The International Cricket Council seems to have developed the knack of inviting the wrath of cricket statisticians. In recent times, every single decision it has taken -- having an impact on cricket statistics -- has not gone well with the custodians of cricket statistics and records.
ICC's latest ruling that allows a player to be replaced with a substitute during the course of a match has made statisticians wonder if there is any end to this nuisance.
The new ruling came into effect from the NatWest Challenge Series between England and Australia on Thursday and no one knows how the proceedings in these matches have to be recorded. The irony is that even the ICC doesn't seem to have any solution to some of the issues.
The Association of Cricket Statisticians & Historians, England (ACS) recently approached the ICC seeking clarifications on certain situations likely to be faced by the scorers and statisticians after the imposition of the new ruling. For most of the tricky situations, the ICC has left it to the scorers/statisticians to derive their own convention (see below).
ICC's reply to the queries posed by the ACS on the substitute ruling:
Is a replacement player credited with an ODI appearance?
The replacement player will be credited with an ODI appearance only if:
(a) the replacement is effected some time between the toss being made and the end of the match;
(b) the replacement player makes a subsequent appearance on the field as a batsman, runner, bowler or fielder. Note that a prior appearance by the replacement as a substitute fielder would not of itself comprise an ODI appearance.
So this basically says that, after the replacement is made, the new player does have to do something on the field of play in order to receive a cap.
If a batsman is replaced whilst at the crease, what should appear on the scorecard?
In terms of the Laws, he is retired not out. However, when a player is ill or injured, custom is currently for 'retired hurt' or 'retired ill' to appear on scorecards. Similarly, it is hoped that some convention can be agreed to convey the circumstances of a replacement. ICC does not seek to stipulate what should appear -- this is left to scorers and statisticians, but entries such as 'retired not out (replaced)', 'retired (replaced)' or even simply 'replaced' might be chosen.
How should the replacement be indicated on the scorecard?
ICC is keen that official scorecards do make clear whether a replacement has occurred and the identity of the two players involved. Again, however, this is not a matter for regulation and ICC is happy to leave scorers and statisticians to derive a convention. This might, for example, be standard symbols against the players' names such as those used to indicate captain and wicket-keeper.
Should the timing of discretionary periods of fielding restrictions be shown on the scorecards?
Not necessarily. This is additional information which, like balls faced and boundaries struck, might be added for interest.
How should catches taken by replacements be recorded?
If a replacement has been made and the replacement player takes a catch, he is credited with it. If a substitute fielder takes a catch, it is simply ct sub, as at present. In particular, if the nominated replacement player has not yet been introduced into the 11 and is fielding, then he is still a substitute. Similarly, if the replaced player later does some fielding, he too is acting as a substitute.
If there is no uniformity in the interpretation of the ruling and every scorer/statistician is allowed to derive his own convention, we can understand what kind of mess we all are entering into.
The fundamental problem with the ICC is that they take such important decisions without any debate. This is not the first time that the ICC has made a decision affecting the statistics of the game without vigorous debate in advance from the custodians of cricket statistics and records. Never has the ICC consulted any statistician for repercussions of a decision taken by it. That's why it has had to take a blow on its face in some cases.
In 1991-92, the ICC gave a dictum that the 'rebel' matches in South Africa will not be considered first-class. Statisticians chose to ignore that ruling as it was a politically motivated move and had nothing to do with the level of the matches.
In 1994-95, the ICC allowed two Australian teams to participate in the World Series Cup, giving official status to matches played by both teams initially. As it happened, the finals were played between Australia and Australia 'A'. When statisticians protested against the grant of official status of matches played by Australia 'A', ICC revoked its decision and ruled that the matches by and against Australia 'A' were not official ones. So there was no 'official' winner of a tournament in which 12 league and two finals were played. Only four matches were granted official status. All this mess was caused by the ineptitude of the ICC, which didn't even bother to consult any statistician about the aftermath of its illogical decision of allowing participation of two teams from the same country.
Till June 2004 any ODI match where no ball could be bowled because of weather or any other reason was treated as abandoned and not taken into records. So when the ninth match in the NatWest Series, scheduled to be played between New Zealand and the West Indies at The Rose Bowl, Southampton on July 8, 2004, was abandoned because of rain, statisticians did not count it in their records. But they were flabbergasted when a cricket site showed this match as the official one and showed Darren Sammy as making his ODI debut for the West Indies.
