slower pitches, kookaburra balls with a seam flatter than the Taunton wicket, cruel fielding restrictions (a curse known as ‘powerplays’) and innovative batting have all rendered bowlers – a shy and retiring species whose athletic appearance belies their inherent timidity – anxious, trembling wrecks.
What’s worse, batsmen are now armed and dangerous. Even mediocre county pros wield brutal clubs of intimidating proportions. The poor bowlers are running for the hills …. and so the ICC steps in.
News reached us yesterday that the ICC have made several changes to ODI regulations. It’s not because they’re against high scoring games, but because they’re worried that the precious balance between bat and ball has been upset.
Who cares if the crowds flock to T20? Who cares that kids are hypnotised by a succession of white balls disappearing over their heads and into the stands? The integrity of cricket’s age old tussle between bat and ball must be restored.
How typical that this should happen just as England’s batsmen were developing a taste for carnage, eh.
The reforms confirmed yesterday include the abolition of the nefarious batting powerplay, the cancellation of compulsory close catchers in the first ten overs of innings and, perhaps most importantly of all, fielding sides will now be allowed five fielders outside the circle at the death.
In explaining the latter, the ICC chief executive Dave Richardson argued that
towards the end of an innings in particular if you have just four fielders out, there is always two places you just cannot defend. But by allowing five fielders there is only one place. So if you have two places which are undefendable, you have to change the field and then the batsman knows exactly where you are going to bowl.
After reading these quotes on cricinfo a couple of times, and meditating on them for a while, I can actually see what Richardson’s getting at.
I am largely in favour of ALL the amends the ICC has made. While cricket needs to be entertaining, the balance between bat and ball IS extremely important.
When I was growing up, kids wanted to be Malcolm Marshall just as much as they wanted to be Viv Richards. And they loved Ian Botham as much for his bowling as his batting.
These days, I sense most kids simply want to be Chris Gayle or AB DeVilliers. They want to replicate their heroes – the guys who smack the ball for six with aplomb. Who wants to be a bowler?
As Mike Atherton said on Sky last week, there’s a danger that a diet of high scoring games could lead to a paucity of quality bowlers in ten or twenty years time. There’ll be no shortage of muscular batsmen queuing up to lace the ball over the ropes with three pound bats with pickups lighter than balsa wood, but where will the bowling superstars come from? It’s a slippery slope.
T20 cricket has brought the game to a new audience, and big hitting certainly has it’s place. But cricket needs to have more self-confidence in its broader offering. Why should it merely pander to the bish, bash, bosh brigade? Big hitting is not the only entertaining aspect of cricket.
Low scoring games are often the most riveting. Battles of survival can enthral just as much as run chases. And, above all, is there a more mesmerising sight than a fast bowler steaming in off a long run, hitting the crease hard, and hitting the keeper’s gloves even harder with a thud that echoes around the ground?
When I was a junior member at Worcestershire in the late 1980s, the sight of Graham Dilley steaming in from the New Road End was just as entertaining as watching Graeme Hick dispatch bowlers into the car park.
I was just a normal kid. I refuse to believe that the youth of today are entirely different. Cricket certainly faces many challenges, but it would be wrong to put all its eggs in the shot-a-minute basket. Sure it will generate a new fan base who love the game for its razzmatazz, but how long before the novelty of repetitive big hitting wears off?
Meanwhile, a generation of fans who love cricket for its nuances and inherent beauty will feel alienated and ultimately walk away. That’s why I support everything the ICC has announced this week to protect our poor, endangered bowlers.
The contest between bat and ball is just as important as the contest between two high scoring juggernauts.