Four men outside the circle – should the 2015 World Cup fielding restrictions be changed?

In this World Cup, the fielding team was allowed four men outside the thirty-yard circle. It’s different in Powerplays – it’s two outside in the first one and then three in the second – but let’s not worry about that. For the purposes of this article, we’re focusing on what happens in the other 35 overs.

Before 2012, you were allowed five men outside the circle and there seem to be two main schools of thought about the impact of the change.

  1. More boundaries! Hurray!
  2. Okay, this is getting a bit silly now.

The main issue seems to be that when the batting side start looking to hit boundaries in the final 10 overs, it’s now very hard to stop them. There’s usually at least one big gap for the batsman to aim for where he’ll probably be safe even if he mishits it. There’s also the fact that where the boundary fielders are placed tends to inform the batsman what sort of a delivery he might expect.

Put these two things together and you get a lot of runs.

Is this a bad thing?*

It’s easy to be a bit cricket hipstery about this, saying the best matches are those with low totals and whatnot, but runs aren’t intrinsically bad. What is bad is if the game becomes one-dimensional and all we see is some sort of boundary-hitting competition.

You look at some matches – often those featuring AB de Villiers – and it feels like that’s what we’re getting. But look at who did well in this tournament. The best teams didn’t thrive because of the runs they scored so much as because of the wickets they took.

Shifting the emphasis

We’ll not write about Mitchell Starc again, suffice to say that he’s been a revelation and with Josh Hazlewood and Mitchell Johnson in the side, he had incisive support. New Zealand too attacked with the ball and so too, weirdly, did India. South Africa reached the semi-finals after bowling Sri Lanka out for 133 and Pakistan might have done better had they had even a middling batting line-up to support their wicket-taking bowlers.

The sides that did badly were generally those with defensive approaches to bowling. Before the tournament, much of the talk was about how England would need to make 350 consistently to be in with a chance of competing. If this was intended as a message to the batsmen, it was the bowlers who listened. They seemed resigned to damage limitation from the outset and achieved nothing. West Indies too fielded a somewhat insipid attack and suffered.

The potential for free scoring at the death saw sides place greater emphasis on earlier overs and the aim was to get batsmen out. If you didn’t leave the opposition in an at-least-moderately-fragile position by the 40th over, you were going to be on the receiving end of a hundred hand slap.

Then and now

Is this so bad? Taken in isolation, the late innings near-free-hittery does seem unfair, but it also seems to have encouraged sides to attack with the ball and that, in our eyes, is no bad thing at all.

Think back a few years and the one-day game seemed to be spiralling downwards into some sort of Hades almost entirely populated by part-timers ‘keeping it fairly tight’. No-one went for wickets at any point. You balanced attack and defence at the start, bowled Suresh Raina for seven overs in the middle and then tried to keep things manageable with wide yorkers and slower ball bouncers at the death.

It was shit.

Compare the top-ranked bowlers on 31st March 2012 under the old rules with the top-ranked bowlers now.

Back then: Lonwabo Tsotsobe was the number one bowler and the top ten contained plenty of spinners – Saeed Ajmal, Mohammad Hafeez, Graeme Swann, R Ashwin, Dan Vettori and Shakib al Hasan.

Now: Mitchell Starc is number one and the spinners that remain are wicket-takers – Imran Tahir, Ajmal, Sunil Narine and Shakib.

Spinners?

There is a concern in that spinners do seem to have been marginalised at this World Cup, but two things to note are that Australia and New Zealand aren’t famously spin-friendly countries and, more importantly, several of the most effective spinners from over the last few years (Ajmal, Narine and Hafeez) weren’t here.

Vettori, Tahir and Ashwin also hinted that there is still a place for spinners under these fielding restrictions, provided you’re good enough, so overall we’d consider ‘four fielders out’ to have resulted in a net gain.

There is sometimes chaos at the end of an innings, but chaos isn’t bad. And set against that is how bowling sides approach things at the other end of the innings. Respectable fast-medium seamers deliver little of consequence, while fast bowlers who can properly bounce people and hit the stumps are proving invaluable. It isn’t perfect, but that seems an improvement to us.

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14 Appeals

  1. coming back to your Jeopardy concept that is the threat of losing all 10 wickets, I think 2 bowler should be allowed 12 overs

    that is atleast 5-6 bowlers must be used and no 2 can bowl 50% or more. other than that no restriction per bowler on Max overs that can be bowled are required

  2. I hate having to say this, but Ian Chappell wrote some really insightful stuff about ODI cricket and more besides in a February column:

    http://www.espncricinfo.com/magazine/content/story/835995.html

    I would normally seek to disagree with everything Chappelli says on principle, but actually I agree with most of his ideas in that article.

    Chappell should get someone more palatable than himself to propose the ideas. Giles Clarke perhaps. Or Narayanaswami Srinivasan.

  3. Well I for one am looking forward to the return of Test cricket. These coloured pyjamas and fielding restrictions, it’ll never catch on.

  4. That’s why I like Test cricket> You don’t even have to have a wicketkeeper and the 10 fielders can gathet into 5 groups on the boundary eating Pringles

  5. NZ and to some extent Australia adopted the approach that if you are going to have that extra man in the circle, you may as well go the whole hog and have him at slip. It seemed to do pretty well for them but most other teams seem to just put everyone right on the edge of the circle where they aren’t really stopping fours and seem to not stop many singles either.

  6. Did anyone hear Matthew Hayden on the radio last night? It was a bit strange, in that what he was saying made sense, and that he got his point across fairly well. He was suggesting that the T20 approach to all forms of cricket led to games becoming somewhat randomised, wherein the overwhelming factor in determining the outcome is a healthy dose of luck. He actually said that he didn’t think Australia were worthy champions, in the sense of how World Champions were seen in years gone by. To quote, “the Aussies had moments of good fortune at opportune times, and while they used the skills they have to the fullest extent, that in itself would not have been sufficient.”

    • this makes sense and yes it is very strange if true that Mathew spoke these words.

    • I didn’t hear that Hayden interview Bert, but surely there’s always been a huge element of luck involved in winning the World Cup. If Miandad had been given out or Botham hadn’t been in the ’92 final, England may well have been champions. If Gibbs had held on in ’99, South Africa might have been. Etc and so on.

    • I guess there’s a whole load of luck involved in Matty Hayden stringing together a few insightful sentences.

      They do say that an infinite number of monkeys with an infinite number of typewriters (presumably including an infinite number of foolscap pieces of paper) would eventually write the complete works of Shakespeare. Similarly with Haydos…

    • this made me google some Hayden articles & interviews and I am beginning to thing that it might be a good idea to bring him into the coaching set-up (of English team)

    • Matthew Hayden makes sense – Hahahahahahaha

      Matthew Hayden says something not completely in favour of Australia – Hahahahahahaha

      Matthew Hayden uses the English phrase “used the skills they have to the fullest extent” instead of the not English phrase “maximised the execution of their skillsets” – Hahahahahahaha x 3

      Oh, wait a minute. Maybe the joke’s on me. Maybe all these replies, while seemingly falling for it, in fact all saw through it immediately and were an attempt to fool me into believing you’d all been fooled. Damn you, post-modern irony – you have ruined everything I once loved.

  7. I have no doubt that the fielding restrictions were a significant contributor to the vast number of lopsided matches. Scoring 300+ in the second innings is simply a different task to doing it in the first innings, and making it easier to score 300 in the first just makes the likelihood of a one-sided match greater.

  8. I reckon a new ball every over, all nine fielders in the car parks round the ground, and tests reduced to one innings each of twenty overs.

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