Few years ago, the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) had published a wonderful book on the ‘Original Laws of Cricket.’ The first paragraph itself is an interesting read and one that strongly relates to the recent changes introduced in the laws of the game by the International Cricket Council (ICC). It goes like: “The trouble with cricketers these days is that they’ve got no respect for the rules.” This pertains to sledging, aggressive appealing, ball tampering and allegations of match fixing.
So very true. The gentleman’s game has turned ugly in recent times, almost akin to gladiators battling it out during the Roman Empire. To counter such hooliganism in cricket, the ICC has now given the field umpires the power to red card a player and send him/her off the field for the rest of the match for serious incidents of misconduct, including violence.
Rowdy behaviour was common in cricket earlier as well, but it never got the publicity it gets today, thanks to the extensive media coverage the game is exposed to now. The introduction of this law is excellent for the game. Even in school and club-level cricket, one can trace a trend of hateful aggression. This needs to stop. The basic values of the sport can never be sacrificed. After all, the game should remain an enjoyable pastime, not turn into a battle for supremacy.
Cricket has been in existence from around 1550 and the first evidence of anything resembling a set of rules appeared in 1772. However, the Original Laws of Cricket was first published on May 15, 1755. Interestingly, many of the codes – like the basic laws of cricket, distance and measurement of the pitch, wickets, popping and bowling crease as well as the – have remained exactly the same till date. The bat, however, is one area that has undergone major changes in the way it is made. Although there has been no change in the law as regards the length and the width of the bat, the thin, well-seasoned willow of yore now resembles a club that would have made a cave man proud. The modern bat is a dream for the batsmen and a nightmare for not only the bowlers, but captains as well. The speed of the ball ricocheting from the bat at present is far more than the improved speed and agility of a fit and fast fielder.
The question now is whether the new law regarding restrictions on the dimensions of the bat will make a big difference in curbing the big hits. Earlier too bats were made from the same that is being presently used. The only difference was that the bats were pressed and compressed more often to make them sturdy and long lasting during the manufacturing stage. At present, the bats tend to be far less pressed in order to keep the front face softer. This naturally gives the bats sweeter impact, but tends to break or chip more easily.
Modern cricketers at the top level are getting their bats made specifically for them and are given as many free bats as they want. Even an aspiring cricketer at the national level now has a kit bag full of bats. During our time, owning a bat was a luxury that few could afford and getting a manufacturer to give one free was like asking for the moon. The older cricketers had to, therefore, tend to their bats with utmost care, especially if they had one that was lucky and getting them runs. The soft bats came into vogue in the beginning of this century, once money filtered into the sport. This has been a boon for the present-day cricketer, who is no longer worried if the bat breaks while playing the very first shot. Therefore, a few millimetres here and there will not make a major difference as long as the surface is soft and reasonably compact for a good impact.
The game of cricket, quite rightly so, is evolving in order to become more spectator-friendly.
The one major change about to take place is the introduction of four-day Test match, to be played soon between South Africa and Zimbabwe. A strong argument supporting the move is that 62 per cent of the Test matches have recently been completed in less than four days. This may be so, but I feel the five-day duration, which has been in place for many many years, should not be tampered with. The reason for changing the format, one gathers, is to make Tests more television friendly. A possible loss of advertising revenue looks like the main reason for cutting a day from the life of Test cricket in future. Unless cricket administrators ensure that the world of television and multi-media doesn’t control the very operations of the game, Test matches will soon turn into another ‘cricket circus.’
(The author is a former India cricketer)