At the annual conference of the International Cricket Council (ICC) last week in Barbados, a number of proposed changes, most of them mooted with the motive to improve the balance between bat and ball, were ratified. The changes, which will come into effect from July 5 include the following. The fielding side will be no longer required to keep fielders in catching position in the first 10 overs, which was mandatory earlier. Also five fielders will be allowed outside the 30-yard circle in the last 10 overs as opposed to the earlier four. Also, all no-balls will result in free-hits as opposed to just foot-faults.
Another major alteration from the present rule is that the batting powerplay has been scrapped. Earlier, the teams took it mostly between the 36th and 40th over, and had a literal free-hand. The ICC will also be having a closer look at the size of bats. It has often been witnessed in recent times that even mishits are sailing over the rope for sixes. And, that is not all. Cricket's governing body is also pondering upon the idea of 'tampering' with the seam of the ball in the hope that it could help the fast bowlers swing and move the ball better, and aid the spinners in getting turn and grip.
ICC's move to change the rules in ODIs is definitely a move in the right direction. It has been observed in recent years that the one-day game has become totally batsmen-centric, and the bowlers have been reduced to mere punching bags. There was a time when 300 was considered a match-winning total in the format, but now even 400 is not safe. If the batting side has wickets in hand, they can end up scoring unimaginable number of runs in the last 15 overs. The batting powerplay, which was usually taken from the 36th to 40th over, meant that the last 15 overs had turned into literal slog overs.
The recently-concluded ODI series between New Zealand and England saw numerous high totals. But, while the series in itself was exciting, the ease with which the runs were scored, pretty much made a mockery of bowlers from both sides. Agreed, in the age of T20, crowds love to watch slam-bang cricket. But, a sport is a test of character and skills, and the rules that were in place in one-dayers until now were heavily loaded in favour of the batsmen, making the bowlers all but redundant. Economy rates of 7 and 8, unheard of two decades ago, are now a reality.
Among the proposed changes, the tampering with the seam part seems most intriguing. It is clear that the bowlers are not getting any sort of help from the ball as of now. If something can be done with which the fast bowlers get the ball to move around, and spinners get it to grip, there can be nothing better. In the 90s, and even till the early 2000s, reverse swing meant that the bowlers were in the game in the slog overs. However, that has pretty much gone out of the window in the era of increasing restrictions, and powerplays. For the good of cricket, the situation requires to be reversed again.
By A Cricket Analyst