New rules, same old game

Controversial, complicated and still finding their feet in the one-day international game, the ICC’s super-sub and powerplay rules certainly added to the column inches in sporting pages throughout the world.

Not everyone has been impressed by the decision to alter the game in the interests of spicing up the middle overs and providing a slightly different focus to a form of the game that was starting to be viewed as stale by players and fans alike.

The first game to use the new rules, which allow the teams to name one substitute player and allow for five more overs with fielding restrictions per innings, was the opening NatWest Challenge clash between England and Australia at Headingley in July last year.

Since then the rules have been introduced to audiences the world over and it has become apparent that when their application to the game is reviewed later this year by the ICC a few alterations may have to be made.

It is debatable whether the rules have had their desired effects; very few substitutes have had telling impacts on the games they’ve played and most captains have just opted to use their three powerplays as an extended 20-over block of fielding restrictions at the start of the innings.

Occasionally, as in Christchurch recently when substitute Nathan Astle went some way to resurrecting his international career with a match-winning 90 not out against Sri Lanka, a substitute has played a vital role.

But just as often the substitute has been a last-gasp measure by a struggling team which effectively ends the sporting contest as when the Sri Lankans were forced to sacrifice opening bowler Dilhara Fernando earlier in that series with the New Zealanders at Queenstown.

Struggling at 7-140 in the first innings of the match, captain Marvan Atapattu threw in substitute all-rounder Farveez Maharoof in the hope he could make more runs than Fernando and give the Sri Lankans a more defendable target.

Maharoof made 18, not enough in the situation, and short a new-ball bowler and with no runs to defend the Sri Lankans were effectively dead ducks before the Kiwis had even faced a ball.

Another area where the substitute rule has fallen flat is the fact teams still have to be named before the toss, handing the initiative to the team who wins the toss depending on whether their substitute is a bowler or batsman.

Sometimes a team losing the toss hasn’t even bothered with their substitute as they are effectively handicapped from the outset and this must be one area of this law that comes under review.

Maybe teams could be allowed to name two substitutes but only use one or, crazy though this may sound to those ‘revolutionaries’ at the ICC, perhaps the captains can name their substitute after the toss?

As it stands the system is flawed and hands a weighty advantage to the team who chooses correctly when that fateful coin lands on the pitch.

The other new rule, the extravagantly named ‘powerplays’ are also a source of weighty debate throughout the cricketing world.

Designed to spice up the middle overs of a one-day clash by offering captains the opportunity to restrict earlier in an innings but face the dilemma of later overs with fielding restrictions many have just decided to apply the rules as close to the previous norm as possible.

Most games have gone by with all three powerplays being taken at once and few, if any, would have noticed a significant change in the way the game is played since the rule has come into force.

Maybe as time goes by new strategies on how to use the powerplays will come into effect, or batting captains will target those overs more to make the most of the extra 30 deliveries where only two fielders can be outside the circle.

Maybe it will lead to more exciting games but for now an umpire drawing circles in the sky (the new signal for a captain taking one of his powerplays) doesn’t mean something drastic is happening in the game.

No, perhaps the best alternative is to offer one of the five over blocks to the batting captain, to use at his discretion when he feels it best benefits his team.

This would certainly make for interesting choices for coaches and captains, using your powerplay at the start of the innings as a fielding captain may hinder you later if the batting captain saves his for the final five overs of the game, something that would make defending targets a real challenge and test of the captain’s skills.

Both rules came in to update a game which was getting somewhat ponderous after two decades as players and coaches devised tactics and gameplans designed specifically to restrict and hinder their opposition in the shortened form of the game.

The ICC should be applauded for at least attempting to ensure the game remains a spectacle for fans and commercially attractive to sponsors and television but neither rule has really altered the state of the game.
The doomsayers who proclaimed the introduction of such previously un-cricketing institutions such as substitutes as the death of the game may have been silenced but those who also saw it as the dawn of an exciting new age have been proved equally wrong.

In a few months, the ten-month trial on both rules will end, whether the changes persist, are altered, or are abandoned is in the hands of the ICC chief executives’ committee – although maybe the rules lack of impact just shows that as much as you try to bundle cricket into a highlights package it remains a quaint game designed to test skills, patience and concentration over a period of time unsuited to our modern, fast-paced world.

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