Bowlers and coaches can heave a sigh of relief. Cricket bat blades can no longer exceed a thickness of 67 millimetres.
For some time now, many batsmen — purveyors of the powerplay — opted for bats sporting a thickness of even 85 millimetres. There were genuine fears that unless this was checked at the earliest bat manufacturers and powerfully-built stroke-players would soon race towards wielding chunks of willow that were 100 millimetres thick!
Now, even cricket coaches will be pleased with the ICC ruling on bat size as their young wards will not need to spend as much time in the gym building muscles in order to handle these bats. They can once again concentrate on the right technique instead of banking on a monstrous bat to help clear the field.
At the higher levels, this bat size restriction restores the balance between bat and ball to the point that skill rather than brute power becomes the essence of batsmanship. Anybody who saw the West Indies’ Carlos Brathwaite muscle those successive sixes with a jumbo bat in the final over in the World T20 Championship title match knows how destructive and lopsided power-hitting is.
Thus the MCC, the custodians of the laws of cricket, who brought in these changes in consultation with the ICC and Association of Umpires and Scorers, must be complimented on some of the changes (click here for a detailed explanation of the changes and laws).
While restriction on the size of the bat needs to be applauded, some of the other changes are disappointing and bound to cause tremendous heartburn, particularly at the lower levels of the game.
The introduction of a 'red card', for instance, is not a step in the right direction and could well see local umpires turn tyrannical at the grassroots level and in age-group cricket.
The MCC and ICC were seized of the issue of player indiscipline only because the hooligan culture of some other sports had crept into grassroots cricket in England and New Zealand. They ought to have sorted out the issues there rather than impose this on others. This law is bound to turn controversial; not just in terms of sending off players, but also in docking penalties. I had written against the concept of red cards in cricket last year and nothing that has happened since has changed my stance.
The law on tethering of bails too is disturbing. It seeks to play around with the traditions of the game. It claims safety to wicket-keeper is the issue (Mark Boucher and Saba Karim’s eye injuries are touted as examples). It must be pointed out that this argument does not sit well considering that in the 100-odd-year history of the game as there are less than four or five such cases. On the other hand, batsmen and fielders have succumbed to injuries sustained on the field. There are protective helmets and even shatter-proof eye glasses available. These could have been mandated.
Another law (Law 30, the previous Law 29) could have been left alone. This one is regarding run outs: ...If a batsman grounds his/her bat or part of his/her body behind the crease while regaining his/her ground before the stumps are broken, and then if he/she inadvertently loses contact with the bat, or if the grounded part of his/her body becomes airborne — while running or diving — when the stumps are broken, he/she shall not be run out or stumped.
The committee seems to be enamoured with forward motion towards safety of the batsman/bat. But the bigger issue is that of handling the pressure of escaping a run out.
It is in those crucial moments that a player who can keep his/her head and remember to slide in perfectly, can be differentiated from the run-of-the-mill cricketer. That invaluable presence of mind under pressure now counts for nothing. This surely is cricket’s version of 'dumbing down'.
Instead, if the committee wanted to discard a bit of tradition, they should have taken a hard look at the leg byes issue. A batsman in extreme trouble against a particular bowler gets beaten by seam, swing or spin, but can escape to the other end if the eluding ball hits his body and rolls away. The batsman is allowed to escape the firing line for no particular merit of his.
The restoration of DRS review on an "umpire’s call" is correct. But not reloading the reviews after 80 overs is a bit harsh. In this case it seems like the umpires have been left off the hook.
Indeed reading the laws that will come into force from 1 October is a revelation. A few changes in these laws favour the batsmen, some the bowlers and others the umpire! Some monkey-balancing act this!