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Beware of another backlash from bowlers

Maintaining an even balance between bat and ball is crucial in ensuring the game of cricket remains a fair contest, writes Ian Chappell.

india Updated: Jun 22, 2008 00:46 IST

Kevin Pietersen was right when he said, “the reverse sweep has been part of the game for however long”, after the first ODI against New Zealand. Mike Gatting’s futile attempt in the 1987 World Cup final is still fresh in the mind, but I think the first player to employ the shot was the innovative Javed Miandad.

Pietersen, however, was wrong for more reasons than just the contradictory statement he made soon after, “that is a new shot played today and people should be saying it’s a new way to go”. He’s wrong for the reason I put forward on in May 2001. “While on the subject of legislation there’s another case looming where the players are well ahead of the administrators. This happened with Bodyline and the underarm delivery. Whether or not you agree with Douglas Jardine in ordering his bowlers to pitch short to a packed on-side field or Greg Chappell who asked his younger brother to imitate Sir Francis Drake, no one can accuse them of operating outside the laws. If the administrators didn’t want Bodyline bowling or underarm deliveries they should’ve thought of it before the event and legislated accordingly, rather than castigate the instigators after the event.”

The same will happen with the reverse sweep if the administrators don’t act swiftly to clarify the situation. It is unfair to ask the bowlers to nominate beforehand the way they are going to operate (over or round, left or right arm) and then allow batsmen to change their mode of striking after the ball is in play.

I have no problem with a batsman who cleverly uses his wrists to upset the field placings by reverse sweeping. However, I can't accept a batsman being allowed to change the order of his hands or feet after the bowler commences his run up, as this in effect makes him the opposite type of player to the one who took strike. By this method a right-hander becomes left (or vice versa) after the bowler commences his run up and renders the field placings obsolete. This is taking an unfair advantage, while a batsman sticking with the first method is pitting his skill (evenly) against that of the bowler.

If that is not enough to change the law, then administrators should ponder what would happen in a Test if a batsman decides to change mode with his team needing one run to win and only a ball remaining. If three slips and a gully are in position, in theory the batsman would be turning those fielders into four men behind square leg and would have a legitimate claim for a no-ball under the current legislation.

It couldn’t happen? Well, I'll bet that’s what the administrators were thinking before 1932-33 and prior to 1980-81 when first Jardine and then Greg Chappell jolted them out of their smugness.

I still believe changing striking mode once the ball is in play is unfair and a simple change to the law would eradicate the problem. By including, “a batsman is not allowed to change the order of his feet or hands from the time of taking his stance to playing a shot”, it still leaves the reverse sweep as an option for the batsman but he has to take a risk and the field placings remain as the bowler originally intended.

How can it be fair when a captain has placed the field for a specific circumstance and then the batsman, without warning the fielding side, renders them obsolete by completely changing his stance?

If an adjustment isn’t made to the law then it would only seem fair to allow bowlers to weave up to the crease and at the last moment either deliver from over or round the wicket without telling the batsman.

Maintaining an even balance between bat and ball is crucial in ensuring the game of cricket remains a fair contest. The administrators are already pushing the envelope by reducing the boundary dimensions at a time when bats are constantly improving; if they are not careful cricket will become a game of entertainment rather than an entertaining game.

Throughout, bowlers have fought back after being pushed to the limit. They have resorted to chucking, Bodyline and bowling underarm to even up the contest and if this anomaly isn’t corrected, then I wouldn’t blame the leather flingers for indulging in any of those methods to make their protest.