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No one goes to a sporting contest just to watch the rain

No one goes to a sporting contest just to watch the rain

Cricket needs to be speeded up, and by this I don’t mean there should be only 20-over matches. Even within that limit, though, players have shown an annoying habit of slowing down the game either for tactical or psychological reasons. Or because they can get away with it.

Time-wasting by players is only one aspect of the manner in which spectators are deprived of a full day’s game. There is too the bigger issue of the quest for perfect conditions involving natural phenomena like light and rain. There is so much cricket now that players cannot be blamed for taking advantage of unscheduled off days or extra rest.

Sunil Gavaskar’s ire at the India-South Africa T20 being washed out in Durban is understandable. His argument that international grounds can afford to cover the entire area when it rains so the game can start when it stops is valid. No one goes to a sporting contest to watch the rain or sit around in bright sunlight waiting for play to resume.

Covering the ground

As the climate crisis sees more rain in more places at unexpected times, cricket is set to lose more hours of play (although that is not the worst of the fallout). Many grounds, especially those in India, have excellent drainage and resumption of play following a shower is almost instantaneous. Some grounds have covers that envelop the field. One or the other, preferably both, is now a necessity. A washout cannot be easily condoned unless it rains throughout the hours of play.

It is not yet an automatic reflex to switch on the lights when it gets dark during play. This needs to be part of the playing conditions. In the ideal world, cricket is a game played in sunshine on green fields and turf wickets which react to natural changes. But sometimes nature needs a helping hand; and since the technology is available, we should use it.

Another cause for delay is the boundary-check by the third umpire and the DRS. While the latter adds to the drama, it involves a long protocol — perhaps the on-field umpire can communicate why a certain decision is given, and the third umpire can quickly check that first. ‘Ball pitched outside leg’, for instance, can be checked virtually at once. If a boundary can’t be decided by one or two replays then let the on-field decision stand.

Time is of essence

During the three-Test series between England and New Zealand last year, each full day’s play, according to research by the MCC, custodians of the laws of the game, lost 31.5 minutes. Changing ends after every over, reviews, ball changes, changing equipment and adjusting sightscreens took up the time. Sixty four minutes were lost during the series for DRS.

The MCC’s decision to have a ‘stop clock’ is part of an ongoing process to rectify this. The West Indies v England T20 series which has just begun gives teams a minute to move between overs. If they don’t bowl the first ball of the next over in that time thrice in an innings, five penalty runs will be added.

When Sri Lanka’s Angelo Mathews was ‘timed out’ in a World Cup match, Bangladesh invoked a seldom-used law. Increasingly as games are slowed down, teams will have access to such laws and rules to speed things up.

The Laws of cricket (41.9 and 41.10) give the umpires the power to suspend a bowler, warn a batsman or a fielder if they believe that time-wasting, whether deliberate or incidental, is holding up the game. This is seldom resorted to nor uniformly applied.

This is often a Test cricket issue, especially on the fifth day when one of the teams is trying to save the match. Too many excursions from the dressing room, with reserves bearing replacement gloves (which go back untouched) or water are the more obvious methods.

What is needed in all this is common sense. Umpires always know when a team is wasting time (or if they don’t, the opposing team are glad to help). As ticket prices increase, and crowds diminish, the sport has the greater responsibility to ensure that the paying spectator gets a full day’s play.

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