Shouldn't a bowler's ability to bowl dot balls be more rewarded?

50 years ago, a bowler’s effectiveness and opulence were measured by the number of wickets he took. The strike rate was the criteria that separated the bests from the goods. 20 years later with the advent of One Day Internationals, a bowler’s ability to bowl economically was given a slightly higher priority. Hence, a bowler’s average was looked into as a factor to decide how valuable he is to the team. Decades have flown. Batsmen have come and gone. Bowlers being the bullies have become the ones bullied. The mantra of batting has changed. Batting has evolved into a novel state, which no one would have fathomed a couple of decades ago. Batting has become ridiculously easy while bowlers have been relegated to the level of war prisoners who are at the mercy of the batsmen.

When batsmen find Narine a tough proposition, they look to play him safely while going after the bowler at the other end. In the process the relatively weaker bowler manages to pick up wickets while the one who actually deserves the credit go unnoticed.

Survival has become the only expectation for bowlers. We hardly see many bowlers looking to bowl fast. Most of them are content with bowling lines and length that the batsmen would be courteous enough to avoid whacking. Spinners no more flight the ball. Yet, we do find bowlers who make batsmen shudder at the sight of them approaching the bowling crease. Dale Steyn, Lasith Malinga and Sunil Narine are a few of the bowlers who have the prerogative of batsmen’s respect. Yet, do we see them top the table of highest wicket takers in tournaments?

The best example would be the recently concluded WT20 2014. Sunil Narine, Rangana Herath, Lasith Malinga, Nuwan Kulasekara and Sachitra Senanayake all bowled overs that on the average went below 7 an over. Kulasekara, Herath and Narine bowled 6 maiden overs among them.

The leading wicket takers in the tournament were mostly players who came from oblivion and the rest were bowlers whom the batsman would not consider a threat. Samuel Badree and Imran Tahir were never spoken much of before their swashbuckling performances in the WT20. Ravi Ashwin, though a canny bowler, has never been someone who could trouble the batsmen as much as Narine or Malinga. Perhaps Amit Mishra was the only one in the list who could extort wickets from the batsmen.

The reason why Samuel Badree and Imran Tahir were successful was because batsmen never knew their strengths. Perhaps after their performance in the WT20, batsman would look to play them safely, which would hamper their wicket taking ability in the future. Most of Ashwin’s wickets came when batsmen tried to attack him. When asked to name the best bowlers of the tournament, you wouldn’t hear Lasith Malinga, Narine, Kulasekara or Sachithra Senanayake get a mention. Many would not know that there exists another list which played indelible part in the success of teams in the WT20. Sunil Narine bowled giving away only 4.6 runs per over. Herath and Sachithra Senanayake went only for 4.6 and 4.88 runs per over. Malinga and Kulasekara went below 7 runs an over. Yet their wicket column is relatively inaudible.

Batsman were more than happy to avoid giving wickets to Narine and Malinga. What it does is, it forces batsman to look for scoring options against other bowlers. Hence, more often than not, you find bowlers bowling in tandem with these two reaping the results of the hard work done by these two exponents. Wicket takers who benefit from the control these two exercise become stars while Narine and Malinga become unsung heroes. In an era bowlers who can threaten batsmen have become a rarity, isn’t it paramount to reward these rare species with much more than just dot balls?

When batsmen find Narine a tough proposition, they look to play him safely while going after the bowler at the other end. In the process the relatively weaker bowler manages to pick up wickets while the one who actually deserves the credit go unnoticed. Instead what if the bowler is rewarded with wickets for bowling dot balls? If a bowler manages to bowl three dot balls on the trot, isn’t that a feat that should be credited with a wicket? Though this may have no relevancy in Test or ODI cricket, it definitely has a case in T20Is.

Bowlers who can bamboozle the batsmen with the swing or spin they engender will definitely be more rewarded and profited if it becomes a rule. Moreover, batsmen will be forced to find new alternatives in contending bowlers like Malinga and Narine. On the other hand these bowlers will have opportunities to pick up wickets since batsmen are forced to score against them. In addition batsmen will have to be technically well endowed in order to counter bowlers who spin, swing and seam the ball. Batting would require more than just slogging. Batsmen’s ability to use their feet and wrists would be tested.

