Cricket is never short of off-field excitement but even by its high standards the present churn is quite extraordinary. Among the developments what grabs attention is news from Bangladesh about new rules in their revamped T20 league.
In a major repair job, the IPL model is junked and private owners shown the door over serious administrative, financial or integrity issues. This means the board has reclaimed its space, evicted tenants and nationalised the league. New rules have also been introduced that impact the flow of play. The U-turn on the ownership structure is not unprecedented. Australia’s Big Bash is managed by Cricket Australia.
There, state units own and operate teams and private investors have no role to play. England’s Hundred, set for launch next summer, works on similar lines. The flashy league is another tournament in the calendar, but a modern product aggressively marketed to attract a new audience.
Cricket boards stepping in with radical ideas to take cricket forward is routine. Every board has a policy on pitches, there are restrictions on player eligibility and tournament structures everywhere go under the knife from time to time.
South Africa’s transformation policy mandates selection quotas and reservations for its national team. England has complicated rules governing player participation in County cricket and club leagues. India bars foreign players from Ranji Trophy; Indians are not allowed to play in foreign leagues. Two seasons back, BCCI outlawed first-class teams from playing matches on ‘home’ grounds. India decided the best way to upgrade skills of domestic batsmen was by improving domestic pitches. This led to the appointment of neutral BCCI curators at venues tasked to prepare pace-friendly tracks.
In this background, Bangladesh reclaiming control of its league is not unusual. However, the accompanying new rules cause surprise. If BCCI was hit by far reaching (but yet to reach) reforms, the significance of Dhaka’s initiative will be even more lasting. The new rules are unique, out of the box—and bizarre! Having decided that Bangladesh batsmen needed to improve skills, the board issued a diktat that all teams in the T20 league must include a fast bowler and a leg spinner in the eleven. Also, conditions apply: the fast bowler has to consistently clock 140 kilometres per hour and the leggie must always bowl his full quota of 4.
These rules, however well intentioned, are fundamentally flawed. This is the first instance of officials directly controlling play and reducing cricket to a video game played on a computer screen, tablet or mobile.
As it is, the T20 format has restrictions on the bowling side for fielding positions, power play, bouncers and the 4-over cap. Captains work within these rules but imagine their plight now if the leggie has a bad day or the opposing team gets dismissed in 14. Is he responsible for his bowling ace not hitting 140 kilometres per hour consistently or choosing to bowl four slower balls in the 18th? To stretch this argument: why not make a rule that wrist spinners should bowl two googlies every over and leg breaks must turn at least six inches?
The problem with such rules is deeper than just these weird likely situations. Essentially, anything that attempts to dictate play is impractical because cricket is robbed of its charm and competitive element. Sport can’t be scripted and if cricket is regulated, matches will become a net session not a contest that tests the skills of players and decides a winner on merit.
Like Bangladesh, England has introduced funky ideas in the Hundred. Bowlers are limited to 20 balls each which can be delivered in overs of 10 balls. The bowler also has the option of splitting his over in half to bowl five balls and even switch ends while doing so.