Why Aren’t Substitutes Allowed in Cricket?

India has had tremendously bad luck in the First Test at Lord’s, losing  Zaheer Khan, Gautam Gambhir and Sachin Tendulkar to injury at various intervals. If the Indians had to bowl another hour, I’m sure poor overworked Praveen Kumar would have joined the list.

Cricket is a cruel sport, and cruelest perhaps in its substitute rule, which basically reads: No team can have ’em. If you feel sick, or need to go to the bathroom for a moment, someone from the pavilion can temporarily fill your place on the field. But if you have a more permanent problem, then either you rest and let your team play 1-down, or you allow yourself to play the greatest role reserved for a cricketer — the injured man, hobbling down the steps and to the crease, ready to face a bowler on one foot, one leg, with one arm, or one hand, or a broken jaw. Your call.

As a basic rule on substitutes, I believe cricket is an exception in its severity. For a while, the one-day games allowed a ‘super-sub,’ but that was discontinued (for reasons I can’t fully recall). It’s been suggested that the larger reason cricket doesn’t allow substitutes relates to its larger emphasis on the role of fate and chance in games. Who can say what the weather will be like tomorrow? Who can say how the pitch will behave? Who can say if, in the course of playing at a routine position, one of your men will be hit on the elbow? Such is life.

A more practical person would also say that a substitute in cricket would be very difficult to police. What would happen if cricketers started to feign injuries so that a needed player — an extra bowler, or an extra batsman — could take his place? Say you restricted it so that each team could use one substitute per Test match, and that substitute had to be named before the game began. Well, that still wouldn’t solve the problem because a batsman substitute wouldn’t fill Zaheer Khan’s shoes, and Zaheer Khan wouldn’t fill Tendulkar’s. (Very few people would, in fairness.) But I don’t know much about cricket rules as I should: why aren’t substitutes allowed? And if we could allow them, what would the rule be?

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3 thoughts on “Why Aren’t Substitutes Allowed in Cricket?

  1. Russ says:

    DB, I wrote a comment on Simon Briggs’ Telegraph piece on this just this morning. Cricket’s unique rotation of offence and defence makes substitutions more problematic than in other sports. The problem with the ill-fated super-sub was that it strongly favours a team batting second – an extra batsman is much more useful than an extra bowler. Hence the super-sub was more of a pinch-hitter than a substitute, and felt wrong.

    I might be in a minority of one here, but I can see some value in a substitute rule that allows any player to be substituted as the team sees fit, up to a maximum of 3. But where the substitution is restricted to occur only at the conclusion of the 2nd innings (when both sides must bat and bowl again). There are a number of potential advantages, not just injury related:

    – It would be better in the long-term for fast bowlers, who could be rotated/rested.
    – It would be better for spinners who would have a bigger role to play if they could be brought in to the game late.
    – Obviously the inbalance caused by injuries is partially solved (India would still be without Gambhir and for the bulk of the 1st innings, Zaheer Khan).
    – It might restore a tactical balance to an unbalanced game: teams could bolster their batting or bowling to push for a victory or draw.

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  3. Erez says:

    I’d venture all these issues are solvable. I find that there are sports that are more progressive (mainly those played in the US), and those that are less progressive, usually “English” sports. Football has only 3 substitutes (had 2 and a goalie for ages), and if all 3 are done, any injured player can’t be replaced. Compared to American Football where substitution are allowed always and for all players, creating four “specialised” teams, offensive, defensive, punt and field-goal.

    I think the best thing is to adopt a Baseball-like system. Baseball have free substitutions, with the stipulation that players that are substituted can’t go back to play. This, with the want to get players “settle in” (both bowlers and batsmen), would probably be more suitable for Cricket. The fielding team won’t want to take off their star batsman for a bowler if that batsman won’t be able to play when they are batting, and if you take off a bowler when batting, you’ll be down one bowler when you’ll be bowling. There’ll have to be some stipulation to prevent teams from filling their last innings with specialists, but as I mentioned, I’m sure all of those are solvable, given the will to accept that there should be a change.

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