Monthly Archives: February 2012

The Delight Of Esoteric Cricket Rules

Another cricket match, another controversy over an obscure (and seemingly impenetrable) cricket rule. I’m not going to go into the jurisprudence of handling the ball; instead, I want to pause and allow every cricket blogger (and reader) to acknowledge how much fun these rules controversies have allowed us to have.

I suppose our tendency to revel in arcane laws speaks both to the weakness and attraction of cricket: on the one hand, the complexity of the rules really does turn off entire groups of people; there’s a reason soccer is the most popular sport in the world (i.e., its simplicity). On the other hand, by setting down layers of regulations, cricket forces its fans to pass through rounds of loyalty tests — Do you really like this game? Well, can you explain to me how Law 37 and related addendums affect Law X and Y?  While it may encourage pedantry, complexity also rewards a basic democratic impulse — this is a game of rules and laws, accessible to any fan willing to apply basic logic, knowledge of precedent and the give-and-take of interpretation.

Perhaps the greatest satisfaction from all these rules disputes is knowing that we are the inheritors of a set of traditions and laws handed down to us by centuries of experiments, failures and great athletes. The rulebook of cricket, however indecipherable, is a badge of honor — no doubt of dubious (that is, imperialist) origins, but one I’m happy to wear and mould for the next generation.


A Second Question For Cricket Rules Purists

Alas, my previous attempt to resolve the Mankading dispute failed to change anyone’s minds or bring about world peace. Here’s my second shot:

Let’s do a quick recap. Samir Chopra, a writer I very much respect, said on Twitter that he just doesn’t know what all the fuss is about; his prescription: “run out the bastards” (whether or not he was carrying a pitchfork is still being determined). I have argued that there is at least some room for the “spirit of the game” discourse; as proof of faith, I asked the rules purists if they would have bowled the infamous underarm last ball. Some — @HomerTweets, e.g. — said, yes, and he had no problems with Bodyline either. OK. Others pointed out — very reasonably — that this debate isn’t about rules v. spirit, but bowlers v. batsmen (a bout the latter group seems to keep winning).

So here’s my second question: would you appeal for a batsman’s wicket if he timed out? There was an incident like this recently between India and Australia (unfortunately, I can’t find the exact match report; does anyone else recall the details?). Some wickets fell unexpectedly, and either Tendulkar or Laxman was in the bathroom, which meant more than two minutes passed before anyone emerged from the pavilion. Now, Australia could have appealed for the wicket, but they didn’t. Why? As Kartikeya suggests, the question of empathy proved paramount — how would I feel if I couldn’t start my innings because of this kind of wicket? So imagine that on the way to the pitch, a batsman falls on a banana skin and temporarily incapacitates both himself and the next padded-up player. Would you stick to the rules if this team, scrambling to find a replacement, took more than the timed out rule allots?


A Question For Cricket Rules Purists

Some argue that the R. Ashwin ‘mankading’ incident was much ado about nothing. In case of a dispute, all umpires and players need to do is read the rules and properly enforce them. There should be no reference to any authority outside of the text; the only thing that matter is the words and what a reasonable person can infer about their meaning. [See, “Originalism” for more.] The worry is that the rules will, as Cricinfo put it, “lose out” to the ‘spirit of the game,’ a set of vague, amorphous principles that no one has ever defined.

Compelling. But this interpretive framework fails before one judicial test: “The Underarm Bowling Hypothetical.” Say you are the captain of a fielding side, and your opposition needs to score six off the last ball to tie. Do you, like Greg Chappell did in a similar situation, instruct your bowler to underarm bowl the ball? [Assume that this technique is permitted by the rules.]

If you say ‘yes,’ fine. You’re a dogmatist. (You’re also going to have deal with a large crowd of angry Kiwis, but that’s another matter.) If you at least admit some hesitation before answering, you see the power of the ‘spirit’ doctrine. So quit talking about the rules as if they’re the only factor to consider. There is something outside the text.


Virender Sehwag Is Starting To Annoy Me

Not just because of his bad form. Or because he refuses to adjust his game to a match situation. But because he’s been showing a lot of attitude lately. This is his latest:

It was withdrawn, Sehwag said, “because if we appealed and umpire gave him out, then somebody will criticise that, you know, that was not spirit of the game”. Sehwag was asked if it was not soft to let the batsman off even after the warning. “It’s soft, but that’s the way we are,” he said.

