Some two or three decades ago, India’s cricket team struggled to win Test series’ especially away from home. They finally worked out the reasons why they couldn’t get the better of teams when over the years they possessed the best spin bowlers in the world. And it was because on that precise basis the cause became apparent.
Before that they imported fast bowlers over the years with cricketing greats like Wes Hall and later on Dennis Lillee and a host of English fast-bowling coaches, spending lots of time to coach young Indians to bowl fast. Then they tackled the pitches because they were too slow and needed more bounce and pace to encourage young men to do the unforgiving job of bowling fast. Nothing succeeded!
Then the problem was solved! An Indian captain found that his team was bowling more overs than the opposition in a given time. That, of course, would mean that while the Indian team would bat for a day and score 200 runs, their opponents would score 300 in the same time.
The realisation struck home that the bowlers of teams such as the West Indies, England and Australia, with their fast bowlers running up from a distance of 20 and 25 yards were bowling 11 and 12 overs an hour. The Indian spinners in comparison were sending down 20-odd overs an hour! This, of course, meant that over the flow of a five-day Test match their batsmen were facing much less bowling than the teams they were up against.
This captain came up with the bright idea to slow down the rate of his slow bowlers to 12 overs an hour. This allowed the game to become a farce, with spectators having to suffer through delaying tactics of re-setting fields plus players being constantly moved from one end of the field to another and doing so by walking slowly.
Because this was happening in Test cricket it caught the attention of the authorities who quickly moved to adjust this absurdity for the simple explanation that angry spectators are not an incentive for the future of the game at this level!
The law was then passed to bowl a minimum of 15 overs per hour and it kept being modified, with punishments being added, then followed the inclusion of match referees and third umpires to uphold the law and punish the wrongdoers.
So, it was because of Indian spin bowlers and not West Indian fast bowlers that this rule entered the cricket game. (How they punished West Indies’ fast bowlers in the past is another matter!)
However, these laws are subject to interpretation when it comes to punishment. The perfectly sound reason for its introduction was to prevent a team from gaining an advantage by slowing down their over rate as well as to have more cricket for the spectator’s pleasure. If no advantage was gained or none seen as trying to be gained, then where’s the advantage?
Hence it is rather silly to punish a captain for a slow over rate by two overs when he gained no advantage whatsoever! When a batting side is under pressure and losing wickets rapidly and the incoming batsman is taking his full three minutes to take guard and one considers that England was bowled out twice in three days, that’s 20 wickets which means an hour of time taken up.
Are these possibilities taken into consideration? The batsmen themselves may exam the pitch more often (also known as gardening), talk to each other a bit longer, and there are many other ways that a game can be slowed down to one’s advantage.
Jason Holder, that honest, upstanding young captain of the West Indies who has suffered through his learning process so admirably, to punish him after winning his team’s game in three days is showing a lack of common sense as to the interpretation of the law and the main purpose for its introduction.
Before any series begins, the captains and the players ought to know the rules of the engagement; my opinion here is not to undermine anyone. The adjudicators are quite right to follow the laws as they see fit and they cannot be faulted.
Nevertheless, the law should be tempered with reason, common sense, and the knowledge that it was made for the game to run smoothly plus no unfair advantage to be gained by either side!
Therefore, although the match adjudicators shall remain blameless, for a team to finish off an opponent in such a definitive manner in three days of a five-day game and believing that he deserves the punishment of a suspension of a Test match, reveals the ignorance of authority over players.
There was not even a protest by England (for any losing team protesting under those circumstances would be laughed out of the game).
Historically, cricket has been a game where one follows the spirit of the game rather than the letter of the law.
It’s a game, not criminal or civil law!