One day international rules change faster than political affiliations in India these days. And so,hopefully the latest lot of rules on field restrictions wont be with us for too much longer either. We feared four fielders outside the circle would make bowlers the lesser community in what should be a equal opportunity sport and those predictions arent wrong.
To be fair,you can see why the ICC wanted to liven up the game a bit. Overs 16-40 were becoming what,an English writer delightfully called,a non-aggression pact. Batsmen were happy to knock four singles an over and bowlers were delighted to offer them that option. Essentially,you could come back to a game two hours later and say right,lets see some cricket now! And so,in theory taking away one fielder from outside the circle meant the batsmen could have more run-making options but the bowler might be forced to place more attacking fields too.
In order to compensate the bowler,the ICC also removed one of the two power plays effectively telling the bowler that in return for having a fielder less for thirty five overs they were giving the batsman one less power play. It was meant to be a fair exchange! Unfortunately for the bowler,there were a few other trends going against them too. For a start,bats were now so big that mishits were clearing the boundary sometimes but when they didnt they were going way past the circles. And with the influence of T20,batsmen had become more scientific. We now have reverse sweeps,switch hits,paddle shots and that means bowlers cannot pack one side of the field either (the switch hit should either be outlawed or the lbw law changed anyway!).
There is,and I believe it is another outcome of more T20 cricket,a very interesting new trend too. Batsmen are no longer batting differently during the power play overs preferring instead to keep wickets for the final slog. Run rates are not too different in that phase (only about one run/over more for India) either and so in the last fifteen overs batsmen have wickets in hand but bowlers have to play with three support fielders in overs 36-40 and only four thereafter. It is an open invitation and we are seeing a ridiculous number of runs being made in the last fifteen. Big bats are taking the spinners out of that phase and the absence of any reverse swing due to the two new balls used is making it very difficult for the seamers. It is thrilling to watch but it is a bit like letting deer loose in a lion park and seeing how many are taken down. What India did in Jaipur was extraordinary but we will see more of that and much more of what James Faulkner did in Mohali.
I suspect one of the reasons bowlers have traditionally been pushed into a corner is because they have been the great survivors of our game; they have traditionally been the more inventive and so the onus has always been on them to adjust,to evolve.
But now the batsmen are playing some hitherto unseen shots too,batting has been freed from its orthodoxy,especially in limited overs cricket. They have more options against every ball and the bats are carrying out everything asked of them. And if we continue pushing bowlers into a corner the next evolution might come from bent arm bowling. Already some of the most effective T20 bowlers bowl with prodigiously bent arms. In fact whenever there is a front foot no-ball and the frame is frozen,it makes for rather embarrassing viewing. But with the ICC looking the other way on bowling actions,and endangering bowlers so much with legislation,bowlers might be left with very few options.
We need to look at the bat vs ball equation all over again because that is at the heart of our game. Maybe we just need an extra fielder outside the circle rather than one lesser fielder inside. The new challenges in the game need to be forced onto batsmen rather than bowlers. Just as the bowlers have had to be inventive,maybe it is the turn of the batsmen now. Maybe we should have six fielders outside the circle after the first ten overs are gone. Or at least in the last ten.
But shifting the balance back to the bowler is now essential.