“Paanch fielders aa gaya bhai!” An excited Pakistan captain Babar Azam shouts out in the dressing room when he sees the umpires conveying the rule and the punishment to the Indians. With just 7 needed, and only four to man the boundaries, Arshdeep Singh had to carefully place his field. Rohit Sharma and KL Rahul converged with the bowler, and had a long discussion.
Inside Pakistan’s dressing room, tension seeps in. Shadab Khan asks the young Naseem Shah and Mohammad Hasnain to pray “dua kar, dua kar”.
The raw emotions, the reactions and the celebrations 🤗
— Pakistan Cricket (@TheRealPCB) September 4, 2022
To Babar’s excited cry about the five fielders, Naseem Shah says, “Haan haan, overs …” referring to the over rate.
What had happened?
During their Group A opener at the Asia Cup, both India and Pakistan were penalised for not finishing their quota of 20 overs in the stipulated International Cricket Council (ICC) time frame, owing to a newly introduced clause for T20Is. As a result, both were hence forced to field an extra player inside the 30-yard circle for the final three overs of each innings, leaving only four fielders stationed at the boundary instead of the usual five after the first six overs of play. Similar thing would happen during the Super Four game as well.
In the first match, this fielding restriction played its part in the same. Pakistan’s lower order managed to squeeze 33 runs in the last three overs, taking the team score from 114/6 to 147, eventually taking the match deeper as a result of the onslaught in the death overs. India, on the other hand, also made the most of Pakistan’s forced field restrictions as Jadeja and Pandya managed to score six boundaries, including a winning six in those last three overs. Similarly, it would cast its shadow in the Super Four game as well.
The mentioned clause is an addition to the in-match penalties sanctioned for slow over rate outlined in in Article 2.22 of the ICC Code of Conduct for Players and Player Support Personnel.
Inspired by its effectiveness in The Hundred, the ICC introduced it in January 2022. ”The over rate regulations are captured in clause 13.8 of the playing conditions , which stipulate that a fielding side must be in position to bowl the first ball of the final over of the innings by the scheduled or rescheduled time for the end of the innings (85 minutes).”
“If they are not in such a position, one fewer fielder will be permitted outside of the 30-yard circle for the remaining overs of the innings.”
The 85 minutes time limit can be broken down to no team taking more than four minutes and 15 seconds to bowl an over in a T20 match. An over here, is marked as begun when the bowling side is in position for the first ball.
Why is it needed?
That the very nature of a T20 contest demands for it to be a quick consumption product for the fans and the broadcasters is not the only reason why the field restrictions penalty as a result of slow over rate has been introduced.
A fielding side may slow down the game and take the advantage away from a batter hitting well by taking their time to plan and shifting the momentum their way, hereby avoiding being punished for lack of pre-match planning in in-match fitness demands of the format, which most contemporary teams invest in heavily.
Hence the need of a set time limit within which a team is supposed to bowl their share of overs.
Are there any provisions to the law for instances outside of the fielding side’s control?
None of the time taken by the players for treatment is taken into account while the application of the aforementioned clause. In fact, treatment given by authorized medical personnel on field is just the one of many allowances considered while subjecting a forced field restriction penalty to a team. The time consumed in the replacement of an injured player, DRS reviews, third umpire referrals, and any other scenario, which according to the umpires, is beyond the control of the fielding side make up for allowances as an exception to the clause.
What if the batters waste time?
The batting team is also penalized if the umpires deem their batter(s) using deliberate time wasting tactics to slow down the game and hinder the bowling side from finishing the innings in the stipulated time limit. In such a case, the time lost is deducted from the allowances that are “granted to such batting team in the determination of its over-rate”.
There is however a loop-hole here for the ICC to address. The team wasting time while batting first will be penalised for it in the second innings, when they bowl. But there is no explanation about what happens to a team if they waste time while batting second.
How do the players keep track of time during an innings?
The fielding captain and the batters are informed of the scheduled time by which the innings should end by the umpire at the bowler’s end. He/She needs to follow the protocol after every interruption in the game. The umpire is also supposed to inform the above parties including the other on-field umpire of any allowances as and when they occur except those for the sixth to ninth wickets, which the teams are supposed to keep track of themselves.
As per the ICC playing conditions, the present over rate of the fielding side (+/- overs compared to the minimum rate required), advised by the third umpire every 30 minutes as a minimum, is also to be displayed on a scoreboard or replay screen on the ground.
What are the teams doing to avoid the forced field restrictions?
The teams would obviously benefit from having extra spinners in the team but given how quickly a T20 match can turn on its head, fielding captains are often seen calling special counsel of experienced players in the team to discuss strategy and field settings. It is here that captains who act quick and precise in adjusting to conditions and those who are stationed closer to the bowler (mid-off or mid-on) can save a lot of the time invested in the above and hence keep the odds in their favor.
While this may all sound like extra homework for the teams, India and Pakistan both know the value of it, given their bleeding experience from not too long ago.
Some teams, like England, have in the past put up instructions from the coach and analyst from the dressing room. On placards with codes, for bowling changes. In the heat of the moment, with the captain under pressure, such outside help also can save some time.