Memo to the MCC and ICC: change the laws or lose the fans … you choose!

The laws of cricket are an evolving ever changing beast. It seems like ne’er a year goes by when some tinkering to the rules is done by the MCC and the ICC. Based on my current viewing of test match cricket over the last 12 months, and indeed longer, I think there are some rules of the game that require immediate attention by the framers of the laws.

For the uninitiated: the Marylebone Cricket Club is the framer of the Laws of Cricket and they apply to all two innings matches. The International Cricket Council has supplemented those laws with the Standard Playing Conditions for Test Matches and the Standard Playing Conditions for One Day Internationals.

The last major changes to the laws occurred on 30 September 2010 when the law regarding bad light, among other laws, was amended to grant the umpires sole discretion on the issue of whether the light is too dangerous for play to continue.

There are three changes to the Laws of Cricket / the Standard Playing Conditions for Test Matches that I would like to see implemented for the good of the game. They are:

1. Use of Substitute Fielders

Law 2: Substitutes provides:

In cricket, a substitute may be brought on for an injured fielder. However, a substitute may not bat, bowl, keep wicket or act as captain. The original player may return if he has recovered. A batsman who becomes unable to run may have a runner, who completes the runs while the batsman continues batting. Alternatively, a batsman may retire hurt or ill, and may return later to resume his innings if he recovers.

This Law has been amplified in the Standard Playing Conditions in this way:

If a fielder fails to take the field with his side at the start of the match or at any later time, or leaves the field during a session of play, the umpire shall be informed of the reason for his absence, and he shall not thereafter come on to the field during a session of play without the consent of the umpire. (See Law 2.6 as modified). The umpire shall give such consent as soon as practicable.

If the player is absent from the field for longer than 8 minutes:

2.2.1 the player shall not be permitted to bowl in that innings after his return until he has been on the field for at least that length of playing time for which he was absent. Such absence or penalty time absent shall be carried over into a new day’s play and in the event of a follow-on or forfeiture, this restriction will, if necessary, continue into the second innings.

2.2.2 the player shall not be permitted to bat unless or until, in the aggregate, he has returned to the field and/or his side’s innings has been in progress for at least that length of playing time for which he has been absent or, if earlier, when his side has lost five wickets.

The restriction in clauses 2.2.1 and 2.2.2 above shall not apply if the player has suffered an external blow (as opposed to an internal injury such as a pulled muscle) whilst participating earlier in the match and consequently been forced to leave the field. Nor shall it apply if the player has been absent for very exceptional and wholly acceptable reasons (other than injury or illness).

In the event of a fieldsman already being off the field at the commencement of an interruption in play through ground, weather or light conditions or for other exceptional circumstances, he shall be allowed to count any such stoppage time as playing time, provided that he personally informs the umpires when he is fit enough to take the field had play been in progress.

Similarly, if at the commencement of an interruption in play through ground, weather or light conditions or for other exceptional circumstances, a player is on the field but still has some unexpired penalty time remaining from a previous absence, he shall automatically be allowed to count any such stoppage time as playing time.

2.2.3 Substitute fielders shall only be permitted in cases of injury, illness or other wholly acceptable reasons. ‘Wholly acceptable reasons’ should be limited to extreme circumstances and should not include what is commonly referred to as a ‘comfort break’.

If the current Ashes series is anything to go by the restriction on being off the field for more than 8 minutes is being used as a basis to subvert Standard Condition 2.2.3. Players from both sides in this series appear to take one over jaunts off the field seeming at will and at times whenever they choose. A good example is the case of Graeme Swann who appears to be off the field consistently in the over before he is called on to bowl. What could he be doing in the change room that would constitute a “wholly acceptable reason” as defined in 2.2.3. Swann is not the only offender but at the moment is not in breach of the laws because he is only off for one over and thus is not in breach of the 8 minute limitation set by the rules.

