The International Cricket Council (ICC) has announced the new playing regulations to be implemented by all participating countries in all international and domestic matches with effect from September 28. While some of them relate only to Test matches and T20 Internationals, a vast majority of them would have some impact on the game at all levels.
A gist of important changes brought in by ICC are enumerated below
1. While there is no change on the length of the bat, the width of the bat has been restricted to 40 mm at the edges and a maximum of 67 mm. Umpires would be provided with specially designed bat gauges to verify this.
2. Any byes or leg byes scored off a no ball would be shown separately
3. If a ball pitches more than once after being delivered umpire shall call a “no ball”. If the ball lands outside the pitch or the fielder intercepts a delivery before it reaches the striker, umpire shall call “no ball” and ball will be become dead.
4. If a batsman grounds his bat or person behind the crease before stumps are broken and then inadvertently loses contact with the bat or becomes airborne and stumps are broken, he shall not be dismissed “run out” or “stumped”.
5. For a catch to be considered legal, the fielder taking the catch must be positioned inside the boundary or his last contact with ground before taking the catch must have been inside the boundary.
6. A batsman can be dismissed “caught” or “stumped” or “run out” even if the ball strikes the helmet worn by a fielder.
7. The type of dismissal “Handled the Ball” has been removed and included under “Obstructing the field”.
8. Following have been brought within the ambit of “Unfair Play”- (i) fielding side distracting or trying to deceive the batsmen, including by mock fielding (ii) Bowler bowling deliberate no balls by over stepping (iii) batsmen taking guard outside the crease should not stand on the protected area of the pitch. Further, umpires have been given powers to judge what constitutes fair and unfair play and to intervene when they deem fit.
9. Umpires have also been empowered to send off players who are guilty of level 4 offenses which involve threat of assault of umpire or another player, physical assault of umpire or another player, act of violence during play and using offensive language and gestures.
10. There shall be only two unsuccessful referrals under DRS during an innings. If any of the reviews under DRS is not successful on account of “umpire’s call”, then it shall not be counted towards an unsuccessful referral.
Increasing width of bats has been a issue that had confounded cricket administrators of late. The recently released picture of Barry Richards, one of the best batsmen in the world during 1970’s, holding aloft the bat he used to score 325 runs in a first class match in his right hand and the bat of David Warner in his left, showed explicitly how times have changed.
The bats used by present day batsmen appear more like maces intended to bludgeon everything in the arc in which they are swung than an equipment to be used with skill and craft in a sporting event. This had placed bowlers at a great disadvantage as even mishits would be carried across the fence. Further, this had also tended to reduce emphasis on technique and expertise, instead placing more importance on sheer physical strength, thus robbing the game off its beauty and charm. Hence this restriction brought on width of bats would be welcomed not only by bowlers world over but also by all lovers of the game who wish to witness a fair and equal competition between the bat and ball.
The removal of the dismissal “Handled the Ball” from the law book and including its provisions under the head “Obstructing the field” makes the laws more compact. In fact there were many areas where these two modes of dismissals overlapped but since these were very rare occurrences, law makers had not dwelt into these aspects in detail. As per the law neither batsmen is expected to handle a ball in play except with expressing permission of the fielding side and any such act would also tantamount to obstructing the fielding side. So having one mode of dismissal covering all aspects is certainly preferable and this is certainly a step in the right direction.
The change in law regarding validity of dismissals after the ball has struck a helmet worn by a member of fielding side is in effect accepting the fact that helmets have became a part of the apparel of fielders. The law that catches, run out and stumping would not be valid if ball had struck the helmet of a member of fielding side was introduced when helmets were a rarity and its use would give an undue advantage. However the widespread use of helmets, particularly by close in fielders, have brought things to a stage that denying the validity of such dismissals, on the sole reason that ball touched it would amount to punishing the fielding side.
The clause about byes and leg byes scored off no balls being accounted as such and not adding to the bowlers tally helps to give a more accurate picture of the proceedings in the score sheet. The changes brought in regarding grounding of bat/ person behind crease and the batsman subsequently leaving the ground when stumps are broken and the position of fielder who takes a catch near boundary when air borne are more in the nature of clarifications to existing provisions. The requirement that ball should not pitch more than once after being delivered is intended to place curbs on negative bowling though such instances are extremely rare in all forms of cricket. The new acts brought within ambit of unfair play are to ensure that certain sharp practices which are occasionally indulged in by players should not be allowed to become the norm.
Powers to send off players
The most interesting of the changes pertains to unfair play and the powers given to umpires to send players off for certain types of misdemeanors. When I started umpiring first class matches in 1992 instances of misbehavior by players were aplenty. I remember one particularly acrimonious Duleep Trophy final between North and West Zones where Rashid Patel, egged on by Kiran More, chased Raman Lamba around the ground when play was in progress, with a stump in hand, while umpires could only watch helplessly.
There was another match where an Indian captain threatened an umpire for not calling a bowler of opposite side for “chucking”. In response to such incidents, the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) introduced a provision empowering umpires to send off players guilty of gross misbehavior from the field for a session. The first, and probably the only, player to be sent off the field under this provision was Sanjay Manjrekar, then leading Mumbai, who misbehaved with and used foul language against umpires Nagarajan and Kulkarni in a Ranji Trophy match for not getting a favorable decision. Though the umpires were criticized for their action, which was termed to be too harsh, it had an immediate impact on the behavior of players, as incidents of misdemeanor came down sharply. The fact that the ICC has been forced to introduce these norms at the global level only goes to show that firm action is again called for to curb bad behavior of players on the field of play.
The most important task of administrators is to make timely changes in the rules and regulations of the respective sporting events to make them more appealing to players and spectators alike, while ensuring that the innate beauty and competitiveness is retained. After cricket evolved into a popular sport on television, there was a conscious attempt to promote its viewership by tweaking the laws to favor batsmen based on the theory that more runs brought in more viewers. The present changes mark an attempt to rectify this tilt by placing some restraints over the willow wielders and incorporating certain provisions that help the fielding side. The need for proper and civilized behavior upholding the tenets of sportsman spirit can never be over emphasized, especially when one takes into consideration that fact that icons of the game are not only respected but revered and imitated by lovers of the game.
The changes brought in by ICC appear to be the result of serious thinking about the current status of the game and the schemes and strategies the administrators have in their mind about its future growth. This is indeed a positive step and would be welcomed by all cricket enthusiasts as a step in the correct direction.
(The author is a former international umpire and a senior bureaucrat)