The ICC issued a statement the following day saying the match was granted official status on the basis of a new ruling imposed by it. According to the new ruling, matches that are abandoned without a ball being bowled shall be included in the records provided the toss has taken place.
In simple words, the ruling informs us that a match starts when the toss is made. So, if a match is washed out after the toss, it is counted as a match for stats purposes, whereas if it is washed out without the toss being made it does not count.
Now this ruling was against the Laws of Cricket, which are quite clear about when a match starts. According to Law 12.4 the toss occurs at least 15 minutes before the start of a match. This means that the match has not started just because the toss has occurred. Therefore, the toss does not signal the start of a match. Thus, it is clear that the toss cannot be considered as the start of a game. It is only part of preparation for a match, like the appointment of umpires.
Law 16.1 is very simple and clear about the commencement of a match. It states: 'The umpire at the bowler's end shall call "Play" at the start of the match and on resumption of play after any interval or interruption.'
In the Wisden Laws of Cricket 2000 by Don Oslear (one of the people on the committee who drafted the 2000 version), on page 75, the author states: "Under the 2000 code, the start of a match is the moment that the umpire at the bowler's end calls 'play'."
What could be simpler than that? To change a law that has stood for years on the basis of a decision of a non-elected committee of the ICC was sheer nonsense.
Earlier this year the ICC announced the grant of official status to the Tsunami relief fund match played at Melbourne, between a World XI and an Asian XI. This infuriated statisticians the world over because, as per ICC's own ruling, an international match can only be played between two COUNTRIES.
The ICC dealt with a similar matter following the Rest of the World v England series in 1970 entirely differently, when it was ruled that those five matches would not count in the official Test match records. And those games featured one international side.
There was a lot of resentment among statisticians over this issue. The ACS made a representation to the ICC emphasizing why this decision needs to be revoked. But the ICC simply ignored the points raised by the ACS as it has conveniently done in the past. The ACS could not take a firm stand against the ICC since it does not have any official standing to challenge the apex body.
But statisticians were so exasperated with the ICC's diktat that some openly revolted and decided not to take this match in to their account.
Bill Frindall, the world's top cricket statistician, dropped a bombshell by not including the Tsunami relief fund match along with the rain-abandoned NatWest match in the 2005 edition of Playfair Cricket Annual -- the world's best-selling cricket annual.
This is what Frindall wrote in his editorial for Playfair:"That they (ICC) are proposing to confuse matters further by giving Test match status to a 'super Test' between Australia and the Rest later this year beggars belief. For a decade after the 1970 England v Rest of the World series 'Wisden's records bore a grumbling appendix of those five games -- and that rubber at least had the excuse of replacing a series cancelled for political reasons. Logic dictates that 'international' records should be exactly that -- 'contests between nations'. Perhaps a compromise would be to segregate matches involving conglomerate teams in to a separate Super Test compartment.
'For the same reason, the recent Tsunami Appeal game between Asian and World XI in Melbourne should not be included in the annals of Limited-Overs Internationals -- and is excluded from records in this publication. Exceptionally admirable though it was in conception, the game was little more than an exhibition thrash. While enjoying the occasion hugely, none of the participants, and there were rather too many, seemed to care a hoot about the result.
'Another piece of gross meddling produced the crass decision to regard the toss as the start of a match. This is contrary to Law 16, which clearly states that the umpire's call of play heralds the start."
Since then Bill Frindall has made it clear that he won't be including the Super 'Test' and ODIs scheduled to be played between a World XI and Australia XI later this year in to his records. His views are endorsed by BBC radio and a large number of publications in which he contributes.
Some other statisticians, most notably Australia's Charlie Watt, have also taken a similar stand, whereas the remaining have fallen in line with the ICC. But how long will they remain 'faithful' has to be seen. With the possibility of the proposed Asian XI and African XI matches also being granted official status, a final decision is imperative.
As it is, cricket statistics are in a mess already. It is not easy now to get a definite answer to a simple question like how many one-day international centuries has Ricky Ponting hit -- 17 as per Cricinfo, 16 if you ask Frindall. Very soon we are going to face a situation where the public address system in a stadium will announce, "Congratulations to so and so for completing 5,000 runs in One-Day Internationals" and statisticians in the media box will scream, "This is not correct -- he still needs 30-odd runs to do so".
A mess, isin't it? Who is responsible?