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Sight Screen

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

New rules for old

So after trialling this for three games, Michael Vaughan is not entirely convinced by the substitution rule. He tells Paul Weaver of the Guardian:
A head-shaking England captain Michael Vaughan said last night: "I think the power plays have worked well but I'm a bit sceptical about substitutions. If you win the toss now you have an extra batsmen to chase down the runs. It's difficult to go up to a player who think he's playing and tell him he's not, just as it's difficult to go up to a player who thinks he isn't playing and tell him he is. So I'm not sure about the rule really."

The substitution rule has problems, yes, but not sure this is it. Wouldn't the short answer be for all 12 players to be aware they *are* in fact playing; just that for one or two of them, their roles might not extend the full course of the game?
Another segment in this story makes you think:
Now the pressure on the captain is to win the toss and bowl first. Batting second is such an advantage because the supersub batsman replaces a bowler who has already bowled his 10 overs.

Wait a minute, though -- could at least part of these problems be because we are not thinking this through? Or because we are thinking it through from a too cast-iron perspective?
First -- the fact that a rule exists does not mean that it needs to be mandatorily implemented. In other words, the team goes in with a supersub, yes, but there is no pressure on a captain to employ all ten players.
Think this through for a moment from the perspective of an actual match -- say the first game of the Natwest Challenge. What did the captains know when they came out to toss? Damp-ish pitch, overcast conditions, ergo swing and seam on offer -- therefore, new rules or no new rules, the captain winning the toss would have bowled first *anyway*.
So if that is the game plan going in, what team would you pick? Obviously, one that relied heavily on seam -- four seamers minimum. A fifth if you can squeeze one in. In other words, five batsmen, five bowlers, one keeper. (The problem with that team composition is that in inimical conditions, five batsmen may not be enough to put a challenging score on the board -- but that too can be taken care of).
Right then -- the captains going out to toss pack their sides with bowlers, as much of quality seam as they can fit in. The captain winning the toss sticks with a bowling heavy side -- and in the chase, simply substitutes one bowler with a batsman. The captain who bats first knows his batting is under pressure -- so he makes the substitution right at the start of the game, jettisons the extra bowler and adds the extra batsman.
In other words, the substitution rule provides insurance. Where's the problem, and how does it force the choice of batting second on any captain? That choice is still made not by the availability of a supersub, but by the pitch, ground and atmospheric conditions -- as they always have been.

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