Cricket has come far from the languid gentlemen’s game it once was, when it was played to develop the character of future British civil servants in elite public schools like Eton, Harrow and Winchester. The game’s new power centres are former British colonies, where it is bankrolled by corporates with stars adding the glitter. The brash new breed of cricketers has little patience for traditions or reputations, transgressing lines of sportsmanship with alarming regularity. The Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) has been seized with improving on-field behavior of players — and as custodian for the laws of cricket — has now come out with a set of changes which will be effective from October 1 this year. “We felt the time had come to introduce sanctions for poor player behavior. Research told us that a growing number of umpires at grassroots level were leaving the game because of it. Hopefully these sanctions will give them more confidence to handle discipliry issues efficiently, whilst providing a deterrent to the players,” said the MCC’s head of cricket John Stephenson. So the problem of boorish behavior in the field has been festering for some time, with MCC’s cricket committee member Ricky Ponting calling for corrective action from the lower levels of the game, because ‘it has got completely out of hand down there’. The MCC rule changes will empower cricket umpires, like football referees, to ‘red card’ players for serious misbehavior and award pelty runs to the opposing team; if the ICC accepts it, intertiol cricketers stand to get sent off the field if they cross the line. Under the new code, players indulging in excessive appealing, showing dissent at the umpire’s decision or intimidating him and assaulting players.
The new cricketing code, the first since 2000, also seeks to restore the ‘balance between bat and ball’. This is another welcome course correction, what with the dice loaded against bowlers, particularly in T20 format where batters go hell for leather from the first ball as even their mis-hits often clear the field. “One thing we know is we can’t make the grounds bigger, so certainly one of the concerns was the middle of the bat, because of the shape of the bat is increasingly getting bigger and bigger every year,” Ricky Ponting has maintained. Thus it is that the MCC has come up with regulations on the width and thickness of bats, which will neutralize the advantage of players like Australia’s David Warner decimating bowlers with his oversized bat. The MCC however believes that the new thinner bats will still allow big, explosive hitting to keep the crowds coming in. Another relief for batters is that they will no longer be deemed run out if they touch down across the crease and the bails are dislodged while the bat bounces. But batters at the non-striking end backing up to steal cheeky singles will not be having it easy anymore. The new code permits bowlers to run them out, provided the ball has not been released and he has not completed his usual delivery swing. So this method of dismissal, derided as ‘Mankading’ after Vinoo Mankad ran out Australia’s Bill Brown at Sydney in December 1947, has been given more legitimacy now. But surely, all these broad rule changes by the MCC are not going to address some other problems in the game of 22 yards. There are misgivings over the ‘umpire’s call’ losing some of the protection it long enjoyed, with the fielding captain under the new DRS protocol getting to refer to the third umpire, a ‘not-out lbw’ decision awarded to a batsman by the field umpire. This diminution of the umpire’s traditiol role is a sad, if inevitable fallout of the high stakes brand of cricket as it is played today. If batters nowadays are no longer forthcoming about the cleanness of their hits, or fielders about the legitimacy of the catches taken or run-outs effected, can TV replays alone give 100 percent reliable answer? The DRS controversy between skippers Virat Kohli and Steve Smith in the ongoing Test series between India and Australia is a case in point.