John Lennon’s song; “Give peace a chance,” became the rally cry for anti-war protesters. Soon, the refrain at cricket grounds could be; “Give bowlers a chance.”
In the short forms of the game there’s a chance bowlers will become endangered species if the trend to heavier (and better) bats and shorter boundaries continues.
This tendency has led to a surge in boundaries in general and sixes in particular. While this may sound like a favourable result in a game competing for the entertainment dollar, the long-term consequences may not be so desirable.
Using the second ODI between India and Australia as an example, 64% of the runs scored off the bat were accumulated in boundaries. Singles accounted for around 35% of the scoring, the majority of which would’ve been at the easier end of the scale with the infielders back on the 30-metre circle and 46% of the deliveries were dot balls.
This means a reduced reliance on fielding and running between wickets, two of the more exciting skills in the game.
As the boundary sizes have been reduced and the bats improved, the preference for power over artistry in batting has increased. Throw in abundant protective equipment, the prevalence of flat pitches plus the restrictions on bowlers and their field placings and suddenly being a leather flinger is becoming about as attractive as a cold curry.
Even the new ball at each end isn’t the advantage it first appears, as it reduces the chances of the old ball swinging and the increased hardness means the batsmen can hit them further. Add a bit of outfield dew in the evening and that curry’s looking really unpalatable. However, the administrators still aren’t satisfied with their efforts to punish the bowlers.
The improvement in bats means the ball now leaves the willow travelling faster and hence there’s a greater likelihood bowlers will be sconed by a straight drive. Additionally the unfortunate fielders placed in a catching position fifteen metres from the bat are more prone to hand injuries. Consequently, you can’t blame the bowlers for thinking they’re being served up as cannon fodder for the pampered batsmen.
More and more we’re hearing commentators say; “The batsman is not frightened to take on the outfielders.” That’s because the odds favour them but if sixes become even more prevalent, there’s a danger they’ll reach the monotonous level. If batting skill is reduced to power hitting, the bowlers will be less inclined to rely on guile for their wickets. There’s no incentive for the faster bowlers to seek a length where the ball might swing if sixes are constantly being crashed down the ground; spinners too will be less inclined to employ flight to deceive the batsmen.
We’re already seeing the slower ball bouncer and the wide yorker being regularly used to contain the hitting. Eventually bowlers will rely heavily on batsmen getting themselves out rather than ambushing them by deception.
The short form games are designed for close finishes to provide the bulk of the excitement. If huge first innings totals become the norm, then close finishes will become less prevalent as the chasing team implodes, seeking an impossibly high run rate.
Instead of fans who enjoy a contest, the game will attract spectators who would’ve reveled in the Lions versus Christians debacles. Bowlers need to be offered a crumb in the shorter forms of the game otherwise they’ll revolt, as they’ve done in the past using extreme methods like Bodyline and chucking.
The problem is bats can be further improved but little can be done to the ball to improve the bowler’s lot. There must be consideration given to curbing the influence of the bat and placing more emphasis on the skill of the user. Making the boundaries fairer would be a good start.
Another move would be to redress the imbalance in the rewards system. Batsmen are being conditioned to believe rapid-fire boundaries bring bigger paydays than a well-constructed longer innings and consequently they seek increased hitting power. If these trends continue, sooner or later the bowlers are going to declare war.