It's been a week since the 2019 edition of the quadrennial ICC Cricket World Cup kicked off in the UK and for the most part, the actual cricket has been of a high quality with neither bat nor ball dominating the other overall — a very healthy sign indeed.
The 10 matches completed so far — three of which featured South Africa — have seen the Proteas become the first team to sport 'home' and 'away' kits in World Cup cricket. As per a recent and widely-quoted ICC press release, "For televised ICC events all participating teams will be required to provide for two different coloured kits, except for the host country who has a preference in the choice of colour and may, if it chooses to do so, provide only one coloured kit to be worn in all matches throughout the event. In advance of the event the teams will be notified which coloured kit will be worn in each match."
At first glance, the move seemed vaguely interesting, not least because the revival of tournament jerseys was long overdue. But on closer examination, it becomes very difficult not to view this decision as a cynical exercise in generating some extra merchandise sales. But before delving into a deeper exploration of the preceding claim, let's look at what the ICC's instructions entail.
Following the global cricket body's press release, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan and the aforementioned South Africa unveiled their alternate kits (Note: While the ICC referred to 'two different coloured' kits, it did not use the words 'home' or 'away'). Further, word has emerged that since New Zealand (black), the West Indies (maroon) and Australia (yellow) sport unique base colours for their respective kits, they will not need to provide a second kit.
In essence then, the ICC's decision affects only those teams that wear blue or green kits — with the exception of England, who by virtue of being hosts, are not obliged to provide a second kit. India, according to PTI , will be unveiling an orange kit ahead of their matches against Afghanistan and England. Pakistan are the other side that have yet to unveil their second jersey. But, the idea of clashing kits is a good juncture at which to take a brief detour.
At face value, the idea of having two competing teams wearing sufficiently differently-coloured kits is a fairly obvious and rational thought when it comes to sports. After all, having the opposing teams dressed in different colours helps them identify their own — as distinct from the opponent — very easily and helps audiences disambiguate between teams. This has been a given in football — of the Association, American and Australian varieties, basketball, hockey, lacrosse and rugby.
In the case of the former, there have been at least two noteworthy incidents that come to mind that were caused by the clash of kits:
In January 2000, a Manchester United-Arsenal fixture in the Premier League witnessed a unique situation: Then United goalkeeper Mark Bosnich headed out of the tunnel at the start of the fixture in a yellow jersey. Unfortunately, while the rest of his team — clad as they were in their traditional red jersey and white shorts — did not clash with the visiting Gunners' kit, his own yellow jersey looked awfully similar to the yellow away kit sported by Arsenal at the time.
The result? Bosnich had to wear a non-descript off-white sweatshirt (and here is what the makeshift ensemble looked like) until a suitable replacement could be located and provided to him at half-time.
In the Premier League in 1996, as the video below depicts, Manchester United began their away fixture at Southampton in a grey strip, so as not to clash with the home team's red and white. However, according to then manager Sir Alex Ferguson, United players — impeded in equal parts by the bright sunlight and their kits — were rendered invisible to each other. As a result, the team changed into a blue and white kit at half-time — something that made the original 3-0 scoreline less glaring, but no less one-sided at 3-1.
In the interest of time, we'll skip past the exercise of digging into examples of similar instances in the other sports mentioned in this section, suffice it to say that the point is made. The need to have sufficiently different-looking kits for both competing teams is a necessity in team sports.
It's just not cricket
Purists were up in arms when One Day International cricket adopted coloured uniforms and a white ball. They were far less outraged when numbers appeared on the backs of cricketers. And their silence in the wake of the announcement of alternate kits is almost deafening. The notion of importing concepts from other sports and force-fitting them into cricket isn't new. Years after the numbers popped up on the back of jerseys, the concept of substituting players in and out of the match — arguably the only use for numbers on jerseys in cricket — in the form of 'super subs'.
The concept was poorly-devised with bizarre rules that provided a massive advantage to teams who won the toss. Next up was the concept of time-outs (strategic ones, if the Indian Premier League is anything to go by) and the less said about this cunning way to insert a few dozen advertisements into a match, the better.
Which brings us to the concept of an alternate kit for teams to prevent a clash of colours. First, the rationale for this move, as expressed in some quarters, was that it would make it easier to distinguish between the two teams. But to anyone who understands the mechanics of cricket, it should be abundantly clear that no one in the right frame of mind is ever going to confuse the batting team with the one that's bowling. After all, unlike contact sports like football, hockey and basketball, you won't find both teams on the pitch at the same time in full strength attempting to achieve the same goal. Differentiating between the batting and fielding team should therefore not be difficult at all.
Second, while South Africa and the IPL team Royal Challengers Bangalore have used an alternate kit to mark special occasions (pink for breast cancer awareness and green for 'Green Day' respectively), these have never been used as a way to differentiate between the two teams.
Third, if avoiding confusion was the key reason for the decision, the ICC would do well to look at footage of Test cricket or any cricket prior to the Kerry Packer era. It seems highly unlikely that the world cricket body will find very many confused faces in the crowd.
Clearly, the decision for these 'alternate' kits isn't engineered to help out the fans or the players, who were doing just fine even back when every single player on the pitch wore white flannels. In fact, it seems rather more like a move inspired by the need to generate profits: The logic being that if fans already pay a premium price for replica jerseys, they'll also pay for for the 'limited edition' alternate jerseys. Perhaps, they'll even pay more than they would for the basic jersey. Kit manufacturers and the ICC — that is likely to receive a cut of the merchandise sales — are likely already laughing their way to the bank. Particularly when you consider the redundancy of alternate kits in the sport of cricket.