Tabraiz Shamsi’s third over in the second One-Day International between South Africa and India was remarkable. Not because he did something extraordinary with the ball or Shikhar Dhawan – the man facing him – did something extraordinary with the bat. It was a maiden over, the only one a South African bowler would deliver on Sunday (February 4). That was not why it stood out though. As with batting, timing was everything. Shamsi’s was the 20th over of India’s innings, the first one after the lunch break that caused much furore.
Lunch had already been extended by 15 minutes, the maximum allowable time, when India were batting. At the end of that extension, India had motored to 117 for 1 in 19 overs, just two short of victory. But Law 11.4.4 of the ICC’s playing conditions for men’s cricket is very clear on the matter. It states:
“The umpires may decide to play 15 minutes (a minimum of four overs) extra time at the scheduled interval if requested by either captain if, in the umpires’ opinion, it would bring about a definite result in that session. If the umpires do not believe a result can be achieved no extra time shall be allowed. If it is decided to play such extra time, the whole period shall be played out even though the possibility of finishing the match may have disappeared before the full period has expired.”
The umpires in question – Aleem Dar and Adrian Holdstock – followed the law exactly as it stood. The furore came about because India were so close to a result. But when the laws are made, they are made for a broad-based view of the game, and cannot reasonably account for every situation.
As a player who was not part of the XIs for the game said, “The law is the law, and you have to follow it. Even if it doesn’t make sense sometimes.”
For instance, most watchers expressed outrage that ‘common sense’ didn’t rule the day, that it would have taken less than a minute to complete the game. But what if Shamsi’s over had been a maiden then too? Do you extend it further? How far along do you go? What if only six runs were required for victory? They could come off one ball, but they could equally take 15 minutes more, especially if a wicket falls in the interim.
In short, even if you go the ‘common sense’ route, there can be points at which it stops making sense.
There are other considerations too. As Fanie de Villiers, the former South Africa pacer, told Wisden India: “The reality is you don’t know what is happening behind the scenes. If the bylaw says that you get only four overs extra, then it’s the law. If common sense is not allowed in the ICC in the perceptions of umpires, then they’re probably getting bullied to make sure the rules are applied. And if that’s the case, then you’ve got to go with it.
“I firmly believe common sense is an important factor in any system, and you can only enforce common sense in a system if it’s allowed,” he added. “It might not be allowed. The system might be so strict that people are scared of losing their jobs, losing points, whatever it may be. I would like to find out what the umpires’ opinion was, when deciding that at the end. We don’t know what their opinion was.”
De Villiers said that if there had to be a change in the law, it had to be done via the official route. “The captains get together once a year and discuss different laws and regulations, which gets put through to the MCC in London and then they make a decision. So there is a process,” he said.
But the players and spectators were not the only stakeholders in the issue, as de Villiers pointed out. “Let’s have a look at the weights that force decisions down,” he said. “Firstly, you’ve got the cricket players who want to finish the game. Secondly, you’ve got the umpires who are sitting with the rules. Thirdly, you’ve got the public that want to see cricket. Fourthly, you’ve got the vendors, who want to make a few bob extra at lunch-time, because they pay money to be there. So which one carries the biggest weight? Unless you analyse the role played by different weights in a decision, you can’t change anything. There might be two-three others that we haven’t even mentioned now, who knows.
“So did we accommodate the vendors around lunch-time yesterday? Yes, we did. Did we accommodate the people in all the boxes who had to be served lunch? Yes, we did. So how negative was it? Just because one player wants to finish the game?
“That’s why you have management systems creating rules and regulations because they look at things in depth. What about television rights, and the people who pay for those logos on screen. How much more coverage did they get after lunch? Important factors to bear in mind.”
De Villiers acknowledged, “If I was a player, I would have felt the same that they felt (frustrated with the break), because I wouldn’t have calculated all these factors.”
But it’s clear that the issue isn’t as simple as ‘there were two runs left to get, let them play on.’
The thing that the ICC can, or must, look at is how this would play out if there is a rain threat. Luckily, the weather stayed sunny at SuperSport Park in Centurion and India duly went 2-0 up in the series, but if there had been the threat of rain around, the lunch would have tasted a lot more queasy for the Indians, since only 19 overs had been bowled before the break.
An extension to allow 20 overs to be completed as the first priority – above and beyond scheduled breaks – might not be a bad idea. If then Shamsi had bowled a maiden anyway, there can be no grouse for breaking for lunch for 45 minutes, and then coming out to finish the job on a full stomach.