Cricket’s constant change

Cricket’s constant change


A detailed look at how the game evolved over the last 50 years

Cricket’s constant change

Image Courtesy: File Photo


For a sport that for decades held on to its traditions like an oak’s roots do in the soil; where innovation meant fast-bowler Bill Lockwood bowling the slower ball, leg spinner Bernard Bosanquet creating the googly, Rohan Kanhai executing his falling hook or Mushtaq Mohammad playing the reverse sweep, the number of changes made over the last 50 years or so surely surpasses made altogether since after the rules were first written many decades ago.

It has taken the quote by Greek philosopher Heraclitus, that “change is the only constant in life”, to a whole new level. To say the game has changed exponentially would be best describing it, as changes have multiplied within any one change. When last week, the ICC announced its latest overhaul of the rules, stipulating that any delay in completion of overs in a T20 game within specified time would result in one less fielder outside the circle for the remainder of the innings, it made me think that once again the quality of the game is being compromised.

Change where it recompenses one aspect of the game – and most of them have ended up, even been deliberately designed, to give an advantage to the batter over the bowler – has skewed the balance in the game in favour of materialism and entertainment.

Every change has also brought about the question as to when the ICC would stop giving priority and preference to broadcasters and marketers. Yes, sport is no different to any product or service that needs to evolve. And some of the changes can qualify as intelligently made, especially where technology has been introduced to take out the element of doubt or bias. But can the same be said for all? Or even for most?

So here let’s look back at the major alterations to the match rules (and in laws of the game occasionally) that have spun the game in an entirely new orbit.



Evolution of Night Cricket, White balls, Coloured Kits

It’s almost funny but in all truth, the changes started rolling because one country’s cricket board refused to give television rights to a private organization. The billionaire owner of that Channel 9 network, the tall and imposing Kerry Packer, annoyed at being rebuffed by the Australian Cricket Board (now Cricket Australia) when he had offered good money to take it away from the national broadcaster, became the proverbial pied piper and bought out the cream of the world’s cricketers. More importantly the entire Australia team squad. He then announced the launch of his private league called World Series Cricket, which would run parallel to the Test matches organised by ACB that winter.


What his thinking was behind this is another story in itself, but suffice it to say here that the ACB, as well as the other cricket boards, banned the players. The state associations did too in allegiance with the ACB, and thus the major cricket stadiums across Australia became unavailable for the WSC. Ironically it led to cataclysmic changes in the way the game was played. And three years later it was clear they were here to stay.

Packer had to compete with the official Test and first-class matches (the loyalty of the Australian cricket fans was still with the national and state sides) and no cricket stadiums to play in. He, therefore, leased football grounds that had open spaces around the field and which had floodlights as football was also played at night. This allowed him to schedule games that did not clash with the official games. Thus night cricket was born. However, that meant the red ball would be difficult to spot. Hence white balls and black sightscreens.


Packer’s marketing team realised they had to brand their cricket differently in a way that would make it distinctive and more attractive than normal cricket. Thus the players came out dressed in coloured kits for the limited over games. It was a no-brainer really as all other sports already had coloured kits reflecting their club or country colours.

Australia, late to introducing ODIs in home season, limited each innings to 50 overs each (as had Packer since 1977) starting from 1979-80. The first 3 World Cups (all in England) were 60 overs.

However, the Pakistani and Indian organisers of the 1987 World Cup limited it to 50 and since then all world cups have been 50 overs each. England, which had started with 55 overs in 1972 persevered with that until the 1991 summer when, like every country till then, switched each innings to 50.


Advantage: Batsmen


They also realised that one-day cricket was not producing enough boundaries, especially sixes due to the number of fielders on the ropes. So they drew a 30-yard circle around the pitch and allowed fewer fielders outside the circle than inside it. The fielders outside the circle were even less in the first 15 overs and the last 10. This allowed batsmen (who are now referred to as batters) to go for their shots with less risk and more gain. Cricket became more exciting to watch. And certainly more tactical.

All these would remain even after ACB relented three years later and Packer got his broadcast rights of Australian cricket, ending his private league and sending the players back into mainstream cricket.

Nevertheless, the awareness had risen that modifications could make the game more exciting for the fans. Over the years, especially in the 21st century, the shortening of the boundary also started producing more fours and sixes.

Although the administrators had already become aware that the aggressiveness of fast bowlers was becoming a danger to batters, it was not until the WSC games — when batters had no breathing space, facing the world’s fastest bowlers in every match day in, day out and being severely injured from chest to head — that they thought of wearing a helmet.

Administrators, in order to avoid negative bowling brought to the fore more in limited-overs games, introduced a one bouncer limit per over in 1991. Over the last 20 years, it has now settled to 2 per over. By the 21st century, any ball going down leg side even by a whisker would be called a wide.

