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Test cricket overhaul: Countdown clock, free hit among MCC proposals

March 13, 2019 11:37 IST
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Image used for representational purposes

IMAGE: >The MCC's world cricket committee said that the World Test Championship, scheduled to kick off after the 50-over World Cup, was the right platform to introduce a standard ball across the countries (Image used for representational purposes). Photograph: BCCI/Twitter

Introducing countdown clocks, a standard ball across the globe, and free hits after no-balls are some of the changes being eyed for Test cricket as the custodians of the game's laws look to shore up its popularity amid the rise of lucrative Twenty20 leagues.

The future of the longest format of the game has been a subject of debate amid dwindling crowds for Test matches outside Australia and England.

A recent survey by the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC), the sole authority on the laws of cricket since it was founded in 1787, found an overwhelming 86 percent of fans still identified Test cricket as their preferred format.

 

However, the survey also covered some of the key challenges in increasing attendances at ground and viewership of Test matches and said players needed to show more urgency to speed up play with slow over rates being a key concern.

International Cricket Council (ICC) statistics from last May showed that over rates in the last year were the lowest in the 11 years that they had been measured, the MCC said.

A countdown clock could be one way of addressing the issue.

"A timer, to be shown on the scoreboard, to count down from 45 seconds from the call of 'Over'," the MCC statement said.

"If either side is not ready to play when the clock reaches zero, they would receive a warning, with further infringements in that innings resulting in five penalty runs being awarded to the opposition."

Slow over-rate is a regular phenomenon in the five-day format and has contributed to driving away fans, said the MCC Committee on the need for introducing a shot clock.

"When asked what the main barriers were for attending Test Cricket, 25% of fans from England, Australia, New Zealand & South Africa mentioned slow over rates.

"In those countries, where spinners bowl fewer overs, the full 90 overs are sometimes not bowled in a day, even with the extra 30 minutes," said the MCC. 

"Whilst the Decision Review System (DRS) was partly responsible for the delays, the committee felt that a series of measures should be introduced to help to speed up the game."

The Committee's specific recommendations include:

1) A timer, to be shown on the scoreboard, to count down from 45 seconds from the call of "Over". (This would be increased to 60 seconds for a new batsman on strike and 80 seconds for a change of bowler).

If either side is not ready to play when the clock reaches zero, they would receive a warning, with further infringements in that innings resulting in five Penalty runs being awarded to the opposition.

2) A similar timer to be used at the fall of wickets, potentially with variable times, depending on the distance from the dressing rooms to the pitch, and at drinks breaks. Batsmen and fielders should be in position before the clock reaches zero.

3) During DRS reviews, the standard protocol should be cut short as soon as the TV production team is aware that it will be Not out. For example, time is often spent trying to discern an inside edge for LBWs, only to see, for example, that the ball was missing the stumps.

As soon as the ball tracking has been loaded, if it will result in a Not out decision, the TV umpire should be informed immediately.

The Umpire signals a free hit during an ODI between England and South Africa at The Kia Oval in London on August 31, 2012 (Image used for representational purposes

IMAGE: The Umpire signals a free hit during an ODI between England and South Africa at The Kia Oval in London on August 31, 2012 (Image used for representational purposes). Photograph: Tom Shaw/Getty Images

The MCC's world cricket committee said that the World Test Championship, scheduled to kick off after the 50-over World Cup, was the right platform to introduce a standard ball across the countries.

"The MCC World Cricket committee felt that it would benefit the Championship for a standard ball to be used in these matches, except for those played as day/night matches," it said.

"It would be for the ICC to choose which ball is most suitable, with the committee stressing that the balance between bat and ball is crucial.

"Trials of the use of different balls have been taking place in different countries at first class level. The committee felt that the World Test Championship provided the perfect opportunity to introduce this suggestion."

The last couple of months have been a great advertisement for Tests with India registering their first Test series victory in Australia, West Indies humbling England, and Sri Lanka becoming the first Asian country to win a series in South Africa.

The committee, made up of current and former international players and umpires, meets twice yearly to discuss issues in the game. Their suggestions are considered by the ICC cricket committee before recommendations are put to a general meeting of the world governing body.

The MCC committee also said the introduction of free hits for bowling no-balls could speed up the long format while providing entertainment for the fans. The system is already in use in white ball cricket.

"The system is used in the white-ball formats and the added deterrent results in there being fewer No balls than in Tests.  For example, England recently had a spell of 45 ODIs without bowling a No ball, yet they bowled eleven in the three Test series against the West Indies. 

"The system would not only be exciting for crowds when there was a Free Hit, but also it would help to speed up over rates, if fewer No balls are bowled," the MCC statement added.

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