I would simply amend the Standard Condition here by removing the reference to the 8 minute rule. These players are professional cricketers: surely they can prepare themselves for a session of play, particularly given the massive about of support staff they have supporting them, and that preparation should include the emptying of ones bladder or getting a massage preparatory to bowling.

A mockery is being made of the laws at the moment and this change must be made.

2. Who can be a substitute fielder?

I have already set out the Law of Cricket dealing with substitute fielders above. Standard Playing Condition 1.2 deals with the nomination of players and provides:

1.2.1 Each captain shall nominate 11 players plus a maximum of 4 substitute fielders in writing to the ICC Match Referee before the toss. No player (member of the playing eleven) may be changed after the nomination without the consent of the opposing captain.

1.2.2 Only those nominated as substitute fielders shall be entitled to act as substitute fielders during the match, unless the ICC Match Referee, in exceptional circumstances, allows subsequent additions.

1.2.3 All those nominated including those nominated as substitute fielders, must be eligible to play for that particular team and by such nomination the nominees shall warrant that they are so eligible.

1.2.4 In addition, by their nomination, the nominees shall be deemed to have agreed to abide by all the applicable ICC Regulations pertaining to international cricket and in particular, the Clothing and Equipment Regulations, the Code of Conduct for Players and Player Support Personnel (hereafter referred to as the ICC Code of Conduct), the Anti-Racism Code for Players and Player Support Personnel, the Anti-Doping Code and the Anti-Corruption Code.

Can anyone explain to me why a team needs 4 substitute fielders? In the current Ashes series we have seen the England Fielding Coach on the field at semi-regular intervals as a substitute. I have two problems with that:

1. How can it be within the spirit of the game to employ a specialist fielding coach to help rest your players during the course of the game. The replacement of a tired fast bowler with one of the best fielders in England can hardly be fair can it?

2. It makes an absolute mockery of the tradition of selecting a 12 man team for the game to be played.

I would make an amendment to the law in this way:

1. I would reduce the number of substitutes back to 1 substitute being allowed per team as a maximum with each teams having the ability to name an “emergency” fielder in the event that 2 of their players get injured.

2. I would place a limitation on who can be a substitute fielder. My limitation would be to the effect that the substitute fielder may only be nominated in place of the official 12th man of the team in circumstances only where the named 12th man can play in a first class game else where whilst the test is being played AND the player nominated is a player from within the playing portion of the squad of an away country OR the player nominated is a player from within the state, province or county squad based at the ground at which the game is being played.

3. The imbibement of drinks at the fall of a wicket OR upon a DRS referral OR upon any other break in play

I have long been frustrated by the phalanx of “runners” that invade the field with eskies and drinks coolers at the fall of each wicket or when there is a DRS review or any time at all that any player is feeling a little thirsty.

Standard Playing Condition 15.3 is instructive and provides:

An individual player may be given a drink either on the boundary edge or at the fall of a wicket, on the field, provided that no playing time is wasted. No other drinks shall be taken onto the field without the permission of the umpires.

There is no other law in the game that is flouted more than this. Equally there is no other law in the game (DRS shenanigans aside) that receives more comment that this, at least from the guys I watch cricket with.

I come back to this point: these are professional cricketers nay they are professional athletes. The game has always been played in 2 hour sessions and their bodies should be conditioned to the rigours of a two hour stint in the field. I will not be convinced that a drink every time a wicket falls is necessary: I mean in a session when a wicket does not fall, when one would presuppose the fielding team is working harder because there has been no wickets, the fielding team does not get a drink do they?

I would amend the Standard Playing Condition to remove the words “or the fall of a wicket, on the field”. I would also consider removing the ability of the players to request a drink but would simply empower the umpires to decline such a request rather than the accession to each request that seems to happen now.

So they are my rule changes: I have been harping on about them long enough on twitter and to mates that it was time to put them down on the blog.

Many of you will have been expecting me to write about the DRS here. Enough has been written about it already for mine and I see no benefit in rehashing that old ground. My personal view has remained the same since its introduction: it should either be used to review every decision or not used at all.

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