x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Innovators like Kevin Pietersen should be encouraged

These are the shots that appeal the most among fans and viewers, for they entertain and shock.

Kevin Pietersen's use of the switch-hit proved controversial in Sri Lanka.
Kevin Pietersen's use of the switch-hit proved controversial in Sri Lanka.

How many people - from cricket's international stadiums to the frenzied world of taped-ball cricket - would dare to try a switch-hit, let alone play it with the brazenness and regularity of Kevin Pietersen?

Yet, there are laws in cricket's rule book to regulate that audacious shot, and they bar the batsman from changing his stance or grip before the bowler has entered his delivery stride.

If he does it, he will receive an informal and then a formal warning for "time wasting" and a repeat could see the fielding side awarded five penalty runs.

Amazingly, there were discussions about the legality of the stroke itself when Pietersen first used it in 2008, lofting New Zealand's Scott Styris into the stands. After some deliberation, the International Cricket Council came to the conclusion that switch-hitting is an "excellent innovation", but still thought of some restrictions.

Given the high risks involved in playing a shot like that, do we really need regulations for it? Whether Pietersen changes his grip or stance before or after the bowler enters his delivery stride, he would still look stupid if he fails to pull it off.

Mike Gatting still gets reminded about his reverse sweep in the final of the 1987 World Cup.

Misbah-ul-Haq must live with the regret of playing the scoop shot in the final of the 2007 World Twenty20 against India.

Yet, these are the shots that appeal the most among fans and viewers, for they entertain and shock. Way back in the 19th century, KS Ranjitsinhji's unorthodox leg-side play drew crowds wherever he played.

Ranjitsinhji, however, had faced a difficult time being accepted by his peers at the start and that has been cricket's problem right through. The game is reluctant when it comes to embracing innovations or change and has far too many laws.

Look at tennis and their laws have virtually remained unchanged throughout history. The courts have slowed down through the years, but the authorities have not reduced the size of the service box to counter the big servers.

In cricket, the authorities have decided how many bouncers can be bowled in an over and the degree to which a bowler can straighten his arms. And who is to measure that in a match situation?

In tennis, virtually every player understands that HawkEye may not always be right, but they have accepted it.

In cricket, technology is an anathema. Tennis has gracefully accepted the evolution of its racket from wood to steel to graphite and titanium, but cricket has outlawed every change to its wooden bat - from Dennis Lille's aluminium ComBat to Ricky Ponting's Big Kahuna, which had only a thin carbon graphite strip at the back.

The sport frowns on purely tactical or technical innovations as well. The Bodyline series and Clive Lloyd's employment of a four-pronged pace attack has led to a number of laws restricting bowlers. In 2002, Nasser Hussain, the England captain, was heavily criticised for using a perfectly legal "leg theory" attack to frustrate Sachin Tendulkar and more rule changes followed.

Elsewhere, there was no distinction between ball tampering and reverse swing; the doosra was considered a contravention of the laws; coloured clothing was "pyjama cricket" and was not used at a World Cup until 1992; and Twenty20 was described as a Frankenstein that would put Test cricket and cricketers out of business, and drive spin bowlers out of the game.

Such narrow mentality suggests cricket still remains a struggle between the Gentlemen and Players, like it used to be in those early days of the 1800s. That explains why it still has only 10 nations with full member status 136 years after the first Test between England and Australia.


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