The remarkable fact about the current edition of the Asia Cup is that more often than not, fans have been left wondering, “What if there were no restrictions on the number of overs a bowler can bowl.” Returning from a prolonged ban, Mohammad Amir was the centre of attention for obvious reasons, but the manner in which he bowled against Team India was worth going miles to watch. Pakistan were defending a low total, and yet the way their seamers spearheaded by Amir caused jitters during India’s reply was absorbing. That Virat Kohli and Yuvraj Singh ensured victory was another matter, but the thought of “what if” lingered in the minds of many. That was not the only occasion either when the discerning wondered if bowling restrictions in terms of the number of overs per bowler needed to remain in the framework of Twenty20 playing conditions.
In modern-day cricket, captains by and large prefer to rely on only four bowlers even in Test cricket, but they have to rejig the combination in the shorter formats to achieve balance as well as accommodate five bowling options. The restricted quota of overs for a bowler in a One-Day International is understandable, given that bowlers, and especially the quicker ones, can get pooped out if they are made to bowl more than ten overs and then required to excel on the field. However, it may not be a great strain on them to bowl five or six overs in a T20 game, if that can make a substantial difference to the outcome of the game. Against that backdrop, restricting the best bowlers from making a serious impact is perhaps a dampener for the game.
It is rare to see a lead fast bowler completing his quota of four overs in one go in a T20 game. One has to also factor in that fast bowlers need to bowl at least a couple of overs to get into their best rhythm. This means that they are short-changed in a T20 game. If the restriction of overs is done away with, the captains can have their top four or even three bowlers do the job through the entire innings. This will mean that the batsmen will have to get runs against the best that the opposition can unleash against them. The other side of the coin is that not all sides have the luxury of five good options to pose a serious challenge to the batsmen. The full member countries of the ICC might have the resources and talent, but what about the associate member countries? They will perhaps benefit the most when the bowling restrictions are lifted.
A significant difference between the 50-over and T20 formats is the average scoring rate. A score of 160 (at 8 runs per over) is considered par for the course generally in a 20-over game. It does happen fairly regularly, but a total of 400 isn’t commonplace in one-day cricket even though scores of 200 have been achieved in the T20 format. With most rules seemingly in the favour of batsmen, the balance needs to be restored by giving the bowlers some privilege. What better option than the possibility of bowling more overs? That will give them the chance to make a mark that matches their potential.
The long-term benefit of giving bowlers a bit of latitude is that it will also help youngsters take up bowling. Currently, the trend among aspiring youngsters is to hit long balls and get into lucrative leagues across the world. The Board of Control for Cricket in India has led the cricketing world in many aspects, particularly with the brilliantly-packaged IPL which has made others countries emulate it. Perhaps, the BCCI can be the beacon in this regard too by removing bowling restrictions in the IPL, even if only on an experimental basis. The experiment in the IPL, with its significant database of 60 matches a season, can provide ample indication one way or the other for the International Cricket Council to act upon, if it deems fit.