Sehwag is indirectly criticizing both Tendulkar (for talking him out of his appeal) and Dhoni (for letting Ian Bell off in the summer). He’s also being an ass about it — ultimately, as captain, he had the final decision. If he wanted to stand up to Tendulkar, he should have done so.

Just wanted to get that off my chest.

Would You Appeal For This Wicket?

#1: A batsman has easily reached his crease after a comfortable run. But he strolled in with his bat in the air. Do you appeal?





The Right Time For Tendulkar’s Retirement

Devanshu has an excellent post skewering those who think Tendulkar has the right to choose his point of retirement:

I foresee new rules for the selectors. Select the players. Then replace them only when a player chooses his time of departure.

It’s easy to look at Tendulkar or Ponting and think that these guys just don’t know when to quit the limelight. If I were an athlete, I would hate to contemplate the rest of my life — what, endless commentary with the same group of insufferable people? Coaching a bunch of IPL dimwits?

But at least with Tendulkar, it seems that as much as Tendulkar resists leaving, we can’t handle his departure either. Part of this reluctance stems from what social scientists call status quo bias; as much as we recognize the problems of reality — bad form, delaying youngsters, etc. — we don’t want to deal with the messiness of finding a replacement. But an even bigger problem comes from a particular lack of confidence. Tendulkar represents magic and the divine touch; dropping him not only risks the ire of the gods: it supposes an arrogance — a very modern one — that we now know the secret to creating fire.

It is, in other words, a mutiny. And that freaks people out — so much so that they’d be happy to let Tendulkar play on and on.

The Stages Of A Fast Bowler’s Life

I remember little from middle school, but I do recall a lesson on the Hindu conception of the stages of life. (Hint: you eventually reject life and wander the hills as an ascetic.) It seems fast bowlers go through an evolution as well, until they reach the final stage — a place currently occupied by the likes of Lasith Malinga and Zaheer Khan. It is here that bowlers learn (cue sonorous zen master voice) that to beat a batsman, you must first learn how to think like one.  And not only do you understand batsmen, you have the skill and control to execute the arcs of your plans.

Listen to the way commentators talk when Khan or Malinga run to the crease. They talk about each ball as if it’s part of a specific plan; it’s all evidence of a master plan — and watching it unfold over the course of a few overs is watching a master at his craft. He controls everything in his domain and the batsmen have little hope to do more than survive. I had this impression last night; Malinga bowled slower full balls; slower short balls; fast yorkers; slow yorkers; fast short balls — apart from a bad wide, I didn’t think the batsmen were going to make it. (They didn’t.)

I think these types of bowlers are much more respected than those like Dale Steyn. Don’t get me wrong; Steyn is a great bowler with a similar level of control. But he relies on sheer pace, and he hasn’t been through the trial and tribulation Malinga or Khan have. Steyn is all about innate talent; Malinga and Khan are about bowling within very strict limitations. Wasim Akram may have been the first true fast bowler guru who understood mortality and ascended to nirvana; he shortened his run-up, figured out how to hold a ball, and then knew exactly where it would land and what it would do. All those who follow are reincarnations.

The Mystery Of The Five-Ball Over

I see that some people are in a huff about a missing ball in the tied Sri Lanka-India ODI. Some people are mad because they wonder how such a simple error could have been made; I sympathize. But others are mad because they think if India had that extra ball (in the 30th over), they would have scored more (in the 49th over). I blogged about this pattern of thinking — I called it “missed chance” syndrome — wherein fans throw out what-ifs that make no sense:

I have a real problem when commentators wonder aloud how “expensive” a dropped catch may be, and do that that thing where they calculate the number of runs scored after the incident in question. This logic assumes a linear narrative — that is, batsman is dropped, batsman goes on to score runs, therefore, drop led to defeat. But it’s also entirely possible that different realities are created with each ball.

So: A batsman could have lost his wicket on that missing ball, or that something happened  — a close run, maybe — that changed the batsmen’s mindset. As Dhoni said:

“I don’t know [if a full over might have broken the tie] because you could have had a dot ball. It happens in cricket, so maybe it would have been a dot.”

For more on different realities, watch this excellent episode of Community: Remedial Chaos Theory.

Is Cricket Being Overrun By Science?

