How the smart Sri Lankans sidestepped the slow-over rule

Mahendra Singh Dhoni will never again get banned for a slow over-rate if he follows the model that has been devised by Sri Lanka’s smart cricketers. And Sourav Ganguly must be left wondering why he never thought of this.

Here’s what happened in the match between Sri Lanka and England: Kumara Sangakkara surprisingly turned up for the toss as Sri Lanka’s stand-in skipper. The regular skipper Mahela Jayawardene was in the squad but he did not want to be captain.

The official reasoning as explained by Sangakkara at the toss to TV presenter Nassir Hussain was that since Jayawardene was not having very good luck with the toss, Sri Lanka had opted to make the change.

The regular skipper Mahela Jayawardene was in the squad but he did not want to be captain. AP

The match was of no consequence to Sri Lanka, who were assured of finishing at the top of the Group 1 regardless of the result. So the toss as such didn’t matter either.

But here’s why this was an extremely clever move: Sri Lanka were fined for maintaining a slow over-rate during their nine-wicket win over West Indies a couple of days back. The captain, Jayawardene, was fined 20% of his match fee.

The fine wasn’t the greatest worry for the player. He earns enough money through endorsements to easily deal with that. The trouble for Sri Lanka was that if they bowled their overs slowly again, then it could result in an immediate one-match ban for the skipper. Imagine – Sri Lanka in the final of the World T20 without Jayawardene!

There was a very real chance of that happening. But in one quick, clever move, Sri Lanka side-stepped the ICC rule. Even if Jayawardene is not officially the captain, he can still run things while he is on the field. If Sri Lanka want, they can send a new captain out in every match, bowl slowly in every match and still not get any player banned.

Of course, the time period before the warning elapses is 12 months. So the warning might eventually catch up with Jayawardene but at least for the big tournament or the big series, it is a good way to counter the ICC’s rule for slow overs.

For example, India skipper Dhoni was banned from playing the 4th Test against Australia at Adelaide due to a slow over-rate at Perth. In June this year, Pakistan skipper Misbah-ul-Haq was banned from the Galle Test.

The Lankans have basically found a loop-hole and all the other teams should take note. It isn’t illegal and probably not wrong either and as things stand, the ICC have no way to fight back.

The entire point of imposing the slow over-rate was to give spectators value for money and increase the pace of the game. But Sri Lanka have obviously decided that having Jayawardene play the match offers more value to the paying public.

Jayawardene might want to repeat WG Grace’s immortal words, after the latter was once bowled first ball in an exhibition match and refused to leave the wicket: “They have come to watch me bat, not you bowl.”

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