After 26 matches in this edition of ICC Cricket World Cup, a common feature noticeable among the big teams is the frequency 300 plus scores posted by them. So far there have been 16 instances of teams going past the run-a- ball mark in their innings with three 400 plus totals achieved within a week. Naturally there is a rise in criticism on the game tilting in the batsman’s favour. Also with more than 100 runs scored in last 10 overs on numerous instances, one rule comes under immense scrutiny- the new field restrictions rule which allows only 4 fielders outside the 30 yard circle in non-powerplay overs. But is the criticism justified? Shouldn’t we look at the other factors or the “real reasons” of the rising totals?
Before going to other details let us first try to understand the intention of ICC behind this new rule. Earlier the period of 15-40 overs was usually bland for the spectators as with 5 fielders outside the 30 yard circle, there used to be acres of space available for batsmen to knock singles at ease. Both the batting and fielding side used to go in hibernation mode, waiting for each other to commit a mistake to wake the game up from its slumber. This also led to the rise of part time bowlers who were employed just to save their captain from getting penalised for slow over rate. They were expected to go through their overs quickly not conceding more than 5 runs per over. This all led to bad publicity of cricket and diminished interest among the masses.
The new rule was introduced to infuse life in the middle overs. With just one more fielder inside the circle, batsman is forced to work hard for his runs. The singles are not available in abundance than it used to be and the batsmen have to look for boundaries to maintain a decent run rate. This forces them to take additional risks and thus brings the fielding side into play. The fielding captain has to brainstorm to get his fielding combination right to go with the bowling plan. Also the fear of batting team wrecking havoc in the final overs prompt them to be hyperactive in the field. This also contributed to the re-emergence of a fifth speacialist bowler. So, ironical to its allegations this rule created a spot for a specialist bowler by virtually deleting a spot of an extra batsman who used to bowl uninteresting part times. Consequently the middle overs decide the tempo of the game. Whoever wins the middle overs wins the game.
It appears that the new rule gives equal opportunities to both the batting and fielding sides. So what is the reason behind the rise in frequency of 300 plus scores? There are a number of reasons enlisted:
1. Shorter Boundaries – The grounds are becoming smaller and smaller. This has resulted in boundaries being hit so easily. The thick edges sail over the boundary and the bowler wonders what has he done wrong to deserve this.
2. Better Equipment – The quality of bats have improved significantly in the last few years. Even miss-hits results in ball crossing the boundaries. Helmets and guards have made batsmen fearless to fast bowling and go after the bowlers. David Warner’s willow stands testimony to this fact.
4. Flat Decks – Most pitches are flat tracks and very easy for the batsman to score runs. If the pitch is very bowler-friendly then the stakeholders of the game hold the curator responsible for the lack of scores. This has made the curators to prepare flat and batsman friendly tracks as the crowds are attracted to high scoring encounters. We all can smell business cooking here.
5. Introduction of T20 – T20 cricket has made batsman score faster in ODIs too. No total is beyond reach and any amount of runs can be scored in the final few overs.
6. Forgotten Art – slow ball bouncers, cross seamed deliveries, off cutter, back of the hand stuff, bowlers have too many weapons in their armoury now. So much that they don’t know how to utilise them. The holy art of swing bowling is survived by only New Zealand as it seems. Yorkers are nowhere to be found. Yes, the bowling in shorter formats has deterioted.
It’s important that we work on the aforementioned factors rather than making this rule scapegoat of what is wrong with the modern times.