Sun | Apr 21, 2019

Editorial | Cameron must pursue change to overs-rule penalty

Published:Wednesday | February 6, 2019 | 9:22 AM

Dave Cameron is right about the perversity it would represent, should the current England-West Indies cricket series be remembered for Jason Holder’s suspension for the final Test, rather than the reinvigorated play of the regional team.

But there is also historical irony in the development that should cause Mr Cameron, the president of Cricket West Indies (CWI), the regional game’s governing body, to move beyond musing about whether a rule change is necessary and rigorously pursue one at the International Cricket Council (ICC).

There was a time, up to a quarter of a century ago, when the West Indies were the global superpower of cricket. For two decades, the region’s team of supremely talented players, with names like Richards, Lloyd, Greenidge, Roberts, Holding and Garner flattened all comers. By the mid-1990s, the dominance was gone. But for occasional glimpses of the past glory, for the past two decades, the West Indies have been in the doldrums, exemplified by our humiliation late last year by the international game’s minnows, Bangladesh, on their home turf.

West Indies are near the bottom of the rankings of cricket’s Test-playing countries, the game’s elite. England are near the top.

Not surprisingly, therefore, when Joe Root’s England team landed in the Caribbean last month, it was the expectation, at least among the pundits, that they would win, if not make light work of Jason Holder’s men. The West Indies might occasionally flatter, maybe for a session or two, in a Test, which has been the case so often for the past two decades, only to deceive. But this time, they surprised.

In the first Test in Barbados, the West Indies won the match by 381 runs within four days, outplaying England in all departments, with displays of concentrated grit and effort not associated with the team in recent years. And Jason Holder was inspirational as captain and all-rounder. In England’s first innings, when they were bundled out for 77, Holder took two wickets for 15 runs. In the second innings, with his team faltering at 120 for six, Holder scored a majestic, unbeaten 202.

In the second Test in Antigua, England were dismissed for 187 and 132. Early on the third day, the match ended. Over both innings, England faced 103 overs and one ball. Under the rules of Test match cricket, 90 overs are to be bowled in a day, or an average of 15 overs an hour. By that token, the early England defeat meant that a potential 280 overs, or so, were ‘wasted’. Depending on from whose perspective things are viewed.

IRONY OF THE HOLDER AFFAIR

However, no one, not even English fans, would complain of having been deprived of fine, entertaining cricket, especially in Antigua. Their batsmen were gritty and the fast bowlers ruthlessly clinical in good conditions. They tugged at memories of old, including the complaint that they failed to complete their quota of overs during the game, falling two short.

This was deemed a minor offence, but given that it was his second within a 12-month period, Holder has been suspended for one match and fined 40 per cent of his match fee. The other players will have to forfeit 20 per cent of their match fees.

The irony of the Holder affair is that the 90-over-a-day minimum in Test matches was first mooted in the 1980s as one way of blunting the West Indies’ then furious, four-pronged pace attack, echoes of which have been seen this series. The limit of two short-pitched balls per over was also part of that halt-the-Windies agenda.

There is a place for penalising deliberately slow over rates in Test matches, but its application has to be tailored to the specific circumstance and certainly not as penalty against a team that wins with nearly 40 per cent of the allowable playing time to go, as happened in Antigua and was often the case with the West Indies of the 1970s and ‘80s.

Mr Cameron is right that the rule “ought to be modified”. He is in a position to do more than talk about the need for change.