I mentioned in some of my end of day posts during the last Test that the West Indies were bowling their overs very slowly. They finished four overs short, even after allocations were made for unavoidable delays and even after Sammy bowled Marlon Samuels just to try to increase the rate! This led to the players being fined 40 per cent of their match fee and Sammy being fined 80 per cent.

It is good to see the ICC finally take proper action against a side (the fact that the West Indies were allowed to try to drag the Barbados Test to a halt on the final day two months ago remains a disgrace) but there is still more to be done. The West Indians were fined for their rate, but that is small consolation for the spectators who did not get to see a full day’s cricket. Although England looked well set for victory anyway, it also meant that the West Indies stopped trying to win the match in favour of trying to get the over rate back up. This is not at all fair on the spectators, but there is at least an easy solution to that: instead of handing out fines for over rates in the entire Test, hand them out for individual days. This is not only fair for those who can only come for one day per Test, but also will (ideally at least) reduce the number of overs lost at the end of a day’s play. As it is, a team can be so far behind the rate on one of the early days of a Test that overs are lost, but can avoid a fine by bowling very quickly on the last or penultimate day. Those overs that are lost cannot (or can very seldom be) recovered. Sanctioning teams on a day-by-day basis would provide an incentive not to lose overs.

However, I am not convinced that the current sanctions are an appropriate deterrent. It clearly did not work in the most recent Test and looking farther back India never had a good over rate in England or Australia. Despite that, it took until the seventh of those eight Tests for MS Dhoni to be banned. It is simply not enough and too rarely applied to be effective. If one looks at the County Championship, overs are very rarely lost and there usually isn’t even very much time added at the end of the day. This despite there being more overs required per day than in the County Championship than in a Test match. I think there are two main reasons for this: according to the ECB regulations (section 16.4) there is no ‘retrospective negotiation’ about what is and is not an unavoidable delay. The umpires make a decision at the time, inform the captain and scorers and that’s it. Everyone knows, everyone can adjust the calculation (which is displayed on the scoreboard) and there can be no argument. There is no reason why this cannot be implemented in Test matches. The second, and probably more important reason, is that the penalty for a slow over-rate in a Championship match is the deduction of points. It is a clear reduction in what is the most important number at the end of the year.

Unfortunately, that is not applicable to Test cricket because there is nothing analogous to Championship points. If something is done to make the ICC rankings properly important to the majority of fans and players, then there would be an ideal way to punish teams for a slow rate. However, I doubt such a thing will ever happen. Last summer, Geoffery Boycott suggested that teams be penalised runs in a Test as the nearest equivalent. The problem there is that it does not work properly in the last innings of the Test, so for fairness sake it would have to be applied only to the first two. There is, however, little reason why that could not happen: add five penalty runs to the batting side’s total for each over by which the bowling side is short at the end of the day/innings. As handy as that is, I think it would be preferable to have a system that could be equally applied to all days of the match. Which just leaves the current system of fines/bans. What I would suggest is getting rid of the fines and just automatically banning both the captain and one of the main quick bowlers (whoever takes the new ball in the first innings, say). This would be used in conjunction with the inability to debate what is and is not an acceptable delay and be applied on a day by day basis. Given all of the options, I think this one is the most feasible given the current Test set up and would provide teams with a strong incentive to get their overs in. Whatever happens, the ICC need to do something to address the current trend of slow over-rates, but I’m not holding my breath.

3 thoughts on “Over-rates

  1. Bandon, interesting post. I agree about fixing the negotiable over-rate and making it clearer what is expected. A point I made a while back in calling for an in-game clock to regulate time. I also don’t have a problem with run penalties. The only time they aren’t effective is when batsmen are trying to save a game, in which case an additional rule that the second run penalty against a batsman will result in dismissal.

    I’m not sure we should care that much though. There is nothing sacrosanct about 90 overs in a day, and if it means watching a part-time hack race through an over in preference to a paceman then it is detrimental to the game.

    Hence my suggestion would be to remove the over requirement and give umpires greater scope for enforcement of delaying tactics and general faffing around. Tennis works on this principle, and by and large it works well. Players (of either team) could be warned for taking too long between overs, in taking strike, or before beginning their run-up. A second warning would result in a 5 run penalty; a third in the batsman’s dismissal (or more runs for the bowling team). If the ubiquitous drinks or strategic break is required then institute a limited number of timeouts for each side.

    The ICC ought to hurry the umpires up too; rain delays take far to long to be resolved, third umpiring decisions an eternity when most everyone can see the result. If umpires were told and given the ability to speed the game up, it would speed up. No need to rely on players.


    1. That’s a very good post about having a clock and actually a less formal version of that is in place in the County Championship. If a delay is unavoidable, the umpires will decide so and inform the players and scorers. There are two minutes allotted per wicket and four minutes in for drinks (though those are not as frequent as in Tests) and the scorers keep a real time calculation of whether a team is above or below the required rate on the scoreboard.

      I also like your idea of the umpires just deciding to penalise time-wasting in real time (and actually they are already allowed to, it just never happens). I do think, however, that there should be every effort to get 90 (or nearly so) overs in. Not because it is the ‘correct’ number, but because it ensures a decent rate. I do think that when the rate drops the match tends to drift, during the last Test I was hearing people complain about it being ‘boring’ when England were going at nearly four an over, but the overs were taking ages! The problem with the umpires penalising this is that it’s hard to spot anything specific, just a general drift. If they can pick out something to warn/penalise the players then they should definitely do so, but I think it is clearer at the end of the day.


      1. General drift is interesting. If you do the numbers (4 min per over), a mere extra 8 seconds per over will cost one over per session. At a brisk pace people walk about 6km per hour, or 1.6m/s, so the difference between 87 overs and 90 is an extra stride in a run-up. Maybe it all perception anyway; I suspect people find the West Indies slow because Sammy never seems to be trying anything.

        If things were well-defined (again, as in tennis) then the umpires would have more scope for enforcement. Limit to 25s the time to take strike/begin run-up from the dead-ball (10s for spinners); and to 1min the time to change ends. Fine the umpires if the requisite overs aren’t bowled (taking into account delays). It doesn’t need to be strictly enforced – tennis has its own problems with this, and sometimes a delay is good for tension – but if the umpires had responsibility for pushing the game along I’m sure they could do so, and squeeze in a lot more than 90 overs too.


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