Panel beating for Test cricket

The august cricket body known as the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) holds an odd (almost anachronistic) yet at the same time venerable position in world cricket.

Among its many functions it has a World Cricket Committee which analyses all aspects of cricket and from time to time makes recommendations to the International Cricket Council (ICC).  The Committee currently has 15 members.  Its chairperson is the former England captain, Mike Gatting, and some of the other current members include Shane Warne, Kumar Sangakkara, Sourav Ganguly and Ricky Ponting (a mini who’s who of former international players).  Vincent van der Bijl is the only South African member.

At the conclusion of its most recent meeting last week in Bengaluru, India, the Committee released some interesting and somewhat controversial findings and recommendations:

The Committee released the results of the ‘Test Cricket Survey’, aimed at testing the popularity and relevance of Test cricket among fans. According to the MCC the survey was carried out across 100 countries with over 13,000 fans participating.  The result:  A staggering 86% of fans prefer watching Test cricket to the limited-overs versions.

One might argue that the results are skewed because the participants are already aficionados (something akin to the adage of preaching to the converted).  But it nevertheless sends a powerful message to cricket administrators and marketing gurus who are forever telling us T20 cricket is the future of cricket:  You will be alienating your fans if you think so.  Biting the hand that feeds you…

The committee recommended to the ICC that, in order to speed up play in Test cricket, a timer on the scoreboard should count down from 45 seconds from the time “Over” is called. (This would be increased to 60 seconds for a new batsman and 80 seconds for a change of bowler).  If a side is not ready to play when the clock reaches zero “the side would receive a warning; further infringements in the innings will result in five penalty runs being awarded to the opposition”.

Firstly, this is an impractical suggestion.  With things like DRS and the checking of run-outs and fielders diving around the boundary ropes, cricket already suffers enough from “technical pollution”.  Adding more technical stuff to the game will only make the rules more convoluted.

Secondly, if the batting side is in the wrong, how can it “result in five penalty runs being awarded to the opposition”?  The fielding side cannot “score” runs.  Surely the recommendation has to be that if the batting side errs, five penalty runs are deducted, and if the fielding side errs, five penalty runs are awarded to the batting side.

Another strange recommendation to the ICC is that “Free Hits” should be introduced after no-balls in Test matches. The system is successfully used in the white-ball formats and according to the Committee “the added deterrent will result in there being fewer no-balls in Tests”.  The Committee also said that fewer no-balls “would not only be exciting for crowds when there was a Free Hit, but also it would help to speed up over rates”.  .?

Were no-balls in Test cricket ever a problem?  Why does it have to be “deterred”?  As motivation the Committee gave the example of England which played 45 ODI’s without bowling a no-ball, but bowled eleven in the three Test series recently against the West Indies.  So what?  How do eleven no-balls, spread across six Test innings, slow down Test cricket?

If an innovation in Test cricket is to be “exciting for crowds” then it has to be something that adds value to the game.  With the pace at which Test cricket unfurls and the time it takes (i.e. five days), one fails to see how a “Free Hit” can be a game-changer and add value to a Test match.  The Committee is creating an issue here where there is none.

Test cricket has survived many onslaughts since the 19th century.  My bet is that it will also survive the onslaughts of the T20 brigade and the latest recommendations of the MCC’s World Cricket Committee.

(Sources:  www.espncricinfo.com ; www.lords.org)

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