Cricket for Americans: 08 March 2019: Dumbing down

Today Major League Baseball announced that it was trying out some rule changes in the lower level Atlantic League this season. This is usually how it works: MLB tries them out in the minors and if they work, they try to convince the players’ union to accept them.

For the most part, the rules are designed to speed up the game and for more runs to be scored. Though MLB also makes a cheeky nod at “player safety” which we all know they care little about.

Anyway, two of the changes caught my eye:

  • Home plate umpire assisted in calling balls and strikes by a TrackMan radar tracking system
  • Require two infielders to be on each side of second base when a pitch is released (if not, the ball is dead and the umpire shall call a ball)

They caught my eye because they reminded me of cricket.

Cricket, of course, doesn’t have balls and strikes, but they do have the Leg Before Wicket which can be a difficult call to get right, which is why the ICC umpires have a similar ball tracking radar that they use when players appeal their on the field calls. And, for the most part, it works okay. And so I am anxious to see how it plays out this summer in the Atlantic League.

The second change made me recall the fielding restrictions in one day cricket.

Via Wikipedia:

ODI Power Play Rules:

  • During the first 10 overs of an innings a maximum of 2 fielders are allowed outside the 30-yard circle.
  • Between overs 11 and 40 a maximum of 4 fielders are allowed outside the 30-yard circle
  • In the final 10 overs (41–50) a maximum of 5 fielders will be allowed to field outside the 30-yard circle.

Twenty20 Power Play Rules

The first six overs of an innings will be a mandatory powerplay, with only two fielders allowed outside the 30-yard circle. Beginning with the seventh over, no more than five fielders will be allowed outside the 30-yard circle.

And, so, unlike Test cricket, and unlike how baseball is but probably won’t be for long, you can’t just put your fielders whatever you want in One Day cricket. The rules are there to, you guessed it, encourage big scores, which is what the people in charge assume people want to see. And the rule change in MLB is being made with a similar goal in mind (despite what they say about player safety), for the last few seasons teams have employed a “shift” where they stack infielders on one side of the field when a power hitter is at the plate. And I always kind of liked that, the game was changing, and the strategies were changing along with it. It was smart baseball. Good baseball. It showed that manages were capable of flexibility and creativity. But MLB was having none of that. They wanted to protect their big hitters. So there we go.

The rules are a symptom of baseball’s move away from what many call “small ball” — moving the runner over, the suicide squeeze, the sacrifice fly, stolen bases — and toward games where every at-bat is either a ball, a strike, or a home run. Gone is the nuance. The creativity. The thinking.

Former Phillies shortstop and manager Larry Bowa had this to say (now about rule changes specifically):

“I think baseball is an exciting game, but I’ll be honest, I watched some games last year and got bored. You’d have eight walks and 12 strikeouts. I don’t like a man on third and less than two outs, and a guy is swinging like the count is 3-0 and he ends up striking out instead of, “Hey, the infield’s back, let me score this run. Let me put this ball in play.” I would like to see that come back a little bit.

Baseball is, more or less, starting to display a serious lack of traditional strategy.

And if you change a few words around in the above quote, you get a complaint about cricket that you hear every day. The game is moving away from nuance, and toward a game where every ball is either a six or a dot, and that the people in charge are fine with that, in fact actively encourage it via rule changes.

So that’s the thing. Cricket is not alone here. The same thing is happening to baseball. And soon similar changes will start to affect other sports, in the same way that what can only be described as “the dumbing down of humanity” has affected all entertainment (how in the world Celeste Ng — god bless her — can be described as high-end literature is beyond me) and politics (‘nough said). High minded thinking is no longer in vogue, and maybe never will be again. This is the world we live in.

Test cricket fans in a Twenty20 world.

Until tomorrow.

 

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