Almost all these changes helped batters gain advantage. The advent of limited-overs cricket in 1963 had already introduced quotas for bowlers. These new rules further chained the fielding captain’s options.


Bowlers started having it tougher in the 1980s, also because of no-balls and wides being counted in runs conceded by them whereas, for over a hundred years, they had gone into extras.

But by the 1980s, they were included as runs conceded by them. Initially for foot faults but later extended to height-related no balls, another addition to the rules in the 1990s. Previously, bowlers could get away with just a warning if they bowled a beamer. Eventually, it also led to a free hit off the next ball in addition to the extra run that was always there.

As if these were not enough for the blood, sweat and tears of bowlers. The batters had silently begun asking bat manufacturers to make the bats thicker. The makers went one ahead by making them lighter as well. This allowed for the ball to be hit harder and longer, resulting in sixes where normal bats would have limited the ball to fielders.

ICC woke up late to regularise this inventiveness, possibly deliberately as sixes were coming more frequently. But complaints from bowlers eventually led them to disallow bats with edges thicker than 40mm while the depth (the distance between the point on the back of the blade and the face) was limited to 67mm. Barry Richards, one of the greatest batters of the 1970s once posed with the bat with which he hit 325 in a day in 1970 and a modern-day bat used by David Warner. It was left to everyone’s imagination what he would have ended up with that day had he batted with a modern willow.


Possibly the one advantage that a fielding side — and not necessarily the bowler directly — has gained is that no runners are allowed for batters who have a pulled muscle/cramp. However, it remains more of a team advantage.

Another change that bowlers feel goes against them is the introduction of two separate balls in ODIs. It used to be one per innings, but batters complained that it became difficult to spot the ball in the last third of the innings as the white varnish would wear off. Each ball is thus used for 25 overs which allows it to remain harder. Spinners feel the ball doesn’t get soft enough for them while reverse-swing is also limited.

Game Changers

The game’s rules were long the sole domain of the MCC (Marylebone Cricket Club), the colonial body that was the epicentre around which the cricket world revolved. It was solely made up of Englishmen who would determine any change and who were hugely conservative. Even the International Cricket Council (dominated, rather dictated by England and Australia) were powerless against the MCC.

This changed after the Packer intervention as the ICC conceded defeat to him eventually. It also made the weaker cricket boards like India and Pakistan, bolder. They pressurised the ICC dominant members to get their way and eventually the ICC took on itself the responsibility of making the changes. The Cricket Committee, made up of former cricketers, now debates and determines all changes.

But even when the ICC was still depending on the MCC for innovations and changes, cricketers and smaller boards were making their voices heard. One such was Imran Khan, who was frustrated with biased decisions when touring, and victories in Pakistan being attributed to biased umpiring, vociferously debated for neutral umpires to stand in international games. To prove his point and to set an example himself, he pressurised the Pakistani Cricket Board (PCB) for them to ask two Indian umpires to stand in the 1986-87 West Indies series in Pakistan.


With the World Cup coming to the subcontinent in 1987, ICC also used this initiative to appoint neutral umpires for the first time in a multinational tournament. With other boards resisting such a move, Imran again asked for umpires from England to stand in the 1989-90 series in Pakistan against arch-rivals India. Eventually, other boards relented and one neutral umpire was inducted from 1992 onwards. By 2002, both umpires were neutral.

Player power also increased after they saw the effects of unity. Today, they make the rules as members of the ICC Cricket Committee and non-cricketers are rare in TV commentary.


The Marketing Coup

Sponsors (as distinct from advertisers on the ground) had been in the game for some time from the 1960s, starting with the Gillette Cup in 1963, the first-ever limited-overs competition. Television was the catalyst as companies began to realise that with the beaming of live cricket, they had a captive audience. Even in Pakistan, there was the PTV Cup in the early 70s. But international cricket first experienced it when Prudential Insurance sponsored the three-match one-day series between England and Australia in the summer of 1972.  The first World Cup in 1975 was also sponsored by Prudential.

Since then, the major sponsors, allied with the broadcasters have quietly but firmly, dictated much of what happens and when and where. Today, they even put pressure on teams to not allow their star players to rest, fearing the loss of TV audience.


Back in the 2002-3 series between Pakistan and Australia, the marketers and broadcasters had built up the hype showing it to be a speed contest between Shoaib Akhtar and Brett Lee, then the two fastest bowlers in the world cricket. They were left furious when neither was picked for the first game. Both returned for the next two matches.

In the 2007 World Cup in West Indies, the four-group format of the World Cup was hugely criticised when both India and Pakistan were knocked out in the first round, leading to 1.4 billion potential viewers losing interest in the competition and advertisers cancelling spots on TV in these countries.

