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By Gulu Ezekiel
Cricket’s eternal tussle between bat and ball is extended these days into the commentary box which in the modern era is packed with ex-players. And Indian batting legend Sunil Gavaskar has always kept the flag flying in the batsman’s corner.
True to form, Gavaskar last week slammed the ICC for scrapping the use of a runner by an injured batsman and to balance this off, called for a ban on bowlers taking drinks at the boundary edge between overs or even fielders being substituted.
It was interesting to read a contemporary opening batsman’s views on this issue. Aakash Chopra let the cat out of the bag—he revealed batsmen often fake an injury in order to use a runner and so have only themselves to blame now.
Gavaskar is spot on though that bowlers can replenish themselves at the boundary’s edge after every over with energy drinks while the two batsmen at the crease have to wait for the hourly drinks break. It is for this reason that batsmen tend to be susceptible to cramps.
It has always been the rival captain’s prerogative to allow a batsman request for a runner or turn it down and there is little reason for the ICC to change this tradition.
In the 1983 World Cup final at Lord’s, Kapil Dev declined his West Indies counterpart Clive Lloyd’s request for a runner when he aggravated a hamstring injury shortly after coming into bat as it was common knowledge that Lloyd came into the match carrying the injury.
On the other hand, captain Sachin Tendulkar allowed Pakistan opener Saeed Anwar the use of the speedy Shahid Afridi as his runner in the 1997 Independence Cup match at Chennai when Anwar suffered a bout of cramps and dehydration after reaching 75. Anwar went onto score 194, an ODI world record till Tendulkar himself broke it last year.
Now while cricket has historically been a batsman’s game, the ICC is attempting to redress the balance which has veered away from bowlers in modern times and also tweaked the run out law to make it tougher for batsmen. However, while Gavaskar has always been vocal in his support of batsmen, it is surprising that not even Ian Bishop, a bowler and part of the commentary team in the West Indies, pointed out an injustice suffered by India’s opening bowler Praveen Kumar in the first Test match at Kingston, Jamaica last month.
Praveen on his Test debut was taken out of the bowling attack after sending down 18 overs in the first innings and claiming three wickets. He took another three in the second. His crime? Running on to the ‘danger area’ or playing surface of the pitch during his follow through. In cricket, to use a baseball term, three strikes and you are out and Praveen was removed by the umpires after he had received three official warnings for this infringement.
Now the question arises: if a bowler can be taken out of the attack for this ‘crime’, then why not send a batsman back to the pavilion if he commits the same act?
In fact, bowlers are not always in control of their follow through while for batsmen it is simple enough to run away from the playing strip.
One noticed leg spinner Amit Mishra run straight down the pitch while taking a single in India’s second innings of that same Jamaica Test. And while West Indies’ captain Darren Sammy immediately brought this to the notice of the umpires, there was little they could do under the laws except tick off Mishra. Mishra knew of course that by scuffing up the track with his spikes, he was making it more difficult for the rival team when their turn came to bat.
So in all fairness, it’s time for the ICC to address this anomaly as well.
--The writer is a freelance sports journalist and author.