Past time for formal time
Russell Degnan

In the most tedious stretch of sporting play I've seen outside the final minutes of any professional basketball game, Australia took the better part of three minutes to bowl two balls. The last of which with the South Africans needing 6 to tie. Taking ten seconds to bowl an underarm would have been better viewing.

However, on the back of an unbelievably tardy summer of time-keeping, it is merely one more demonstration of the need for the game to get serious about its time-keeping. Most other sports have it easy, because moving time is integral to the play, but cricket is not alone in being otherwise. Professional tennis long ago realised that players would happily take advantage of rest breaks, injuries, towelling offs and just plain tardiness to gain some on court advantage. Under the careful watch of the umpire, and the threat of in game penalties, the rhythms of the game are now punctuated with calls of "time", and it is a better spectacle for it.

Cricket, being played within strict time constraints, nevertheless has daft penalties, out of kilter with the crimes committed. A tardy batsman can be dismissed, a penalty so harsh that no self-respecting fielding side would apply it (even during the supposedly acrimonious "Sydney Test" when Ishant Sharma's daft and dim-witted ploy to slow things down practically deserved it). On the other end of the scale, an ill-thought out fine and suspension system is played out regardless of the game result, and largely ignored by captains.


The obvious solution is to enforce a strict time period - via the third/fourth umpire - for bowling the overs, and supplemented by solutions for the things outside the bowling side's control. Firstly, time stoppages for three types of events:

  • Stoppages for the state of the game: scheduled drinks, fallen wickets, third umpire rulings.
  • Signaled timeouts for unforeseeable problems: equipment failures (changed balls, demonstrated broken bats/helmets) or injuries. class
  • A limited number of 90 second timeouts for bowling and batting sides: probably 3 per session in a test, 5 per innings of one-dayers, 3 per innings of 20/20 games.

And secondly, preventing gamesmanship from the batting side. Timed Out may still need to exist, but can be replaced by a more general 5 run penalty for deliberate time wasting by the batsman. Applied where the fielding team is ready, and the batsman fails to face the delivery without just cause for greater than some time period (15 seconds), and on appeal from the fielding side. Batsmen needing the ubiquitous change of gloves, extended mid-over chit-chats, or drinks can call time-outs.

The bowling team must bowl their required overs regardless (either at the end of the session, or the end of the day), but will incur a 5 run penalty for each unbowled over at the conclusion of each session/innings. Not necessarily enough to be decisive, but more than enough to make a difference to tactics.

This makes for a few problems in test cricket, where the sessions are closed at a particular time and 90 overs are required. Specifically, there are four scenarios:

  1. The (normally 90min) time clock has run out, the required overs have been bowled: extra overs have probably been bowled, no penalty applies, the session ends at the correct time.
  2. The time clock has not run out, the required overs have been bowled: a slow session, perhaps with lots of wickets, or breaks; no penalty applies, the session could end either via the time clock or by the time.
  3. The time clock has run out, the required overs have not been bowled: penalty runs apply for unbowled overs, the session ends at the correct time, unplayed extra overs need to be scheduled at the end of play to get to 90 (regardless of who is bowling, but untimed).
  4. The time clock has not run out, the required overs have not been bowled: a slow session, but with unplayed time that needs to be continued until either the time clock finishes (rarely more than a few minutes) or the overs have been bowled (as above); penalties may apply and extra overs may need to be scheduled.

If the bowling side find sufficient time to have an on-field tactics meeting without calling a timeout then so be it, but time and run pressure will do what fines have failed to do all summer, and that's get things through quickly. Rain and change of innings would, of course, require the clock to be adjusted. But importantly, through formalisation of the game time, the hand wringing over over-rates can stop, and we can get back to the cricket.

Idle Summers 19th January, 2009 09:48:51   [#] 

Comments

Past time for formal time
You seem to have a misconception of Timed Out. It only applies for when a new batsman doesn't arrive at the crease and take guard within 3 minutes of the dismissal the previous ball. There are already provisions for 5-run penalties for batsmen wasting time in the Laws, though I don't know of any umpire applying them.

I wouldn't overly mind if penalty runs were introduced along some scheme like yours, but I'd be happier with largely the current framework, only a first over-rate violation gets an immediate suspension of the captain, rather than fine-then-suspension. Also I'd like to see 15 overs/hour enforced, regardless of drinks breaks. An allowance can be made for wickets.

Lastly, I would note that in the game the other day, Australia's over-rate was about 14.8/over, easily better than the 14.3 required in ODI's. Australia's over-rates have been quite good since the second Test.
David Barry  20th January, 2009 11:38:59  

Past time for formal time
David, I don't know why you'd think I don't understand the time out rule? The provenance of the rule is time-wasting. Without it, any batsman can play for a draw by the simple expedient of not appearing at the crease. It matters less in games requiring 90 overs in the day, though bad light can still intervene. I probably should have said "supplemented", though as you say, the rule may already exist.

After the Pakistan forfeit at the oval, no umpire would dream of applying a time-wasting penalty, unless it was completely ridiculous, hence the need for the fielding side to appeal for it. I doubt any side would appeal unless there was a situation where a batsmen slowing the over-rate was going to cost a side runs.

On Australia, Hauritz and Hussey make a big difference to the rate. They get through their overs at ridiculous speed. I mind South Africa's rates more than Australia's endless discussions in Hobart. They need to talk to Morne Morkel, his little circles at the top of his mark add 20-30 seconds an over, and he isn't too fast anyway.
Russ  20th January, 2009 14:51:39  

Past time for formal time
Sorry Russ, I just read what you wrote as saying "current penalty for batsman generally wasting time = timed out", then comparing it to what happens with time-wasting by the fielding side. I think most time-wasting by batsmen doesn't happen at the dismissal.

(Unlike you, I would have wanted a stopwatch on Sharma. If I was a fielding captain I'd appeal.)
David Barry  20th January, 2009 17:55:23  

Past time for formal time
David, that's ok, my poor writing at fault.

I'd agree, most time wasting involves chit chats, gardening, drinks breaks, glove changes and so forth. I checked out the rule on this before, as usual for the fair play law it is a mix of vagueness ("under normal circumstances") and potential farce (a team is to be warned then penalised 5 runs for a batsman not being ready when a bowler is at the top of their run).

The stronger the penalties for not bowling the requisite overs, the more likely batsmen will indulge in a little gamesmanship. Notwithstanding that there are a lot of legitimate reasons for batsmen to engage in activities that slow the game. Hence the reason I'd prefer to fully and sensibly formalise the time component with a running clock, stoppages and timeouts. Vague and sloppy law making has not served the game well the past few years.
Russ  21st January, 2009 01:10:13  

Past time for formal time
All part of the game. Sometimes it works in favor, sometimes it doesn't. All teams use different time wasting or gaining tactics and that's how the game is played. Cricket is all about mind games and Aussies have been the best at those whether on or off the field. Love OZ cricket for that sole reason.
All Sports Fans  21st January, 2009 05:33:35