The ICC changed its ODI rules in 2013 with only four fielders in the outfield – the number comes down to around three during the powerplays – and a couple of new balls were allowed from either side. When they were effected for the first time it was said that these rules will encourage more shot-making from the batters and the bowlers will get more help from the two new balls from either end. Since both balls would only be 25 overs old at the most they would be able to extract bounce and lateral movement and keep the batsmen honest in spite of the reduced number of fielders outside the inner circle.
Two years have gone by since then and as one sees that only the batsmen have made merry. In the interim Rohit Sharma has struck a couple of double centuries and batsmen such as AB de Villiers have come in and basically murdered the bowlers. Records of fastest centuries are being broken with some ludicrous regularity and sadly bowlers have nothing to show in terms of a bagful of hauls. While the quality of both the above mentioned gentlemen cannot be doubted at the least, one needs to introspect if the rules have anything to do with their spectacular efforts in such short intervals.
Batsmen have enough space to go for big shots
To start with, since only four fielders are allowed outside the inner circle batsmen have acres of spaces in order to go for big shots and that too without worrying about being caught or run out. All they need to do is pick a spot and the ball is good to go. If the ICC head honchos were thinking of making the game competitive they have gone spectacularly wrong with this step. However, this is not where the problem ends.
While we continue to blame the fielding restrictions for the problems being faced by the bowlers, very little attention is paid to the rule of two new balls being used from both ends. Before 2013 this strategy was used in Australia and New Zealand during the 1992 Benson and Hedges World Cup. There it assumed threatening proportions because the pitches in Australia were hard, bouncy and quick and the ones in New Zealand were softer but afforded a decent amount of swing and spinners and slow medium pacers could also leave their mark over there. It made for some attractive viewing for people who believe that cricket is all about the fight between bat and ball and not about batsmen belting bowlers out of the park as and when the mood struck them.
The problem with pitches nowadays is that they are slower than before and also offer less carry for bowlers unless someone is around 150 kmph. There is absolutely very little swing on offer as well. However, there are not many bowlers like that anymore. Since these pitches, with a few exceptions here and there, most of the pitches are like flat tabletops with no help for the bowlers. Since both the balls are relatively hard but without the shine, which would help them swing, it becomes very easy for the batsmen to go about their strokes. The ball is hard, which makes them come on to the bat at a fair pace for shot-making.
It has become hard for spinners
What these rules have done is they have taken bowlers such as spinners out of the game. It is very hard for spinners to bowl on tabletops, where the ball would not spin, without the cover of additional fielders outside the inner circle. Similarly, the factor that reverse swing has gone completely out of the equation since one cannot expect a 25 over ball to get sufficiently worn and torn for reverse swing. This is the reason more runs are nowadays being scored in the backend of an innings than upfront and the number of wickets falling in the slog overs is far less than before. Previously we were treated to the spectacle of a Waqar Younis tearing through a batting line up in the fag end of an inning but nowadays such spectacles have become rare. Most of the times, it is the batsmen who are making some mistake or the other rather than bowlers taking the wickets with an astounding piece of cricket.
It is hard to say if the ICC bigwigs intended the rules to be in favour of batsmen or not but it has definitely seen only the batsmen progress. There have been class bowlers like Dale Steyn and others who have made their mark but the lesser mortals have been taken out of equation. In his justification of the rules ICC chief executive Dave Richardson had said that the rules were designed so that there could be more boundaries and over-boundaries, as the common cricket watcher would have it. If this is how the ones responsible for running the game think then one can jolly well imagine the direction in which the game will be heading in the future.