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Why should batsmen have all the fun?

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Bowling_machine_cricket_bowlersThere were two contrasting yet interesting matches in the last week of the group stage of this year’s IPL. The first – between Kings XI Punjab and Kolkata Knight Riders at Mohali – was a low-scoring affair that Punjab won thanks to a tremendous performance by their bowlers. The second – between Mumbai Indians and Kings XI Punjab at Mumbai – was an incredible run fest that Punjab won in the very last over of the match. 

While the scorecard might suggest that the match at Mumbai, which had a total aggregate of 453 runs and was decided only in the last over of the match, was more exciting, in reality the low-scoring match at Mohali had more fascinating elements. Chasing just 167 for victory, Kolkata fell short by 14 runs because the pitch had a bit of grip, which the Punjab bowlers deftly utilized to test Kolkata’s robust batting unit. Moreover, the long boundaries at Mohali didn’t make swatting sixes easy. In the end, what we got was a cracker of game where both batsmen and bowlers had their say throughout the forty overs.

This is exactly what makes for a much better IPL match than having short boundaries and ultra-flat pitches, which produce utterly insipid cricket.

While broadcasters might suggest otherwise, a cricket match simply cannot be fun if it becomes an incessant barrage of sixes and fours through and through. This held true for ODIs as well until the ICC saw some reason and finally decided to relent by getting rid of the batting Powerplay, and allowing five fielders outside the 30-yard circle in the last ten overs of an innings. While these changes may not yet revolutionize ODI cricket, they have certainly given bowlers a little breathing space. More importantly, they brought back a semblance of much-needed symmetry in the game.   

The IPL, with its 20-over format, needs to implement some changes as well if it wants to be a thriving global cricket tournament. In its desire for providing non-stop entertainment, small boundaries, flat pitches and insane rules loaded in favour of the batsmen, have taken precedence instead of having a balanced game. 

However, a look at some of IPL’s best matches will tell you that the most exciting ones have been where both batsman and bowlers had an equal say in the outcome of the match. So, what can be done to alter things and make them more even?

Bigger boundaries

Yes, it has been repeated countless times on different platforms but we have hardly seen any effects. The short boundaries at most IPL venues are simply ridiculous. Some grounds like Wankhede, Chinnawamy, Feroz Shah Kotla, and even Eden Gardens have had such short boundaries – ranging from 55 to 60 meters – that even outright mishits and top edges are sailing over for sixes.

Batsmen hardly even plan to pinch singles and twos and rely on brute force to win games single-handedly. Long-boundaries, on the other hand, ensure that batsmen have to work their way by running hard and requiring good timing and skills to clear boundaries. The Big Bash League, Australia’s domestic T20 tournament, is a fine example of this. Boundaries there are quite huge and matches much more evenly poised.

Bigger boundaries may not always mean low-scoring and exciting matches, but they surely provide some leeway for the bowlers on those flat wickets.

Balanced pitches 

How fun can it be to watch batsman after batsman just coming in, swinging madly and getting runs in bucketfuls? 

A pitch that tests batsmen while ensuring that it doesn’t get too sticky should be the norm in IPL matches. If you are planning to have cemented tracks where 450-plus scores will be a certainty then why have bowlers at all? Why not use bowling machines instead? 

An occasional flat pitch is fine but cricket history has been replete with countless instances of pitches with some spice producing some of the best matches. It is high time the IPL understood this.

More assistance to the bowlers

The leg-side wide rule, the free hits for all no balls, and the one bouncer per over rule in the IPL make it almost impossible for bowlers to thrive for long. Only the best of the best survive here. The rest go through the motions and try and make the most from the unceasing pounding they receive, which eventually leaves them severely bruised. 

To state the obvious, the IPL, or the T20 format itself, is grossly unfair towards the bowlers. Yes, the bowlers need to adapt and change with the times, but they need some assistance too. Today, you can feel the bowlers in the IPL wanting to tear their hair out in frustration. Free hits for all no balls is absolutely preposterous and really needs to be dispensed with. Some relief in the leg-side wide rule along with allowing two bouncers an over will definitely give bowlers an edge and also level the playing field a bit.

Another idea that can be attempted in the IPL is allowing two bowlers a maximum of five overs in an innings. That way, a bowler on fire will have six more balls to turn the game and batsmen can’t just ‘see him off’ easily. It would add extra spice and excitement in mundane contests.

End note

No matter how much we discuss and debate, the question remains: will the IPL organizers ‘dare’ to implement something that can make life difficult for batsmen?

One understands that the IPL has obvious commercial benefits from getting more sixes and fours as they are all sponsored. But after a while, it all gets all too mundane. Before long, people will start losing interest in these endless run fests. The sooner this is, understood the better. Both for the IPL and for its worn-out fans.

 

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