Change of pace

Deadlines just aren’t real to me until I’m staring one in the face. (Rick Riordan)

Sports Science degree question: There are two medium-pace bowlers with similar actions. Bowler A gets through an over in around three minutes; Bowler B gets through an over nearer to five. Discuss.

This conundrum regularly plays in my mind as I make the journey home after a game. First of all, let us explode the myths as offered by League cricketers in the bar after a game: There must have been six lost balls that cost us 10 minutes; wickets were tumbling throughout the innings (maximum respect for astute observation); come on umps, we had to rearrange the field with that right-left combo smashing it all over the park; we weren’t that slow; So what if our opening bowler has a long run-up, why should he shorten it?

I take a no-nonsense approach to slow over rates – there is no need for it at any level of cricket. I don’t understand why the ICC does not come down harder on violation of its its expected 15 overs per hour in Tests and 50 overs in three hours for an ODI innings. Yes, things do happen in cricket that stop the natural flow – injuries, lost balls and a camel walking across the square (more on that another time). But there appears to be some kind of expected norm among some clubs that starting tea at 4.15pm when the first delivery started spot on at 1pm is perfectly acceptable (note, that even the most recalcitrant of captains accepts that a 4.20 tea is taking the proverbial).

It is nearly 2pm and the bowler is starting the 13th over, at the end of which I remind the captain that the rate needs to speed up. Don’t worry umps, we’ve got two spinners coming on. If I had a pound for every time that excuse was used, I’d be sitting on a beach in the Caribbean flicking cards into a top hat. The two long-spell spinners certainly had shorter run-ups but in their attempt to find a perfect spot for nine colleagues to stand they may as well have started in the next village.

Of course, all of this nonsense should be sorted out before the players take the field, but with music blaring out a wall of noise as they get changed, there is no chance of discussing the minutiae of who goes where with a right-left batting combo, or indeed what field the opening speed merchant will bowl to.

This organisational felony is compounded by league cricketers who think of themselves as senior players gatecrashing the discussion between skipper and bowler. The result is an over of finger spin that should take three minutes actually taking another 10 per cent of the bowling time because every two balls mid-off should be closer/further out/a tad squarer/actually let’s try a silly mid-off/you know what, let’s go for a second slip. The wicket-keeper is regularly involved in this kind of nonsense with a Masonic-like signalling to the mid-wicket fielder to move back a couple of feet (occasionally, the signal is replaced with Joe, give yourself five just as the bowler is starting his run-up, an expression that makes me want to leave the proceedings and join Mrs Umps at Ikea.).

Then you have a collective can’t-be-ars*d team mentality where at the end of the over, instead of getting ready for the first ball of the next set of six, we have hands in pockets sauntering to their posts with a discussion concerning the work promotion prospects of the wicket-keeper.

Naturallement, Hide becomes Jekyll when the captain finally realises that the rate is now eight overs in 20 minutes. And in an amazing transformation, the fielding side are working like a well-oiled machine. But of course, league cricket protocols demand that the batting side, sniffing the opportunity of a penalty coming to the fielding side, start their own 1970s-style workplace go-slow.

Batting time-wasting is quite an art with a brazen approach to keeping the game static as the batters bring out the deckchairs and two Gin-Gin Mule cocktails when they meet for their end-of-over powow. And League cricket would surely be all the poorer if we got rid of the right of the batter to demand a Werther’s Original wrapper that is hovering around point to be trapped and destroyed. And we can’t let the ubiquitous batter time wasting tactic is it okay if we have a quick drink umps pass without a mention. No problem young man, but it ain’t coming off the fielding side’s allotted time.

Amid this doom and gloom resides the majority of Saturday cricketers not looking for an edge (other than the ones they should be looking for). And it is more than a shame that the few spoil it for the many. We can’t teach captains how to behave, but it is our job to guide them towards an outcome that keeps the game moving and enables us to enjoy a long-awaited cuppa as close to 4pm as is possible.

I speak for all my colleagues when I say we appreciate the efforts of captains and players who do the right thing and get on with their job. And to the players who spend an eternity to get the ball back from wicket-keeper to bowler, or the batters who bring out a Karcher draining pump for their gardening, I do concede that taking a long time over certain tasks in life can actually add to frisson of the assignment.

But not when I am desperate for a cuppa.