Certain aspects of Caribbean life can produce various rages in our people, with the ingredients to cause such maladies in the population as high blood pressure, copious perspiration, bulging veins in the neck, and stomach pains.
While these symptoms can result from too much achar in the curry, they can also result from blackouts, election uproar, rush hour traffic, seafood left too long before cooking, or customer lines in the bank. This week we are again being reminded of the span of the symptoms as they take place among the fans of cricket – a sport which plays such a pivotal part in our life – following press reports of the current West Indies captain, Jason Holder, being fined and suspended after a Test match between England and the West Indies in Antigua, won by the West Indies, on the third day of a match intended to last for five days. The uproar has been, to quote the Trinidad vernacular, “hot like a pepper seed” and it is continuing to boil.
For those who may have just landed from Mars, and may, therefore, be unaware, there is a rule in Test cricket, designed to speed up the game, which requires the team captain to ensure that the number of overs bowled does not fall below an established minimum per hour, with the clear understanding that if it does, the captain will be fined and barred from the next match in the series. This was the scenario in the recent Antigua Test match, where West Indies defeated England, and subsequently we learned that the West Indies captain Holder was fined for “slow over rate” and also banned from taking part in the third Test. The outburst that followed has been, to quote the Guyanese vernacular, a goady which started out heavy and very visible, and shows no signs of reducing. The famous Australian spin bowler Shane Warne was one of the early shouters emailing tersely that “The test didn’t go three days. Can you please appeal this, Jason Holder? What nonsense!” And Nasser Khan, a Trinidadian columnist, commented: “What kinda dotishness is dis? We beat dem in under three days, so what’s this about ‘slow over rate?’ There has to be a mechanism for discretion and common sense to be applied.” Former West Indies wicket-keeper Deryck Murray, responding to Mr. Khan, emailed from St. Vincent, “I empathise with your indignation, Nasser; but it is a long-standing rule, and a stupid one, designed initially to try to blunt the once feared West Indies fast-bowling attack. Once upon a time, when umpires were allowed to admonish players for ‘time wasting,’ the norm was an average of 20 overs per hour. With the rule now, teams struggle to attain 14 per hour. And play seldom ends at 5pm – not sure what it will take to change the rule to punish players for time wasting rather than just a rule to discourage West Indies from fielding four fast bowlers!” Mr. Murray’s comment makes clear that the ICC rule, ostensibly brought in to speed up Test cricket, was actually a subterfuge designed to blunt the impact of our fast bowlers who could destroy batting sides.
Asked to comment on the “slow over rate” uproar, veteran cricket broadcaster and sports consultant Reds Perreira had this to say: “The background to this rule goes back to when West Indies had their fearsome 4-man fast attack of Roberts, Holding, Croft and Garner in the late 1970s. When the ICC ‘slow over’ rule came about, really designed to slow down that attack, it did not cater for a team winning a Test match in three days, but more for the last day of a Test when, in a close match, a captain could slow the rate to earn a draw. In the recent Antigua match, Jeff Crowe was facing a matter he never expected and could perhaps have referred it to the ICC for a relook at the rule to cater for a win in three days. Jason may have been aware that he was two overs behind in the rate, but the win at that time was the focus. Crowe may one day explain how did he work out…two overs behind but two days to spare. The matter is now in the ICC court.”
Ironically, in the same week as the Holder suspension, we hear more news on international Test cricket developments from ESPN Cricinfo correspondent Mohammed Isam in Bangladesh who spoke with ICC Chairman Shashank Manohar on the woes of Test cricket generally. Isam quotes the ICC leader talking about the coming implementation of a World Test Championship as an effort to generate interest in that form of the game. “Test cricket is dying,” said Manohar, “and this Test Championship should help revive it.” The irony here is that the ICC response to the decline in Test cricket is to announce the addition of yet one more international Test series in which the absurdity remains of a captain being suspended for “slow cricket” in a match which ended two whole days early. C’est le cricket.