England’s rather dawdling over rate during the first innings of the opening test versus India at Rajkot a few days ago left one pondering. Akin to slow play in professional golf, slow over rates in cricket are a modern blight on the professional aspect of the sport. Golf has a system that should deter its players, penalty shots for offenders although they are rarely enforced, but cricket’s initial method of punishing slow play, financial recriminations, seem to be rather futile. Thirty years ago such methods may have proved a useful deterrent but now, with the game enjoying increasing levels of income from television, sponsors, investors and the like, fining a team’s captain seems to be rather pointless. Most of the top players, particularly those playing for the likes of England, Australia and India, receive handsome salaries courtesy of central contracts and additional income from personal sponsorship deals. Fines have all but become part and parcel of the experience. Even pecuniary consequences of a zealous onfield spat seem like chump change. Tis almost like the nouveau riche owner of a flash sports car dumping it on double yellow lines because it’s easier and more convenient to pay the fine rather than search around for a proper parking spot.
Multiple offenders, according to ICC rules, are to lose their captain for the following match if they are fined twice in a twelve month period. But is this system enough? Similar to the system in golf, players seemingly flout the rules regularly but often their misdemeanours go unpunished, thus rendering the ICC rules somewhat toothless. Petty offenders can almost operate under the radar, almost within a margin of tolerance. Again, a driving parallel can be drawn: skippers operating akin to the driver who wantonly and deliberately cruises along the motorway at 77 miles per hour under the apprehension that any lurking law enforcement officers will allow a 10% margin for error. Akin to the motorway metaphor, not every situation demands a punishment but surely better judgement can be applied to the now almost de rigueur occurrence of overs being lost through tardiness.
Ultimately the aim in cricket should be the same as golf regarding punishment: hit the players where it hurts them most. For cricket the most obvious parallel with golf would be penalty runs but, T20 matches aside, the impact would likely only be effective in the lowest scoring contests and the problem isn’t inherent in T20 cricket where penalty runs are quickly applied and captains are aware of the potential consequences. Rather, punish the players themselves. Not from a monetary point of view but from a playing point of view. True, there is a system in place and teams have lost their skipper for an ODI or two for multiple infractions but, in the grand scheme of things, such absences rarely matter in a form of the game which is rapidly forgotten. But how often is the system applied in test cricket, where overs are genuinely lost to the paying public and how stringent are the initial reprimands? Lose an influential player on a regular basis and attitudes might change. What if that player was not the captain but the best batsman or bowler? What if the punishment was allowing the opposition to choose which player missed out? How would England cope without Jimmy Anderson bowling on a seaming wicket or Joe Root on a batsman’s paradise? Or Australia without Steve Smith, India without Virat Kohli or Ravi Ashwin? Such ideas may sound iconoclastic but cricket needs to push the envelope if it is ever combat the paying public being deprived because day’s cricket fails to reach its conclusion in the allotted time. But maybe a monetary fine is much simpler and neater for a sport that is perhaps, at the highest levels, forming the same obsession with generating a quick buck as Football.