The T20 format was first introduced in England around the turn of the century. Test cricket was quite strong and the 50-overs format was also doing well, though England was yet to win the ICC Trophy then.
The 40-overs Sunday League was on its way out and the authorities in England were looking to get a format that brought in new followers. The 20 overs-a-side was thus tried on an experimental basis. It was a quick game — all done and dusted in three hours. If memory serves me right, I remember there was a huge clock next to the scoreboard which moved backwards from 180 minutes to ensure that the game finished in three hours. I can’t recall what the fines or penalties were for teams not finishing their 20 overs in 80 minutes but I’m quite certain that there weren’t many teams who were penalised for a tawdry over-rate.
At the IPL this season many a captain has been penalised for his team failing to complete its quota of overs within the prescribed time. That, however, has not solved the problem for it is not certain if the captain pays from his own pocket or if the franchise pays on his behalf.
Whatever be the case, it has not been effective and we see that just about every match which should finish in 190 minutes, including the time taken for the strategic time out, is finishing around 220 to 240 minutes. Yes, there’s an allowance of two minutes given for every wicket that falls and there’s time taken for the DRS, which sometimes can stretch to about five minutes for every referral, and there’s the situation where the batter asks for a helmet when about to face a speedster and there’s injury time, of course, and so the game can sometimes stretch to nearly four hours. The cricket for most games has been electrifying and so nobody has actually felt that the match has stretched interminably, but there’s no doubt that something needs to be done to avoid the late finishes, especially for the evening games.
Only recently, a playing condition was brought in for the ICC events whereby if the 20th over didn’t start by a certain time then the fielding team had to bring in one more fielder inside the 30-metre circle. Not having the extra fielder on the boundary can make a huge difference because the batsmen are throwing their bats at every ball in the final few overs and one fielder less on the boundary can mean the difference between a wicket or more runs added to the score. This has proved quite effective and most teams at these events have finished their 19th over well before time.
In the IPL, the umpires need to be given more powers, especially to stop this nonsense of the reserve players running onto the field with drinks even when a batter asks for a helmet or change of gloves. Instead of just handing the requested items and taking the sweaty ones back, there is invariably the drink of water plus some instructions conveyed to the batter and that adds to the delay. If there is a line drawn beyond which the reserve players cannot cross once the game has started, then that will be a big help.
The other area which can help speed up the game is the strategic time out. The official period for the time out is 150 seconds but by the time the next ball is bowled it’s more like 240 seconds, so that’s an aspect which can be controlled if the umpires are in their position after 130 seconds and the players will then have to get back to the game. Yes, the summer weather can take a heavy toll and so hydrating is essential and the second timeout of the innings is probably more important as that’s where the innings can take off or flounder and so the strategic inputs from the coaching staff is crucial. Still, if the 20th over can restart even in the 180th minute it will help speed it up.
Talking of speed, it’s just been an absolute joy to watch so many young fast guns in the IPL with most clocking 145 kmph and over. With more exposure and experience they will only get better and some will even get quicker.
True, it is the shortest format where they bowl only four overs and often not at a stretch, but if guided well and if they stay injury free, then India’s fast bowling cupboard, which was mostly empty till a decade or so back, will be chock-full and the selection committee will have a headache as to whom to leave out.
India has, for long, been known to produce generic medicines and now on the cricket field it will have the bowlers who can dish out the same medicine to the opposition as the Indian batsmen usually get.
That is going to be a wonderful sight for an old opening batsman’s old eyes.