The earliest origins of cricket as we see it now can be traced back to the 19th century. Cricket was born in England, primarily as a sport of pleasure for the rich aristocrats; whereas the poor people, who were the professionals, played the sport for a living. The rich men tended to be batsmen and were called ‘Gentlemen’ while the professionals were left with the hardworking aspects of the game i.e. bowling. This is where our sports derives the nickname ‘Gentleman’s Game’ from, as the rules were then constructed to favour the more privileged batsmen.
Cricket has evolved to dizzying levels over the last few decades but one thing that has remained constant is that the rules continue to be heavily loaded in favour of the batsmen. In fact, the changing dynamics over the past few years has tilted the scales completely into the batsmen’s hands, creating a massive gap between bat and ball in limited overs cricket.
Impact of T20 cricket
The advent of T20 cricket in the previous decade has had an everlasting impact on the game. Critics felt that it would destroy the longer formats of the game, but they have survived and the dynamics have evolved, providing cricket fans with high-scoring contests that they are thrilled at seeing.
We are seeing records being shattered and new milestones being reached in each series. The bar has been set so high by the current generation of batsmen, yet another batsman fancies a go at the new record and ends up breaking it. Massive scores are getting piled up with batsmen feasting on helpless bowlers, who hardly have anything going in their favour.
The massive change after the 2015 World Cup
The biggest change surprisingly has been observed in England. England’s disastrous World Cup campaign in 2015 paved way for a radical change in the way they approached the limited overs game. They went into the World Cup carrying a few players who were ill-suited to the rigours of the fast-paced nature of ODIs and T20, and they were soon replaced by younger, fitter and more dynamic cricketers. These guys brought in a refreshing, bold, attacking style to the game and the English batting line-up showed off a completely new look. The likes of Jason Roy, Alex Hales and Jos Buttler have made these formats their own and the others are starting to take the cue from them.
. A combination of factors has made life extremely miserable for the bowlers and we take a look at those factors which have pushed them to a corner.
Pitch and conditions
The popularity of the slam-bang nature of T20 cricket, in which fans prefer high-scoring compelling encounters as compared to low-scoring nail-biters has created a massive impact on the minds of the groundsmen. The curators are now obsessed with providing batting paradises to satisfy the demands of the fans and to popularize the game. Most fans prefer watching their favourite batsmen repeatedly tonk the ball into the stands and often get bored when the run-rates drop due to the bowlers dominating. The pitches these days in countries around the globe have now changed in character as we don’t see the ball move around in countries like England, South Africa and Australia nor do they provide turn in the sub-continent. The true nature of these wickets allows the batsmen to play their shots and the ball tends to fly to all corners of the stadium.
Pitch to provide the right balance
When wickets that aid swing or spin are provided, we see sides collapse as the batsmen are unable to tackle skilful bowling. The batsmen of the current generation lack the resilience to fight it out in challenging conditions and look to impose themselves on the bowlers right from the start of the innings. The art of building an innings by taking time at the crease is slowly disappearing and batsmen tend to throw their wicket away when faced with good bowling in difficult conditions. A balance is necessary to keep the batsmen on their toes. Providing batting friendly wickets may be entertaining and makes for compelling viewing for the fans who love attacking stroke-play, but it’s detrimental in the long run as the bowlers are being treated merely like machines.
One new ball from each end
ICC introduced the rule of providing a new ball from each end in the hope that this would enable the bowlers to swing the ball for a longer period of time. However, the pitches in limited overs cricket and the warm conditions aren’t conducive to swing bowling. This negates the impact of the two new balls. This adversely tends to cause a major problem as the ball tends to remain new for the major duration of the innings. This goes on to kill reverse swing as the ball remains hard and relatively new even in the death overs of the innings and the bowlers are unable to produce the necessary reverse swing to keep the big-hitters quiet.
Moving on to the stadium, the dimensions of the playing fields has become a major cause for concern. To make the T20 game more exciting, groundsmen pull in the boundary rope by almost 10 metres from where it would have been a decade back. The average dimensions of stadiums around the world used to be around 70-80 metres a few years back, while that’s come down to around 60-70 metres nowadays. A few stadiums in New Zealand and India like the Chinnaswamy and Wankhede Stadium have boundaries that are even shorter than 60 metres.
Size and weight of the bat
The size of the cricket bat has been a point that has been discussed a lot in recent times. Batsmen armed with big, heavy bats that had massive edges used to create havoc on the bowlers. These thick edges meant that bowlers were getting punished even when they were bowling good deliveries. The ball would take the edge and yet fly over the fielder’s head, much to the annoyance of the bowler. Mistimed shots tend to carry over the fielders’ heads for sixes. The amount of wood in the bat, coupled with the ridiculously short boundaries means that bowlers end up on the wrong side in spite of deceiving batsmen as the ball carries over the fielders.
A step in the right direction?
To maintain the balance between bat and ball, the ICC revised the conditions by restricting the size and thickness of the blade. This is a move in the right direction, but more such changes are necessary to maintain the right balance between bat and ball.
If the younger generations who are passionate about the sport watch the bowlers being smashed to all corners of the stadium, it will not be an encouragement for them to take up the art of bowling. Most of the aspiring cricketers will be inclined towards taking up the relaxed role of batting and this could therefore see a dearth of quality fast-bowlers that we used to see in the yesteryears.
Hence, efforts need to be made by the sports’ governing bodies to bring a level playing field between bat and ball.