Originally, the game of cricket was conceived as a battle between the bat and the ball. Insufficient protection for batsmen and for pitches in the early days made it more in favour of the bowlers. So the administrators took over, bringing in covered pitches, the bouncer limitation, the leg side fielding restrictions, the front-foot no-ball rule and many more. Protective equipment for every conceivable part of the body (and elsewhere) made batsmen even more intrepid.
Today, the hand that holds the bat holds all the aces. Michael Holding’s plaintive cries echo that, Javagal Srinath’s baleful expressions confirmed that, Jason Gillespie’s test double hundred drove the point home, Daniel Vettori’s progress as an all-rounder tells its own story and every run that Monty Panesar makes is another nail in the bowler’s coffin.
It’s time to tilt the balance, a bit to begin with. A regulation that is very overtly bowler-centric is an urgent need of the hour, Twenty20 or no Twenty20, ICL or IPL, sponsors or boards. Here’s something that helps the fast bowlers. How about halving the time to the new ball in test matches? So the fielding team can opt for a new ball after 40 overs instead of the current 80?
The likes of Brett Lee and Dale Steyn would surely relish the prospect of coming back for a second spell midway through the second session of the first day to take a tilt at the middle order. Of course, if there is an expectation of reverse swing in the afternoon, the fielding team can delay taking the second new ball. And if a certain Muthiah Muralitharan is in your team, you’d probably pass that red cherry for a few more sessions.
Consider the effect on the batsmen. A Sourav Ganguly will have to face up to the new ball in test matches, something he normally does not prefer. A Jacques Kallis will settle down to the spinners and the seamers (and plot yet another anonymous hundred) and then will suddenly come up against the quicker ones in the midst of a somnolent (for himself, for the fielding team, for the spectators) afternoon session. Ah!
Here’s a more complex alternative. The second new ball becomes available after 60 overs, the third one after a further 40 and subsequent ones after every 30 overs. Sounds complicated? Well, we have power plays of different durations in one-day games, don’t we?