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By Sunil Gavaskar
Last year the ICC technical committee in its deliberations decided that runners would not be allowed for batsmen. That decision was no doubt prompted to a great extent by batsmen, who were tiring, but did not wish to retire and thus lose out on momentum, asking for runners so that they could simply bat and let some other person with fresh and perhaps younger legs do the running for them. There had been the instance earlier when Andrew Strauss, the England skipper, who had refused a runner for his counterpart the South African captain Graeme Smith, since the latter was cramping up and couldn’t run. His reasoning was that cramps was not an injury, but a fitness issue and so Smith did not deserve a runner.
There was a bit of huffing and puffing about that in the media of both countries and understandably the stance taken was different by different people. Strauss was correct as cramps should not be a reason for allowing a runner, but then Smith could well have pretended that it was a muscle injury and he would then be allowed a runner. That Smith was honest enough to admit that he was suffering cramps didn’t help his cause, but it showed how in modern day cricket it does not always pay to be honest and maybe that is the reason why players leave it to the umpires to make the call when an appeal is made for a dismissal, even though they may know they were out or not out.
The ICC's decision to ban runners did make a lot of people sit up because there was no simultaneous balance for bowlers going off the field with an 'injury'. Now lots of players in the game know that bowlers often take off just to rest up a bit or have a rub down or a refreshing shower, or even a dip in the ice bath and then come back to bowl relatively 'new'. In limited overs cricket many teams have used the strategy of finishing with some of their bowlers overs quota and then sending them off the field so that a quicker substitute fielder can come in for the last few overs and save crucial runs that can make the difference between winning and losing.
This is one of the anomalies of the laws of the game and while some will argue that since most cricket laws are made to suit the batsmen, there should be at least some that favour the bowlers. There will always be people who will try and take advantage of the laws and bend them as much as possible and cricket captains are no different. That is the reason why we have seen in the ICC Twenty Twenty some bowlers, who have finished their quota of overs and then gone back to the dug-out, and a younger, more agile fielder come in to substitute for him, and save a few runs. This is something that the ICC needs to take a close look at. The umpires on the field are busy trying to control the game and in any case they are not doctors, so if a bowler says that he has got a pulled muscle or something, they are not going to stop the player from going off to have his injury attended to. This is where the rule banning runners for batsmen looks unfair for they could be having a genuine injury for which they don’t get subs, but bowlers get one even if they are just going for a change of a wet sweaty shirt.
The playing conditions are decided by the ICC technical committee and then usually endorsed by the executive board before they are introduced in world cricket. Most times some new conditions are tried out in the domestic competitions of member countries, and once a report on the viability of it is verified then they are brought into international cricket. The laws of the game though are still the property of the Marylebone Cricket Club [MCC] and they decide on a lot of controversial topics rather than ICC, the governing body of the game which is baffling to many a cricket lover. The business about the switch hit, the issue of the hyperextension of the arm while bowling have been ruled upon not by the ICC, but by MCC. The ICC does not meet with universal approval for its lack of ability to lay down the law that doesn’t help either. Then it lets the MCC take a lot of calls on the correctness or otherwise of the contentious switch hits and hyperextensions. No wonder it is often referred to as a toothless body.
Added to this is the fact that the MCC has a world cricket committee whose discussions get a load of publicity despite the committee having no real authority to deal with issues of world cricket. It is like the Cricket Club of India or Madras Cricket Club, or the National Cricket Club, forming its own technical committee despite the BCCI having its technical committee and wanting to impose its decisions on Indian cricket. It would simply not be accepted would it?
The ICC has just had a change with David Richardson, the new CEO of the world body. He was earlier the general manager of cricket and drove many of the changes that have come into the game, many of which have been applauded and a few criticized. As he settles down to the job he will hopefully take the call on the absurdity of banning the runners for batsmen even while allowing a substitute for a bowler to go off for a few overs. That of course is just one of the many calls he will need to take to make the game a truly balanced one.