Likewise, the Super Over has been introduced to extend a tied game.

Since then ICC, under pressure from the broadcasters, has ensured that major teams are guaranteed more matches and the 2019 World Cup was even played on a round-robin league basis with the top four playing the semi-finals.

Again due to TV audiences, cricket boards of top teams avoid playing the lower-ranked sides due to less advertising revenue expected because of lower TV audiences.

It also explains a lot of rule changes that have favoured the batters as big hits mean more runs, eventually resulting in a longer game. Pitches have changed the character to be batter-friendly and long gone are the green tracks of Perth and Jamaica that would test the mettle of a batter.


ICC and cricket boards are so pressurised that they take away games from centres where the pitch is such that the Test match might end in three days or where the limited-over matches are low-scoring.

The latest news is that in limited over games, fielding teams will be penalised for not completing their overs in assigned time. This is to pressurise them to not go overtime limit which provides a headache to broadcasters for extra satellite time & cost and also for not being able to switch to the other live sports coverage they have scheduled at the end of the match.

The most glaring example is the introduction of the T20 format. Launched in England by the ECB’s Marketing Manager Stuart Robinson to enliven a dying audience of the domestic game, it caught the imagination of cricket boards all around and of course the ICC and by 2007, the T20 World Cup was launched.

Its phenomenal success due to a result in around three hours and lots of hard-hitting intrinsic in its nature has propelled it to possibly be the most favoured for all boards. It has led to a drop in quality stroke play and an increase in slogging, at times disdainful. And bowlers have suffered again. Its offshoot has been the T10 and the purist fears for the time of the one over game.

Technology Decides

Where ICC has made the game more complex, they deserve appreciation for inducting technology that has removed biases by umpires, or at least the perception of it.


Of course, this has been possible by the broadcasters putting in more equipment. Starting in 1992 from the TV replay to decide a stumping or a run-out — an idea mooted by Sri Lankan Mahinda Wijesinghe an ex-cricketer now writer — technology is now used by third umpires when asked to uphold or reject decisions taken by on-field umpires.

To the extent that field umpires no longer have to worry about spotting no-balls, though once again it has gone against the bowlers. Starting last year, the on-field umpire can now signal a no-ball before the bowler bowls the next ball.

Likewise, batters can now be called back if the third umpire indicates he was dismissed off a no-ball. Pakistan famously won a closely fought Test in England in 2001 whereby it was later found out that at least 2 of the home team’s dismissed batters were off no-balls. Yet it has taken many years for all dismissals other than run out, to be cross-checked for no balls.

Possibly the most well thought out introduction has been the LED stumps and bails, which both light up the moment bail is dislodged. It has made the bails slightly heavier which does keep it down if the ball grazes it very lightly. But it has removed the doubt that even zoomed in replays of run-out and stumping appeals would not ascertain whether the bail had lifted off its groove. StumpCam has also helped in very tight calls as it shows a stumpeye view of the foot and the crease.


Health Matters


For almost a century and a half of international cricket, the players had to brave injuries and bat through them if sustained in a match. At most, they could opt not to take part which would reduce the number of batters in the next innings. The most poignant instance of this was the Test between India and Jamaica in April 1976 where skipper Bishen Bedi forfeited the game with only 5 wickets down as his batters were either injured from body blows in the first innings or he didn’t want to risk injuries to his bowlers.

That was a rare occurrence admittedly, but the fact remained that injuries early into the game did cause a team to be at a disadvantage. It also put pressure on players to bat through a head injury to save or win a game, at risk of their health and careers.

After the death on the field of Australian batter Phil Hughes during a domestic game in 2014, the ICC has added the concussion rule, whereby a player hit on the neck and above is advised by doctors not to bat again, can be substituted by a like for like player. One of the first instances is that of Marnus Labuschagne substituting a concussed Steve Smith on the fourth day of the 2019 Lord’s Test and batting in his place in the second innings.

Will there be more as the world of cricket moves at the speed of light and new factors step in? Already the bowlers have become the butt end of the game and batters have become hitmen (pun intended). Many a bowler now fears that even his best deliveries night go for six, not just because of the heavier bat but because of the license to hit granted to him in pursuit of runs.

The jury is still out whether the changing dynamics have altered the very character of cricket. It has certainly become more entertaining but also limited. It is now more for the fan of the game than for those who participate in the game. They must now play more to the demands of the audience than for themselves.

Even Heraclitus would marvel at the constancy with which change has come to cricket.

Read More News On

Catch all the Cricket News, Sports News, Breaking News Event and Latest News Updates on The BOL News

Download The BOL News App to get the Daily News Update & Follow us on Google News.

End of Article

Next Story