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Is Cricket Willing and Ready to Change?

Beyond a rulebook, players and changes made to any given sport, there is a sense of constancy – a feeling shared among diehard fans that ‘here is a game capable of remaining enduring through change, and of retaining that innate sense of itself in the face of the mad dash for change, development, evolution and newness.

Of course, when that sense of constancy is rocked, all hell breaks loose. Those who follow football have been observing it (from whichever side of the fence they stand) since the introduction of Video Assistant Referee (VAR) back in 2016. Until that point, football had encountered only relatively minor changes – changes that took place on the surface level, and within the rulebook, rather than changes which altered the entire process of playing (not to mention watching) a match.

VAR was, prior to its deployment, billed as a direct antidote to issues that were all too frequent on the pitch. The use of advanced AI technology, coupled with a strong sense of optimism for a game free from controversy, lengthy interruptions and glaring errors, promised a new era for the beautiful game – one that would enable fans and players to enjoy the game, rather than

That’s not to say it is impossible to make changes in sports without rocking the boat, but that these changes must be made with a surprising delicacy – and a sense of realism that instances such as VAR’s introduction to football lacked.

So, does it even need to change? And, if so, is the game ready for it? Read more below.

How Things Are

Cricket can, and frequently does, change. Only, it changes on a surface level.

It’s no secret, for instance, that the cricket rulebook makes for byzantine reading – and, of course, that this is often seen as a clear, motivating factor behind cricket’s divisive nature among sports fans. Those who understand it enough to ‘ride the waves’ of changing rules, so to speak, adore it (and for good reason; those who have yet to grasp it are often outspokenly disinterested.

In essence, cricket’s changeability is both a means of attracting fans, and a leading factor behind enduring indifference from the sports non-fans. The ill-fated Super Sub Rule, for instance, lasted just nine months under the ICC before being scrapped – and this is just one example of the fleeting nature of rules which are, of course, devised with the best intentions.

That’s not to say that cricket’s fluid rulebook is driving away fans – or even that it is deterring newcomers. One need only consider its incredible performance in the world of sports betting for instance, where this month alone has drawn in major activity at leading online bookmarkers from those looking to weigh in on test matches, the Pakistan Super League, and T20 (to name just a few).

The biggest names in the sports betting world are continually updating their offerings to capture the waves of interest from cricket fans alone. Accordingly, the Online Betting Guide is updated daily to include over 38 new betting offers for June 2021 and, within the wider world of sports, cricket remains a hot topic across their leading sites.

So, we’ve established that cricket is no stranger to change. On top of that, it can also handle it with admirable flexibility. In other words, while some may see those fleeting rules (such as the Super Sub) as a sign of indecision and misguided overconfidence, their ability to revisit and amend things that are clearly not working is something many other sports are, at this point in time, crying out for.

Still, none of this is intended to suggest that cricket has already perfected itself in ways football, tennis, F1 and so forth haven’t. There are plenty of rules cricket needs, according to its longest serving fans, and there are no doubt plenty of dated and lesser known rules that would, ideally, be erased from the rulebook all together.

It has a ways to go – and may well need to begin that journey in order to keep up with the sporting world at large.

A Review for the Long Term

For many longstanding fans of the sport, a common view is that, while flaws and potholes are unearthed (in the form of injustices for teams) relatively frequently, many simply fizzle out with the next big event.

Many of these injustices manifest as contentious decisions borne of inconclusion. In other words, they happen in the myriad instances of discrepancy between the soft signal, and the third umpire’s more comprehensive understanding of the situation. By the turn of 2021, the controversy had mounted so high that the Board of Control for Cricket in India announces that the Indian Premier League would go ahead without the soft signal.

The ICC has yet to follow suit, but this change seems to be an instance of a more profound change for the sport – something that extends beyond the surface level (those minor, trifling and all-too-often unfruitful amendments to the rulebook) and offers a genuine transformation. While it is yet to be seen how the omission of the soft signal plays out within a premier league tournament, already we can begin to anticipate a sport that is far less defined by its own controversies – and one which enables objective and fair decisions to be reached far more quickly, and with minimal interference.

Of course, a heavier reliance on assisting technologies is something that holds a spotty history, thus far, in the sporting world. Rugby has managed to make the very most of their television match official for nigh-on two decades now, while the third umpire has been present at many cricket matches since the early 90s. VAR is a cautionary tale – one that may, in the future, pay off for the beautiful game, or which may continue to open rifts until, finally, it is abandoned.

The latter looks unlikely, and should no doubt guide the way forward for cricket as they opt to give more power to the third umpire, and genuine objectivity on the pitch.

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