Rule changes for cricket circus walking media tightrope

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The Independent Online

You would have thought that beating the West Indies in two days would have detonated an explosion of joy in cricket circles. Not so: the Headingley triumph seems to have ignited nothing more euphoric than a fresh bout of breast-beating about bad pitches and lost revenues. These are, to be sure, serious matters. Having shelled out a fortune for the rights, Channel 4 had to trot out three days worth of retreads, while assorted sponsors, advertisers, spectators and even caterers were left licking their wounds. Last Saturday morning, the poor old chef at Headingley found himself with two tons of spare tomatoes.

You would have thought that beating the West Indies in two days would have detonated an explosion of joy in cricket circles. Not so: the Headingley triumph seems to have ignited nothing more euphoric than a fresh bout of breast-beating about bad pitches and lost revenues. These are, to be sure, serious matters. Having shelled out a fortune for the rights, Channel 4 had to trot out three days worth of retreads, while assorted sponsors, advertisers, spectators and even caterers were left licking their wounds. Last Saturday morning, the poor old chef at Headingley found himself with two tons of spare tomatoes.

So the glum reaction isn't simply fresh evidence that, in cricket, 30 years of hurt really has stopped us dreaming. Headingley reminded us that sport is open-ended, enticingly pregnant with unexpected outcomes. But in the modern media age this, it turns out, goes against the grain. The players are paid not to astonish us, but to put on a cricket circus that will satisfy the strictest scheduling needs. We had therefore better brace ourselves, in the future, for some severe doctoring of the laws. As it happens, I have in my hand a sneak preview of a secret England and Wales Cricket Board position paper, outlining ways to ensure that Test cricket runs its course. Naturally, its suggestions are aimed to boost the game's "attractiveness" to a vibrant new television audience.

1) Each batsman shall have two "lives" - rather as a tennis players has two serves. This will double the length of the game, and intensify the drama for the TV audience (especially the young and vibrant new viewer) by encouraging batsmen to play very boldly early on.

2) The stumps shall be set one centimetre closer together, to reduce the likelihood of sides being quite literally bowled out, which has caused problems in the past.

3) Each bowler shall be permitted a maximum of five wickets. This will reduce the risk of those dreadful days when a Curtly Ambrose or Saqlain Mushtaq takes seven wickets in an hour and cuts short the sponsor's big day out. It might also inspire a potentially controversial new tactic: the deliberate drop.

4) Each team shall include a specialist spinner, even if his name is Robert Croft.

5) The batsman may be given not out if, in the opinion of the fourth umpire (connected by earpiece to the stump microphone) he has been "sledged". This could generate much-needed controversy. A tabloid newspaper has expressed a willingness to sponsor the fourth umpire, provided he is a former international and they are given exclusive access to the stump-mike transcripts.

6) The lbw law shall be tightened, such that the ball must both pitch in line with and be hitting middle stump. The existing "red zone" shall be replaced by a much more compact "thin red line". All lbw decisions shall be referred to an expert panel, whose deliberations will be screened live.

7) Fielders shall adopt a different field position after each over. This will extend the advertising breaks (a clear imperative) and provide the controversial spectacle of butterfingered fast bowlers dropping catches and bruising fingers in the slips.

8) All body armour shall be banned (except boxes, on medical grounds). This would provide for a succession of dramatic and sometimes controversial injury breaks, and would also free up the players' faces for commercial purposes. We are looking to have national flags discreetly painted on to the batsman's forehead, next to the sponsor's logo.

9) Each player shall be accompanied by a blonde wife or girlfriend, who can be picked out by the cameras at key moments. She should be encouraged to jump up and down as occasion demands. Players should be encouraged to have children (preferably their own) on their shoulders during post-match celebrations.

10) The lunch interval will be extended and will be broadcast live. Following the example of Big Brother, players will vote on whom they wish to sit next to, then viewers will decide on the seating plan. Mid-luncheon interviews will be conducted by Paul Allott (Richie feels it would be out of character with his commentating style).

11) All tampering with the ball shall be banned. This will diminish the amount of swing available to new-ball bowlers, and remove all possibility of reverse swing later on. We are working with a well-known golf supplier to produce a new "Arrow" ball which will not swing at all, even in Yorkshire.

We hope that these proposals will soothe the very real commercial concerns that have been expressed. We would suggest introducing them on a Test-by-Test basis, with viewers (especially those who can demonstrate that they have never seen cricket before) being encouraged to vote on which new laws they would like to see adopted. Any critics can be dismissed with the assertion that we are fighting to protect the "traditional" five-day heritage of this great game.

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