New ODI rules to benefit fast bowling

The home series against England will see the Indian team play under ICC’s new ODI rules, which come into effect from October 1, 2011, for the first time. Here’s a crisp dissection of the set of new rules: what each rule means, the intention behind it, the trade off and my overall verdict.

1. Two balls to be used, instead of one, in each innings of a match

What it means: Two balls will be used from the start, bowled from either ends.

The intention: To remove the mandatory ball change drama in 34th over and the subjectivity behind which ‘clean used old ball’ to pick; To give pace bowling a lift – now that the ball will remain new and expected to swing and seam till the 20th over (instead of 10th over previously) conditions permitting.

The trade-off: Spinners won’t have the luxury of bowling with a 20-25 overs old ball, since by the time each ball is 20 overs old, we are into the 41st over of the match – the slog overs. Spinners will need to bowl with a relatively new ball, even if they come to bowl around the 25th over.

Verdict: The imbalance continues. In fast and seaming tracks of Aus/SA/Eng, pacers will get huge advantage and playing a spinner will be a luxury. Even in sub-continental conditions, spinners won’t have the luxury of bowling with a 30 overs old ball, gripping the surface. Sub-continental teams with their plethora of spinners and part timer spinners won’t benefit from this rule. However we may just see the return of fast bowling, dominating ODIs, in responsive conditions.

2. Given out ‘obstructing the field’

What it means: on appeal from the fielding team, if the umpire feels that a batsman, whilst running between the wickets, has significantly changed his direction without probable cause thereby obstructing a fielder’s attempt to run him out, the batsman should be given out obstructing the field. It shall not be relevant whether a run-out would have been affected or not.

The intention: To ensure fair play to the fielding side so that batsmen are not allowed coming in between a fielder and the stumps.

The trade-off: Batsmen will ensure they work around this rule and practice running accordingly. If ball is hit on onside, they run towards the right edge of the pitch and vice versa.

Verdict: Too much subjectivity remaining for comfort. It will always be open to interpretation whether batsmen purposely changed direction or did so by circumstance. What if a bowler is standing in his way or his partner running towards him or another fielder charging towards the stumps makes him change direction? The day an umpire rules a high profile batsman out through this method, a controversy is on the cards.

3. Second and third block of ‘Powerplays’ to be taken between overs 16-40

What it means: The total number of powerplay overs remain at 20 per innings with the first block of 10 mandatory at the commencement of the innings but the second and third powerplay overs may not be taken so as to commence earlier than the 16th over, nor be completed later than the 40th over. This restriction will not apply for reduced innings of scheduled duration of less than 40 overs.

The intention: To spice up overs 16th and 40th and ensure it doesn’t follow a routine pattern.

The trade-off: Are we looking at 400 totals soon? Cause if teams manage to keep wickets by the 40th over, having batted out 20 powerplay overs, large totals are on the offing. Conversely in seaming conditions or hard tracks with two new balls operating, there is a huge possibility that captains will take all the 20 powerplay overs by over number 25, keep close in fielders and get the opposition in losing position by the 25th over of the game.

Verdict: Yet another experimentation to lift the ODI format. Teams, of course, will need to learn to not lose too many wickets during the powerplay overs and there will be a transition phase where they will be caught in between. Recall how teams were anyways struggling to decide when they should take the 3rd block of powerplays.

The verdict can be better assessed when combined with the other rule for two new balls to be used. Only time will tell whether both these rules actually spice up the middle overs. My take is, while both these rules will benefit teams with fast bowling resources in testing conditions massively, they will also give significant edge to batsman in flat wickets. Either ways, the game will lack balance and ODIs could get even more predictable than what it is today.

4. Runner no more!

What it means: A runner for a batsman shall not be permitted.

The intention: Unfair use of runners by batsmen to conserve energy and play long innings.

The trade-off: Temporarily there will be some drama – a star batsmen could retire near landmark figures (in 90s, 190s etc) and generate mini controversies.

Verdict: Good and fair. This rule was abused in number of instances and even allowing a runner was a subjective decision by the opposing captains. Its important that such subjectivities are removed from the game. The bigger advantage could be that players become more honest about their fitness and not play a game if not fully fit.

5. Bowler can run out a non striker for too much backing up

What it means: The bowler is permitted, before releasing the ball and provided he has not completed his usual delivery swing, to attempt to run-out the non-striker.

The intention: Unfair means used by non strikers to back off too far.

The trade-off: Batsmen will take time to get used to this while they stand in the non strikers end – tail enders being the most vulnerable lot. There could be a short period when too many batsmen are getting run out through this method, which won’t do good for the game temporarily. We will have gamesmanship issues where bowler will decide not to bowl, after his running in, seeing an advancing batsman, but will give the excuse that the non striker was backing up too far.

Verdict: Good and fair. However teams will take time to adjust and there will be a period of transition, when few matches will get decided by such silly runouts, and that may trigger controversies.

6. Extension of play by 15 minutes into Lunch or Tea intervals

What it means: The umpires may now decide to play 15 minutes (a minimum of four overs) extra time at the scheduled lunch or tea interval of any day if requested by either captain if, in the umpires’ opinion, it would bring about a definite result in that session.

The intention: To ensure the inevitable result happens as early as possible, instead of having meaningless breaks just because it is scheduled.

The trade-off: Could be an issue if rain is around the corner and one captain may want to continue and other may not want to. For such situations it will be a subjective call to be taken by the umpire.

Verdict: Good, flexible step and will work in most scenarios.



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