Last night, as the last Test of the Australia v Sri Lanka series wound to a close there was a slightly odd situation where tea was taken with Australia needing just five runs to win. The timing of the intervals is something that comes up occasionally in cricket; both can be moved slightly to try to make them match up with things like innings breaks, but we still get occasions like this or like the one exactly a year ago in South Africa where tea was taken before the hosts chased two runs to win. It’s very easy to shake one’s head suggest that cricket be less rigid and inflexible, but I think the issue is more complicated than that.
Whilst it certainly does look ridiculous on the face of it, I think a lot of the criticism that ensues every time there is an oddly timed interval or close of play is harsh. For instance, part of the problem was that in both of the specific occasions named above tea had been delayed already. The way to avoid it being taken with five to win would have been to take it at the scheduled time. But I suspect that this would still have not been palatable to many; after all it seemed like an appropriate occasion to delay tea when it happened. And those are specific cases anyway, there is a more general point.
The problem is that as strange as it seems on the face of it, there is really not much to be done that would not be even worse. It’s all well and good to say that ‘common sense’ should be used, but what is common sense to one person is not to another. I think it is common sense that someone who averaged under 44 should not be in a team of the year, but quite a few disagree. This is why the laws and regulations are written down in the first place and hopefully (but not always) written so as to be unambiguous. Even if odd situations arise there is consistency and everyone knows what to expect before hand. There can be no blaming of the umpire’s judgement if the timing goes against a particular team. The timings of the intervals is a minor matter overall and so it would probably not be a problem if it was simply left up to the umpires, but I think doing so would actually cause as many problems as it solves.
I actually think the current regulations are pretty good; I don’t like by how much lunch and tea can be delayed, but it’s fairly clear and reasonable which cannot be said of a lot of the ICC regulations. If a side is nine down then the interval is delayed and it is taken early if a side is bowled out. There are some tweaks that can be made, but I don’t think there is any inherent improvement that can be made and I don’t think there is a way to get rid of these ‘ridiculous’ situations. It’s really only a mild nuisance and most changes would make things worse.