Cricket: England needed to take more risks

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The Independent Online
Wisden is specific about them, yet anyone who saw Sunday's last over from an England perspective will know that wides are far more emotive than the chapter and verse given by cricket's bible.

I hesitate to say black and white, because, like most sport that uses an on-field enforcement agency like umpires, interpretation is everything. For most it was the fourth ball of that final over, the one immediately after Nick Knight's towering six had brought England within five runs of victory, that caused the greatest ire, forcing even the placid to emit bellows of rage in front of their television screens.

It was not the only ball Knight, a left-hander had not been able to reach, fired as it was two feet wide of his off stump. And yet - perhaps expecting Heath Streak to fire it down the leg side - had the batsman not shuffled ever so slightly to leg.

In Law 25, the relevant part states that a ball is wide when "the bowler bowls the ball so high over, or so wide of the wicket that, in the opinion of the umpire, it passes out of reach of the striker". It is not a wide if "the striker, by moving from his guard position, causes the ball to pass out of his reach, or the striker moves and thus brings the ball within his reach". As it was, England perhaps should have risked running byes to the keeper as balls fired either side of the stumps are never easy to collect cleanly.

It was a tactic Streak had been using for at least four overs to slow England's run-rate and one he admitted he was lucky to get away with. He would never have been able to do it without penalty in one-day cricket, which is far stricter on balls passing down the leg side.

One-day laws - but not those describing short-pitched balls rising over shoulder height as wides - are to be introduced to first-class matches in England, when as of next year, all wides will cost the bowler two runs, instead of the current penalty of one.

Although there is nothing wrong with upping the penalty - wides are in any case a far greater breach of control than a no-ball which is also worth two runs - the change is likely to remove the dimension of unpredictability which made last week's Test match such a thrilling spectacle. Over short chases, like the one England had on Sunday (37 overs), only the batting team has a realistic chance of winning. Had the game been subject to one- day restrictions, Zimbabwe would have been virtually powerless to stop England cruising to victory.

As it is, they can now regroup and hope to beat England here, which more or less justifies their spoiling tactics, although not their excessiveness. That should have been moderated by the umpires.

In similar circumstances, England would and have done the same. In fact, it was during last winter's fourth Test against South Africa in Port Elizabeth that Dominic Cork was called for a wide that wasn't, a decision the umpire, Cyril Mitchley, took after Cork had persistently fired the ball wide of the batsmen's leg-stump to prevent them scoring.

England have every right to be disappointed about last Sunday's outcome. But they cannot cry foul.