“Dean Jones doing a great job there with helmet for the ground staff and they did a terrific job, it was due to their effort the play was able to get under way as quickly as it did at 3:30…in all a 110 minutes lost…”
These were the precise words from the voice of cricket, Richie Benaud, after the third afternoon in a test between Australia and West Indies at the Gabba in 1992 was interrupted by a brutal hailstorm. The play was resumed even after nature’s Salvo. However, had this happened half a century ago, when there was partial covering of wickets or a century ago when even partial covering was against the spirit of the sport, the teams would have been forced to play on Sticky dogs, as the rain drenched wicket is known, or another game of cricket would have been lost.
When a green pitch turned white
As mankind evolved with nature and invented various kinds of sport, Mother Nature embraced cricket to evolve with her. Though there are sports which depend wholly on nature, there is seldom a sport which has evolved with it.
Before the rule to completely dress the naked pitch was introduced, when the uncertainty prevailing over the sport was even more uncertain, covering of pitches remained an uncovered topic. A small look at the path traveled to arrive at the complete covering of pitches:
1788 – 1884: The traces of concern regarding protection of pitches goes way back to the late eighteenth century when it was considered that covering of the pitch can be done during the match after mutual consent between captains. Though covers were used frequently only after 1872.
1884-1907: The next step was pre-match covering of wickets, which said that the wicket can be covered before the start of play and was left to nature’s hands once the game was started.
1907-1910: In 1907, the rule was designed such that the pitch should not be covered for a period of 24 hours before the start of play. And no covering after the start of play.
1910-Late 1930’s: Covering both ends of the pitch before playing hours was introduced. That rule was further tinkered such that the pitch can be covered from 11 am the previous day before the start of play and after the game was started for an area of 18 ft. by 12 ft and should not exceed more than 3 ft. 6 in. in front of the popping crease on either side.
Late 1930s: Covering of ends for 18 ft by 12 ft was changed to unrestricted covering of ends and the 3 ft. 6 in. in front of the popping crease was increased to 4 feet.
1947-1958: The rule read that covering the pitch completely was considered the last option. No restriction to cover the area behind the stumps on either side, but the restriction in front of popping crease stayed as it was
1958-1979: It was left to the stipulation of umpires and captains to decide if total covering was required and was done as per their decision. But if the day was abandoned, complete covering of pitch was carried on. The dark clouds over full covering of pitch remained.
1979: Finally, in 1979, the rules to totally cover the pitch were formed and they read as below.
Covering The Pitch
Not before answering some mandatory but’s and what if’s, the rule was shaped from early 1900’s by the Imperial Cricket Conference before getting finalized in 1979 by the International Cricket Conference. Amidst all of this, there were the aficionados who found the rule sacrilege, there were administrators who wanted to have a better gate receipt fares, there were confused curators who were stuck between the two, and the fans who were raring to see an engaging game of cricket any day. Introspection from each side had only increased the possibility of playing the sport, but, as Wisden quotes,
“That total covering enables play to be resumed more quickly after rain and so provides more play is certain, though whether quantity can compensate for some loss of quality is not so certain.”
The time of sticky dogs saw more options to exploit the pitch for bowlers and batsmen were forced to be even more creative with an impeccable execution of skills to survive. There was no toss will play a crucial role thought, batting order was reversed, there were more two-day tests, not many talks on green tops and rank turners , cricket was simply played.
It was said that covering of pitch made the game easier for batsmen, but these steps were necessary to make the game safer. The covering of pitch was convenient when rain affected a five-day game, but what if the game had to be finished in a day? This question saw mathematicians with result-oriented methodology entering into the rule book as Rain Rules were formed.
In case if there was any smell of rain, captains, on winning the toss, chose to bat first when Most Productive Over (MPO) was adopted and chase during the days of its predecessor Average Run Rate method (ARR) method. Both didn’t find equilibrium between bat and ball. Not to forget the 1992 World cup, where, after deploying the MPO rule for seven rain affected matches, using it in the eight, which happened to be the second semi-final, saw everyone in a quagmire.
Most Productive Over (MPO) Method: If team batting first scores 250 runs in 50 overs and then rain interrupts. The match is reduced to 40 overs for the team batting second. Now the target would be derived from runs scored from most productive 40 overs in the first innings.Let us say the least run scored 10 overs were 2,2,2,2,0,3,3,1,1,0.Now adding these will give 16.
So the target in this case 235.
Average Run Rate (ARR) Method: Team batting 1st had scored 300 and the rain has interrupted. Now the game is reduced to 40 overs. The target for the team batting second would be 241. ) Reason: 6 r.p.o for 50 overs gets the team to 300.So for 40 overs, 40*6= 240, which gives the target as 241.)
The Duckworth—Lewis Breakthrough
And then, Frank Duckworth & Tony Lewis came up with a formula to arrive at a better result with runs, wickets, and overs. It entered the game in 1997, though it too had its fair share of controversies and complications, the cricketing world was not too hard towards Duckworth Lewis method because of its logic to consider the wickets along with runs and overs.
The Duckworth Lewis (DL) method was evolved into DLS method with Steven Stern, a statistics professor, reframing it further, which was the rain rule in 2015 World cup. VJD method, the brain child of V. Jayadevan and a close competing methodology to DLS method is often brought up whenever a game affected by DLS causes frustration in either dressing room.
“No mathematical system to reset targets in interrupted limited-overs matches will ever be 100% perfect.”
says Steven Stern. And this has often led to situations where losing teams complain about such formulas. No team has possibly experienced it better than South Africa. A failed methodology at one instance when they were left to score 22 from 1 ball, a failure to completely understand the methodology at the other when their team management misinterpreted par score as the score needed to win, it was somewhere between these two the third time in the 2015 World cup semifinals. DLS revised target for New Zealand was 298 from 43 overs and they finished with 299 with one ball to spare. Had the game adopted VJD methodology, New Zealand would have required one more run (target: 300) to win with one more ball to be bowled and things would not have been the same.
Will the evolution of these rules with respect to nature stop here? It would be naïve to think so. Especially with sporadic instances of experts wanting a separate formula for the ever-changing dynamic of the T20 format.
As the Beauty Unfolds
At the end of the day, cricket is a sport that ought to be played and there would always be complications relating to the role that nature continues to play. While some instances shall bring us joy, a few others would leave us craving for a result that never came. And therein lies the true beauty of the gentleman’s game.