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Keeping cricket in the pink

Tim Southee. Photo / AP
Tim Southee. Photo / AP

Most would say an International Cricket Council meeting at Lord's is vulnerable to the following formula: ICC + Long Room+ long lunch = short on action. But some innovative ideas on the game's future have come from the recent assembly of the ICC cricket committee. There are obvious points of contention: the Umpire Decision Review System (UDRS), day/night test cricket with pink balls and whether there should be qualifying spots available at the 2015World Cup. Perhaps less headline-grabbing but equally intriguing is the fine print regarding the future of one-day internationals. The laws of the 50-over game could soon get a substantial overhaul. The main recommendations are:

Umpire decision review system
The UDRS is to be used in all forms of international cricket. Two reviews per innings would remain in tests but teams would get one review instead of the current two in abbreviated formats.

Can it work? YES
This system should be mandatory and the ICC should invest profits from big-ticket events like the World Cup into setting it up at every test, ODI and T20 for the sake of consistency and accuracy.

Two reviews in any format seems reasonable, so the reduction to one review in the shorter forms is an unnecessary compromise aimed at power brokers India, who are not in favour.

Pink ball in day/night cricket tests
A pink ball with a black seam is trialled under lights in ICC members' domestic competitions to ensure it can survive 80 overs per innings. If successful in a year, this experiment could then be extended for a trial day/night test.

Can it work? NO
The prospect of pink balls reviving interest in test cricket through the day/night format is wishful thinking.For starters, a lot of patrons would need to stream through the turnstiles to justify the whopping power bill hosts will face turning the lights on five straight nights. Do patron and viewer forecasts justify such a change? Fans simply don't seem to have time in most cricketing countries these days to devote sustained periods to watching tests.

Two balls per innings in 50-over one-day internationals
A separate white ball is used at each end (25 overs each) in 50- over internationals rather than being changed after 34 overs.

Can it work? YES
Having two white balls per innings instead of the farcical changeover for a ball "of similar condition" makes sense.The bleaching and consequent softening of the leather for limited overs cricket apparently means a ball cannot be developed with a more resilient casing. Pink balls last longer because there is not as much softening of the leather in development. The downside is some reverse swing potential might be sacrificed on the white ball if it is not allowed to last longer than 25 overs, taking away one of a bowler's rare weapons toiling on excellent batting wickets.

Harsher penalties for slow over rates
Captains in all forms of international cricket can be suspended for a game if found guilty of two minor over-rate offences in the same format in a 12-month period (they currently get three warnings).

Can it work? YES, BUT. . .
Given captains' earnings, a fine would need to have some sting to keep the pressure on. While dawdling and procrastination is annoying to crowds, broadcasters are similarly driven to get rid of it because it reduces the number of advertisements they can insert. It is likely to get plenty of backing, given the broadcasting deals at stake, with the Indian board leading the way.

Power play adjustments in 50-over one-day internationals
Teams have to take batting and bowling power plays between overs 16-40; not after the 10th over, or following the 40th. The 10-over compulsory power play remains at the start of an innings.

Can it work? YES
The current use of power plays has become predictable with teams consistently taking the bowling power play from overs 11-15 and the batting power play between overs 41-50. Another committee suggestion to restrict the number of fielders outside the circle to four in non-power play overs might also help batsmen take more risks during often bland middle overs. Bowlers can expect more runs to come off their overs if the field is up for longer.

2015 World Cup qualifiers
A qualifying process returns for the 2015 World Cup, replacing the decision to limit numbers to 10.
There are limited details on how qualifying would work but it is expected to be based on rankings or pre tournament playoffs.

Can it work? YES
The committee realises an incentive is required for associate teams to qualify, otherwise the distances in abilities will continue to stretch between the ICC members and associates.

Removal of various bowling and fielding restrictions in 50-over one-day internationals
Takes away a medley of restrictions to return some power to bowlers. These include allowing bowlers to bowl more than one bouncer an over, bowling unlimited overs and removing the batsman's option to have a runner.

Can it work? YES...AND NO
YES - Empowering bowlers to bowl more than one bouncer per over is refreshing thinking, meaning they might continue to be more than just robots delivering fodder for batsmen to dispatch on flat pitches. A bit more grass on the odd one day pitch could also help, given the game is meant to be about batsman vs bowler not batsman vs batsman as to who can most enhance the highlight reels. A bowler doesn't get a runner if injured, why should a batsman? Speaks to the modern need for fitness and preparation.

NO - However, allowing bowlers to bowl as many overs as they like defeats the purpose of one-day cricket. Some argue batsmen can bat all innings so why can't bowlers do the same? However, using at least five bowlers can lend purpose to other skills in the game; like for aspiring all-rounders who are not good enough to bat or bowl at test level.

"Unlimited overs" would also mean teams could load up their attacks on doctored pitches and the next generation's Muttiah Muralitharan could shore up one end throughout. It is also an indication of the depth of an ODI country to have at least five good bowlers not just two or three.

Most of the committee's proposals are sound, particularly if tested at domestic level first. The UDRS is the priority and India needs to have their bluff called. India suffered at the hands of Sri Lanka when they first trialled the system in a test in 2008 (11 successful Sri Lankan reviews vs one for India) and with English batsman Ian Bell's contentious lbw escape in the World Cup. However, these are exceptions to an otherwise sound technological advancement.

Test cricket culture might be less simple to change, regardless of pink balls. The traditions are so ensconced that the thought of tampering with them via lighting towers and hype is anathema to the purist. It is a struggle to see this progressing.

A solution to the World Cup problem is to declare the top eight-ranked one-day teams qualified at a certain date. The next eight-ranked teams would then enter a qualifying tournament just weeks beforehand. They are then likely to better contest matches against test-playing nations when the World Cup starts. It would help keep cricket's spirit alive in the outposts of the ICC empire. The committee has generally applied common sense to change the one-day game and much of that could be instituted in time. It is wise to start now with the next World Cup cycle just under way.

To make matters less predictable, teams could have 10 overs of power plays each (used in blocks of five overs). They could use those power plays anywhere between overs 11 and 40. That means a fielding team could defend
more from overs 1-10 and a batting team could aim to settle in better without the loss of quick wickets. This could further spice up the troublesome "middle overs".

The Cricket Committee's recommendations could be ratified by the ICC board when it next meets in Hong Kong during June 26-30.

- Herald on Sunday

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