Cricket for Americans: 12 March 2019: Once again, half as long

Today’s news in cricket will sound familiar to all sports fans: a committee of former players has some ideas on how to speed up the game, and make it more exciting for people outside the cricketing zeitgeist.

Today’s changes were announced by the MCC World Cricket Committee. An offshoot, it seems, of the Marylebone Cricket Club — the folks that run Lord’s Cricket Ground in London — that has no actual power but meets twice a year to discuss “prevalent issues,” make some headlines (and probably have some posh dinners) and then advise the ICC on the outcome of their discussions.

Their latest improvements for Test cricket include: a countdown clock, a free hit instead of a no ball (which would put Test cricket in line with one day cricket — basically when a bowler goes over the line with his foot, a no ball is call. In Test cricket, the bowler just bowls again and it’s like the toss never happened. But in one day cricket the batter gets a free hit which means he can’t get out but can score runs), and making everyone use the same brand of ball in Test matches.

That last one I can get on board with. It makes sense. But the first two confound me.

For the no-ball/free-hit their reasoning is, first of all, “excitement!” Which I don’t get. It’s dumb. It’s not cricket. It’s a penalty kick. It’s the home run derby. But. I also, you know, get it. People like the free-hit. So, fine. Whatever. If it ends up reducing no balls then yeah, cool, ’cause no balls suck.

But their other reason is the same reason as the countdown clock: to speed up the game. The no-ball/free-hit will accomplish this if it actually reduces the number of no-balls (which, to be fair, it has done in one day cricket) but if there are just a bunch of free-hits to the same number of no-balls added than the games will actually be longer.

What won’t for sure speed up the games is the countdown clock.

Every sport on earth has spent loads of time and money and consternation on rule changes in vain attempts to make their games shorter. And none of them work. Ever. Basketball has countless time based violations and the last two minutes of its games still take a million years. Baseball wants a countdown clock between pitches. Football has clocks that tell the QB when he needs to restart play. And nothing works. All those sports still have issues with how long their games are.

But here’s the deal: the only sport to actually successfully shorten its games? Cricket. And they did it by fundamentally changing the rules of the game, creating the ODI out of first class cricket and the T20 out of the ODI. And now with The Hundred the games will be even shorter. And that’s really the only way to do it: take chunks out. Countdown clocks and time based violations have not worked and will never work. Look, for example, at soccer, the one sport that doesn’t have length issues. Because the clock just runs.

So, at the end of the day, it’s all nonsense. You will never effectively speed up any sport without lopping off innings or overs or quarters or periods, or just having a running clock. The latter won’t work without massive changes in how games are played, especially “fair ups” sports like baseball and cricket, and gridiron football where possession changes are not quick. But it would work in games like hockey and basketball. But cricket is the only game to actually crack the code of the shorter game time. So scoff all you want at The Hundred, but the ECB has found the holy grail of sport: if you want to make the games shorter, then make the games shorter.

Until tomorrow.

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