From a different perspective, just imagine a batsman like Kholi or Maxwell. When they start to dominate the bowling, chances for bowlers to keep these players off strike is lean. Even keeping tail enders on strike when a proper batsman is at the other end is an uphill task. But when Narine or Malinga both of whom can easily dominate the batting bowl, keeping them at bay is an easy task for batsman since the margin of error for batsman is way higher than that for bowlers.

It is a truism that batting has become super easy. So shouldn’t bowlers be given some respite while the batsmen who enjoy the luxury of good batting tracks, small grounds and heavy bats be given some menace? If three successive dots seem too much, it can be raised to 4 or even 5. At least batsmen who play out maiden overs should be penalized with their wicket.

As Martin Crowe put it, T20 is the laboratory of Cricket. T20 is all about entertainment, but why is that only bowlers should be victimized in the process of revving up the entertainment cricket dishes out? Isn’t a middle stump yorker that pegs the middle stump back as entertaining as a six over mid-wicket? Doesn’t a direct hit from backward point at the non strikers end require as much skill as a scoop shot over the keeper’s head for a boundary? So, why should only batsmen entertain and bowlers be scapegoats? The major rule tweak for entertainment with the advent of T20 has been the free hit. When a bowler already had to endure the penalty of having to re-bowl, together with relinquishing an extra run, in the case of bowling a no-ball, the rule tweak made sure the batsman can not get out in the ball that succeeds the no-ball, rubbing salt on wound for the bowler. This allowed batsman to look for a boundary since his stay at the crease is guaranteed, adding to the entertainment.

It’s high time that batsmen endure some pain in entertaining the crowd. Just imagine the context when the batsman has played out two dot balls. The situation would be as same as a situation that demands one run off the final ball for a win. The field may be brought in, asking the batsman to manufacture a shot to pierce the gaps or to go over the top. There can be hit and misses. There can be miscues in the air that can be caught. Batsman might tend to run byes. Keepers may have to stand closer to stumps. The batting team may have to decide which batsman, the striker or non-striker, is valuable. Not only the striker, even the non-striker is susceptible to lose his wicket in the process of having to complete a hasty single to preserve one of his team’s wickets. Should the non-striker be a better batsman than the striker, then the striker might be asked to hit big and the non-striker might refuse a risky single.

Envisage what it would have done to India in the WT20 final, 2014. Yuvraj Singh may have been out before he could play those stymieing 21 balls. Or else he would have been forced to conjure a run in the third ball after two dots to shield himself. Kholi may have got himself run out in the process of having to complete a run, adding to the drama. In a practical world, Kholi may have turned down a single leaving Yuvraj stranded mid-pitch, lamenting his fate. In a fantasy world, Yuvraj perceiving the reality would have coerced himself to whack the ball and would have ended up hitting a six, which could have been the epiphany that brought momentum into his innings. Whichever the outcome would have been, it would have definitely spiced up the proceedings.

Bowlers who can make batsman quiver with fear play an integral part in their respective teams but often are deprived of the limelight. Cricket is a cruel game where wicket takers are exalted while the silent servers continue to live in darkness. Of course the present -generation might hail them as good bowlers, but 20 years down the line, the next generation would look at their numbers and would wonder what was so sparkling about them. Bowler’s average and strike rate both of which are governed by the wickets they take do not go to show how effective a bowler is in the modern era. Though there is a factor called economy rate it gets mentioned sparingly when a bowler’s distinction is measured.

Best bowlers are measured by the number of wickets they have to their name. In T20s bowlers who are attacked by batsman enjoy the luxury of picking up wickets. To be more accurate batsman gift these bowlers with wickets. But in the case of the rare category bowlers like Sunil Narine and Malinga who are not gifted with wickets but extract wickets, they are made to look second to these opportunist bowlers. If this rule can be brought into effect, this would bestow bowlers of this caliber, prospects of picking up wickets. Batsmen’s survival mode against these bowlers would be made harder to access. Again, this is a contentious opinion, leaving a lot of ground for arguments and debates.

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