Umpire signals a free hit during an IPL match (IPL/BCCI) Exclusive
Umpire signals a free hit during an IPL match (IPL/BCCI)

Cricket too slow to change--toss out free hit, leg byes

  • We see this scenario many times—a bowler has bowled a great delivery and the batter is deceived, can’t put bat to ball. But the ball brushes his pads and goes to the fine leg boundary. Umpire signals four, in favour of the batting team! Batter rewarded, bowler penalised. How does that make sense from any angle?
By Sanjay Manjrekar
UPDATED ON MAY 27, 2021 11:56 PM IST

As they say, change is the only constant. So, we all have to keep pace with the changing world around us; my sport though lags behind a little in this matter.

Granted, we have three formats today and a few tweaks have been made in these, but there are still some elements in the game that infuriate me and need a change in keeping with the evolving landscape.

Since helmets came into the game, bowlers have lost massive ground in the contest between bat and ball; fear of getting hit was one big challenge batters had to overcome. All other things came later.

Only the very brave could stand up to the great West Indian attack when there were no helmets, and yes, the tails did not wag too much then as they do now.

Helmets have changed the balance between bat and ball like nothing else, more than even flat pitches and bigger bats.

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Hence, for the game to stay absorbing and meaningful, especially to the discerning viewer, one must keep ensuring that there is proper balance between bat and ball and it all makes sense in the end.

For example, we see this scenario many times—a bowler has bowled a great delivery and the batter is deceived, can’t put bat to ball. But the ball brushes his pads and goes to the fine leg boundary.

Umpire signals four, in favour of the batting team! Batter rewarded, bowler penalised. How does that make sense from any angle?

Batters today are ‘360-degree’ players because they have become more imaginative, but before that it’s because of, yes, you guessed it, helmets!

Would a batter go down on one knee against a big fast bowler, his face perfectly in line with a ball coming at 90 mph, to play a Dilscoop if he wasn’t wearing a helmet? When we gave batters helmets, we should have felt obligated to give something significant back to the bowlers too.

It pains me, especially in T20 cricket, to see the bowler being penalised 6 runs when he has bowled a superb short ball, bouncing at a legitimate height which a No.11 batter has slogged with eyes closed. The ball flies off the edge over the keeper, crashing into the sight-screen.

Teams have won close matches like this when in actual event it’s the bowler who’s won the contest. There is just no cricketing logic to this, except that it’s been the thing over the years.

In baseball, the batter gets no reward if the ball flies off his club behind him because he has not made a good enough connection. Baseball rewards success while cricket rewards failure; no wonder the batter in cricket has a sheepish smile every time this happens.

Free hit is another thing I want gone, again terribly unfair on the bowlers. Today with the TV umpire monitoring no balls, a bowler has to be a centimetre over and immediately a string of punishments are meted out to him.

The bowler has to bowl an extra ball for starters, the batter cannot be out to that no ball already bowled, and there is also a penalty of one run. To add to that, there is a free hit offered to the batsman next ball in which he cannot be out. The penalty is just not commensurate to the ‘wrongful’ act. It’s as if the rule was introduced by a sadist who hated bowlers.

In the spirit of changing with time...LED stumps, love them! But can anyone tell me why we still have bails on them?

In the olden days, we only had the naked eye; bails were needed for the umpires to be sure the stumps were hit. But now with sensors on the LED stumps, even if the ball grazes them they light up as absolute confirmation that they were disturbed; you don’t need the bails anymore to be sure of that.

Bails on LED stumps only complicate matters as we repeatedly look at grainy replays to see if the whole bail is off the groove or just one end of it... slowing the game further.

I watch tennis-ball cricket played on the streets in India and it’s fascinating to see how smart these people are (hence the term ‘street smart’ I guess); depending on the setting they are playing in, they change their rules.

If there is a very short boundary on one side, it’s a ‘2D’; no, not two dimensional, but ‘two declared’—the batter gets just two runs because they have concluded it’s not a big deal hitting that boundary.

Anyone for ‘2D’ at one of those 45-metre boundaries at Eden Park, Auckland?

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