When political scientists compare governance in America and Europe, they often note the latter continent’s fondness for technocratic government. Bureaucrats, experts, social scientists, people with higher ed. degrees — they tend to have a lot more power in setting regulations in the Old Country than in America. Alexis de Tocqueville posited that this phenomenon had its roots chiefly in Americans’ fetish for equality; “expertise” was distrusted as a marker of aristocracy (and, in the modern context, is largely viewed as a means to pull ‘hoaxes’ on the general public; e.g., global warming conspiracy theories).

If you had asked me where cricket fell on this admittedly clumsy and simplified spectrum — American, or European — I would have said ‘American’ about 25 years ago. Now, though, you can point to a number of areas where experts have taken over: the Duckworth-Lewis system; the strange assumptions of Hawkeye and the DRS system,  whether or not every bowler ever has broken the rules about straightening arms during a delivery. The idea that experts may have run amok — to use conservative political lingo — came home to me when I read this line in Cricinfo‘s story on Saeed Ajmal’s controversial action:

The ICC is reluctant to discuss bowling actions in detail because officials fear the subject is too complicated to explain.

So it comes to this: a fundamental rule guiding cricket — how to bowl a ball — may be so difficult to adjudicate that only scientists ensconced in a university in Australia can have the final say. There are two ways to react: the first, like many conservatives, is to say all this “science,” however nobly intended, ultimately aims to concentrate power in the hands of the few, dictate choices that otherwise should be decided democratically, and obscures ambiguities and nuances in favor of propaganda. The second is to take the European approach: look, how to figure out what is “fair” when rain disrupts a match is really hard, so we might as well ask some freaking smart people to come up with a system and follow it.

This dilemma speaks to one of the more irksome elements of modernity: as life becomes more complicated and enmeshed, administrative and bureaucratic entities have to arise to allow everyday life to function. Cricket was a pre-modern game in many respects, but television (and the major financial resources at stake) have changed it, so much so that fans (and, more to the point, broadcasters) will not accept “match disrupted by rain” or an umpire’s error as the dictates of fate. At its heart, the conservative reaction is: why not accept that human knowledge is limited and lower your ambitions for a perfect society? The liberal counterpoint: Isn’t it clear we’re making more progress over the years? Isn’t it clear that the modern society can’t be run by the same rules that guided farmers and artisans in the 15th century? Don’t you prefer a 32-over game to nothing?

But even though I’m more of a liberal in real life, I like my cricket conservative. I don’t have any particular animosity to DRS, or Duckworth-Lewis, or even the 15-degree rule — I accept that the science behind them is generally rigorous (even if Hawkeye still freaks me out a little bit). But I worry these technocratic rules raise a barrier between fans and the game, and I yearn  for a simpler discourse that respects fate and fortune over human agency — if only because I think fans should understand the game they profess to love.

The Changing Definition Of The LBW

I get too excited when I see cricket mentioned in a mainstream magazine, so forgive me for quoting The Economist article on DRS again. Here, it explains how DRS has changed umpires’ views on the LBW:

Because umpires need to be confident that an LBW appeal fulfils all of [the] difficult criteria, they have historically been conservative when it comes to giving batsmen out. Batsmen, in turn, have long taken advantage of this tendency, particularly against the spinners. At their most blatant, they would simply plant their front foot a long way down the pitch, merrily kicking away delivery after delivery. Because the ball still had a long way to travel, they could rely on umpires’ uncertainty as to whether it was likely to have gone on to hit the stumps…Now that batsmen are forced to play with their bats, the contest has evened up, immeasurably enhancing the cricket.

I have talked before about how the rules of LBW should be open to the umpire’s interpretation (within reason). It is fine with me if some umpires are “not outs” and take a very conservative view of LBWs (i.e., a strict reading of the criteria), while others are more liberal (i.e., they want to punish batsmen for not using their bat) and can’t wait to send batsmen back to the pavilion. That’s part of the fun of the game.

The big danger of DRS, as I’ve noted before, is that it will standardize the adjudication of LBW and replace the umpire’s discretion with its own interpretation. Some people think it’s better that way because HawkEye is a machine and thus will deliver the One Truth, but others rightly note that HawkEye makes its own assumptions about bounce and swing and is as close to Truth as the rest of us. I belong to the latter camp.