Ian Chappell: It's a bat world out there!

Jul 10, 2016, 10:18 IST | Ian Chappell

I only thought of the danger posed to bowlers & umpires in matches. However, Ian Healy makes a superb point that net bowlers are more exposed to danger posed by batsmen wielding lethal weapons

It's encouraging that a current player and a recent retiree have called for an overhaul of the law governing the dimensions of a cricket bat. However, I don't understand why both Josh Hazlewood and Ricky Ponting would agree that the change should only apply to Test match bats.

Big-hitter Chris Gayle bats in the nets at Wankhede on the eve of WI's World T20 semi-final match against India in March. Pic/Suresh Karkera
Big-hitter Chris Gayle bats in the nets at Wankhede on the eve of WI's World T20 semi-final match against India in March. Pic/Suresh Karkera

The shorter forms of the game also need to be a fair contest between bat and ball unless they're viewed more as entertainment, rather than being worthy of carrying the term cricket, in their title.

For more than a decade it has made no sense that bats keep improving dramatically while the boundary dimensions are being reduced. This combination could only be satisfactory to a connoisseur of clouting or a masochist who had it in for bowlers.

Undue advantage
As the improvement in bats started to really take hold it became obvious that it was changing the balance of the game in favour of batsmen. Edges that in the past would have been a catching opportunity for second or third slip, were suddenly carrying two thirds of the way to the boundary.

This should've sounded alarm bells for law makers. The improvement in bats also coincided with a shift to a more conservative mentality in field placements. While this was a trend among captains who, influenced by a plethora of short form cricket erred on the side of containment, it became an obsession when point and square-leg fieldsmen were regularly posted on the boundary from the reasonably early overs of a Test innings.

By then, the alarm bells in the halls of officialdom should've been deafening. The more recent improvements in willow manufacture mean the ball is now pinging off the bat at such speeds that bowlers and umpires are in grave danger of being seriously injured. When an umpire starts wearing a helmet or a protective shield on their arm, it shouldn't be difficult to interpret their feelings.

Hopefully, it won't be the gut-wrenching sound of sirens that finally influences officials into changing the law. I'd only thought of the danger posed to bowlers and umpires in matches. However, former Australian keeper Ian Healy made the excellent point that young net bowlers engaged to prepare T20 batsmen, were even more exposed to the danger posed by batsmen wielding lethal weapons. This could also apply at junior cricket levels with such variations in the size and strength of players.

One of the primary duties of cricket law makers is to maintain a balance - like an evenly weighted pair of scales - between batsmen and bowlers. When the balance is too much in favour of batsmen it usually results in disgruntled bowlers fighting back by resorting to such drastic tactics as chucking or Bodyline.

A good rule of thumb for law makers in maintaining that balance is, the mis-hits should by-and-large stay within the field of play. If a bowler is good enough to induce a mis-hit there should be a reward; if there's no fielder in the vicinity or there is but he drops the catch, then it's bad planning or bad luck but the mistimed shot shouldn't finish in the stands.

Too many boundaries
When Limited Overs cricket first captured the public's imagination the points of excitement stressed (apart from a tense finish), were the improvement in fielding and running between wickets. There won't be much brilliant fielding or the daring, Virat Kohli style of running between wickets, if the bulk of the runs are scored in boundary hits.

Administrators who believe a high proportion of fans crave sixes, should consider the motive of those patrons. I liken six-craving fans to guys who attend an establishment because the waitresses are topless. When another bar opens down the road shortly afterwards with waitresses who are even more skimpily attired, they quickly shift their patronage.

It's good that modern cricketers are clamoring for a change to the law regarding bat dimensions. However, it'll be an even more effective clarion call when it's a current batsman who asks that changes to the bat size should occur in all forms of the game.

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