Monday, December 21, 2009

Cricket: A better way of penalizing slow over rate

Ok, so Dhoni has been suspended for two ODIs following the slow over rate. I am somewhat satisfied that something has been done, but as always it feels like too little and too late (its after the match ended). Before you jump to put in your angry comment, lets analyze why we need a strict way of enforcing over rate in the first place.

Cricket is a long game, ranging from 4 hours (T-20s) to 35+ hours (Test matches). In these fast paced days, hardly anybody has the time to follow a full test match live on TV. Moreover, in the day of globalization, with viewers tuning in from various parts of the world, you need to account for the time differences too. A day night match in India is a evening-night match in Singapore and a night-night match in Australia. So, lets get this simple fact out of the way - cricket is not a viewer friendly sport.

Now, largely because of an utter neglect by the authorities of the game, successive generations of captains have gotten away with slow over rates, mostly in the name of strategy, but actually because nobody is looking over them and fixing it. It wasn't always so - with 4 pacers, West Indies of the 70s were famous for never going beyond their time. Slow over rates just compounds the viewer-unfriendly nature of the game, making it impossible for a viewer to time the finish of the game. Moreover, enough test matches have finished in a draw because one of the captains could slow down the game and reduce the number of overs bowled.

Now, lets look at what the ICC has been doing and why none of it actually solves the problem:
  • Reduce overs for chasing team: This was a ridiculous idea that only penalized the team batting second in an ODI while letting off the team batting first (they were penalized with match fees, but no one cared about that). You need to be more equal than that.
  • Penalize through money suspensions: This sometimes works and sometimes doesn't. If a captain wants to spend more time on the field defending in a tense situation in a major tournament's final, he doesn't care about getting fined or suspended the day after.
So, what do we need? We need an in-match solution (one that has the opportunity to affect the result of the game), equal on both teams irrespective of batting order, consistent on all matches (important or otherwise) and potentially penalizes the entire team for poor over rate.

I can't take credit for the proposed solution (I watched this on TV in a English County T20 game), but here is how it goes:
  • Fix the maximum time for the innings up front on a large countdown clock visible to all including spectators.
  • On each injury, keep record of the time involved, either in a separate clock, or by stopping the countdown clock. As soon as the clock hits zero, start the injury time countdown.
  • For every bowler not bowled by the end of the clock, punish the bowling team by adding 6 runs (per over not bowled) to the batting total.
  • The quantum of per over punishment can be debated. My suggestion - go with the average run rate of the past 100 matches in international cricket of the same form. This way, it gets adjusted to the form of the game and keeps in trend with the ever increasing run rates (I don't like that either, but I will need a separate blog post for that).
With this solution, the problem is solved. You have a solution that affects the match, and hence adds seriousness to the entire effort. Its equal on both teams and penalizes the entire team instead of just the captain. And since there is the entire match at stake and not just money, our rich cricketers will have something to fight for by being on time.

It is high time the authorities of cricket made the game more professional and more viewer friendly. Each of these minor improvements will help to hold on to your viewers and in these days of empty cricket stadiums, you better retain each TV eyeball-minute that you can capture.

Administrative note

All tech posts have now moved to http://tech.shreeni.info or you may subscribe to its RSS feed. In due course, I shall be moving it out completely, so if you follow my tech posts, please shift to following that blog.