Saturday, Dec 20, 2014

IPL 7: Intentional wide ball — where to draw the line?

Mumbai's Aditya Tare hit a six off James Faulkner to help the side qualify for the IPL 7 playoffs. (Source: PTI) Mumbai's Aditya Tare hit a six off James Faulkner to help the side qualify for the IPL 7 playoffs. (Source: PTI)
Written by Harsha Bhogle | Posted: May 30, 2014 1:21 am | Updated: May 30, 2014 6:18 pm

There was much drama in the last IPL league game between Mumbai Indians and Rajasthan Royals. It tested everybody’s presence of mind, but the lingering thoughts left behind are very interesting. And I think we might see a new approach to chasing targets when it gets really close.

Whenever something happens for the first time, it seems incredible because it is a leap in our knowledge, in our awareness of our profession. When a fielder first threw the ball back in, crossed the boundary line and returned to catch it, we were speechless. Now, most good fielders do it and in fact spend a lot of time practising catches by the boundary. When the first scoop was played over the keeper, we thought the batsman would soon need a dentist. Now, it has almost become the preferred shot for a tail-ender! The loopy bouncer, the wide yorker, the reverse sweep, all of them first evoked surprise and are now routine. So too the doosra, but that cannot be in this list because it is the outcome of administrators willing to look the other way with the laws of the game.

And so, I won’t be surprised if in future, we have the following situation. A team needs three to win to qualify on net run rate, the batsman gets a fine yorker that he knows he cannot hit for four but with the field spread back will happily tap the ball for two aware that he now has an extra couple of deliveries from which to hit one for six. With big bats and calm minds that might be a good bargain. And it is completely within the law and the spirit of the game.

But it now shifts the moral compass towards the bowler. As in the Mumbai Indians vs Rajasthan Royals game you could have a situation where one dot ball later, a wide could have ensured qualification for the Royals in spite of guaranteeing defeat in that game. Does the bowler wilfully bowl a wide then? There are a couple of issues to consider. For a start, it is not unknown for a fast bowler to let rip a bouncer, even if above head high, to send a message to a cheeky batsman. To that extent, it is an intentionally illegal delivery. And you do, wilfully, bowl a wide ball to get a stumping in any case.

Remember that by now the batsman is expecting it too and might adjust for it. Also, unless the wide ball is really wide, it is not entirely out of range for a batsman. And, purely for the sake of argument, what if you position short fine leg a yard and a half away from the leg stump and bowl it straight at him! There are so many possibilities that may not have been considered earlier. There are, I am sure, many more. For as Mohandas Menon pointed out to me, a no-ball is in fact a safer option because once the game is lost, there is no free-hit either.

Now, given the times we live in, there is another factor to an intentional wide or the no-ball. Can it attract the attention of anti-corruption? Admittedly, it is for tactical reasons and it isn’t a wide or a no-ball bowled in the middle of the game for no reason (as with the Asif and Amir episode). But think about it. A planned wide or no-ball guaranteed to alter the result of a cricket match? I would love to know what the establishment and the fans think about it and therefore, the precedent it would set. Would it almost legalise the intentional but exaggerated wide? And would that get the dark side of our game excited? And to take Mohandas Menon’s point about the no-ball further, as he himself points out, can you intentionally lose a match to win qualification? (Remember the Suraj Randiv episode where he bowled an intentional no-ball to end the game and thus prevent Sehwag from getting a century?)

On another note, I asked a couple of former bowlers if they would be willing to bowl a wide if it effectively meant winning and going through. One of them said he would be torn by the thought. The other said his primary responsibility towards the team was to win for them. And you can’t argue against that.

As you can see, we may have stumbled onto an interesting debate with tactical, moral and legal issues!

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