We all love cricket here at Being Outside Cricket. Writers and readers, we’re united by our love for the sport. But just because we love something, it doesn’t mean that we wouldn’t change some things if we could. Modern cricket is filled with anachronisms, compromises, and petty self-interest which often leaves fans feeling annoyed and shortchanged. The most frustrating thing is that many of these issues can easily be addressed, it just requires The Powers That Be to spend a tiny amount of time and money on fixing them.
Recently I’ve noticed quite a few overs lost in Tests, or innings overrunning in ODIs. In the two matches so far of the Basil D’Oliveira series between England and South Africa there have been 11 missing overs. This is despite the extra half hour teams have, lowering the required over rate from 15 to roughly 13.8 per hour. Even so, there was no punishment for either team because the game ended within five days and there are generous allowances for the time taken with reviews, wickets, and even boundaries. In the Champions Trophy there were three cases of punishment for slow over rates, even with the ICC’s lax enforcement of the rules.
Does It Matter?
It could be said that slow over rates rarely have an impact on the result. England’s last two Test matches ended with over a day left, even with the lost overs. The Champions Trophy games with slow over rates all had results. Fundamentally, little would have changed if these games finished on time. It’s not about the integrity of the game, it’s about the fans.
Cricket supporters get shafted on an unfortunately regular basis, particularly if they go to see Test matches. They buy overpriced tickets for what usually aren’t great seats, where they can buy overpriced food, washing it down with overpriced beer. On top of all that, due to cricket’s almost unique inability to play in the rain, they often see a lot less than a full game or day’s play without any kind of refund. A quick look at the ECB’s refund policy shows that spectators only get a full refund if 15 overs or less are bowled in a day, and half is refunded is between 15 and 30 overs are played in a day. There aren’t many places where, if you buy something and only get half of what you paid for, you don’t get a full refund. If you pay for a day’s play and only see 45 overs, you get nothing. By almost any measure, that’s poor value.
So it is with slow over rates. If someone pays to see 90 innings and they only see 85, they’re being cheated out of what they are owed. If they’re still queueing for their incredibly expensive food and drink while the second innings starts because the ODI mid-innings interval was cut to 30 minutes, they’re missing out on what they paid for. This has a real long-term impact, spectators who feel ill-treated will go to cricket games less often or stop completely.
Arguably the more important issue is the enjoyment of the game. It is the perception of people who aren’t cricket fans that it is a slow and boring sport where almost nothing happens. When a fielding team are bowling at 12-13 overs per hour, I feel quite a bit of sympathy with that viewpoint.
Clearly the current system isn’t working. The umpires have a massive amount of latitude when it comes to excusing slow over rates, and clearly do everything in their power to avoid banning captains. Particularly, if you were being cynical, captains from the ‘Big 3’ nations who largely control world cricket. Even so, 4 captains have received bans in the past year (Misbah-ul-Haq, Azhar Ali, Masrafe Mortaza and Upal Tharanga), and it still hasn’t in any way acted as a deterrent.
What I believe cricket needs is a clear, strict, unambiguous rule with a punishment which is significant enough to discourage fielding teams from slowing down but also not disproportionate. My suggestion is this: Sessions always finish at their scheduled time (with some leniency for truly unavoidable delays), and the batting team receive 6 penalty runs for every ball lost.
Take for example England’s game against New Zealand in the recent Champions Trophy. England were batting in the first inning and scored a good total of 310 in their 50 overs, but it overran by 28 minutes (or to put it another way, by 7 overs). After some ‘careful consideration’ by the match umpires, this was reduced to only being 8 minutes (2 overs) slow and the New Zealand players received fines but no suspension. I’m not aware of any significant delays in the game which took 20 minutes out of the game, but clearly the officials decided otherwise. If the ICC followed my suggestion, then England would have amassed a total of over 500 runs and the New Zealand players wouldn’t have been fined or at risk of suspension. As for people watching in the stands or at home, they would have had a full hour to enjoy their lunch rather than just 32 minutes.
Which isn’t to say that this would be without problems. I’ve posted my suggestion here in the comments a few times and have had some flaws highlighted. D’Arthez pointed out that ball boys (and possibly the crowd) might delay throwing the ball back to the fielders when the away team is bowling. Certainly there’s also a considerable incentive for batsmen to waste as much time as possible, acting like Stuart Broad trying to bat for a draw. Pulling out of their batting stance, tying their laces, redoing their pads and gloves, feigning cramps, moving the sightscreens, all the old pro’s tricks. Of course this could be prevented by firm umpiring, but if we had that then there wouldn’t be any reason to change from the current rules. But despite this, and other wrinkles that would need ironing out, I think it’s an improvement on the current system.
So that’s my idea. If you have any comments on this, your own solutions, or just general comments on over rates please leave them below.