Monday, September 28, 2009

Strauss/Smith Controversy Raises Bigger Questions


The group league encounter between England and South Africa had a controversial ending, after Graeme Smith's heroic knock proved in vain as England became the first team in the tournament to book a berth in the final four.

Smith started suffering from cramps at one point of the innings, when he requested for a runner. Andrew Strauss was clearly not impressed with the decision and blatantly refused against it. Smith was denied a runner eventually and fell shortly after that, effectively deciding the contest in England's favor.

It is a delicate situation, where the arguments from both sides are noteworthy, but ultimately the decision went against the host nation.

Smith was right in saying that there should be some level of consistency in the rules. If runners have been allowed in the past to batsmen suffering from cramps, then he should have been given the same luxury. It was very unlikely that this decision would have altered the eventual result, but the possibility was always there.

Even the present law states that a runner is permitted if the player is injured or becomes ill. Cramps would fit in the latter category.

Strauss, on the other hand, was within the rules to raise objection, because ultimately the final decision rested with the umpire. The allegations of spirit of the game of sportsmanship should not be considered here, because he had merely presented his opinion—even though he was pretty adamant on it, the officials had the final say in this call.

Nevertheless, Strauss has made a strong statement: "You shouldn't get a runner for cramps, full stop."

Watching a batsman suffering from cramps in the midst of a long innings, and then asking for a runner has been a common sight ever since the allowance of a runner was introduced. It not only highlights the lack of fitness that a top level athlete ought to have, but also how easy it is to continue playing the game even when physically unfit.

Cricketers are arguably the least fit among professional athletes, be it tennis, squash, badminton, soccer, or hockey. Top players such as Chris Gayle and Yuvraj Singh proudly sport a bulging paunch, when, on the other hand, it would be hard to find an extra ounce of unnecessary fat in Roger Federer or Cristiano Rolando.

Of course, Arjuana Ranatunga is a vintage example of an abnormally fat athlete relying on a runner in many cases.

The issue is not just related to the conditioning of the players. Many times we have seen players just shifting to another gear after getting relieved from the responsibility to run!

Saeed Anwar springs to mind when he was hitting sixes and sweeping fours en route to his record breaking ODI innings of 194, despite the fact that he was suffering from cramps shortly after reaching his 50.

It was stand and deliver innings, devoid of any running, which forms an essential part of the game.

This is just one of the many examples where a batsman has gotten unfair advantage. If a batsman is unable to run due to his internal problems rather than any external injury, he should simply retire, regroup, and come out to play.

Would this mean to eliminate the concept of a runner altogether? Of course, not. This only implies the amendment of the rule by removing the word "ill" from it and restricting it to "injuries."

This would require an addition of a big list of the scenarios applicable to illness or injury, which is no easy task, but the officials of ICC are paid big bucks for improving the game.

The amendment would be hard to make, but it is high time that this bitter pill is swallowed. Improved conditioning will only make the game better, and a player surviving for three hours on a cricket ground certainly demands a lot of them.

So, kudos to Strauss for raising this valid issue. Smith will consider himself unlucky on the basis of inconsistency in decision making, but nobody would complain if this actually results in some brainstorming on this issue.

...Meanwhile, I would be happy with my two cents.

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