One of cricket’s long-standing innovations – round-arm bowling – was a sheer accident, or so the legend goes. The sister of Kent cricketer John Willes, Christina, was bowling to him in their courtyard but couldn’t bowl underarm, the practice in vogue in the early 19th century, because of her crinoline-ruffle skirts. So she threw the ball round arm, and it became fashionable.
Whether the tale is fictitious or real, or exaggerated, all facets of cricket have continuously evolved over the centuries. Whereas evolution is blasphemy in the longest format, an option in 50-over cricket, it has downright necessary in the shortest version.
No other version is tailor-made for such streaks of freakishness as the T20 variant, which has witnessed bizarre, unusual sights that one wouldn’t have encountered anywhere but in T20 competitions. For instance, a fielding team without a wicket-keeper or a batsman batting without pads. Even stranger, the sight of a wicket-keeper without his pads.
The latter incident happened last year in a high-tension match between Chennai Super Kings and Mumbai Indians, when Dinesh Karthik kept without the right-glove so that could affect run outs, if needed. Simon Taufel duly reprimanded him, but the officials approved of it later, though with a rider that it would cost the bowling side five byes if the ball touches the gloves placed on the field, just like the rule for the helmet.
In another T20 match, Australia’s Mathew Wade, kept wickets with just one glove. He went further in a Big Bash semifinal match, stripping his pads and gloves and standing on the edge of the 30-yard circle like a fielder. Though the laws clearly state that fielding teams must have a minimum of four fielders inside the circle, doing away with pads and gloves, the keeper can also be counted as a fielder, allowing the team another man on the boundary. Also, last year, New Zealand’s Brendon McCullum and Matt Prior kept wickets in an international T20 game without external pads, instead wearing shin pads like other close-in fielders.
Naturally debates raged over these issues, before the IPL governing council decided to allow these practices so that the game “becomes more interesting”. The wicket-keepers’ fraternity though defended their ilk. “If batsmen can switch hit and reverse sweep, bowlers can invent bodyline, why can’t keepers take one glove off or keep with shin guards. The dynamics of the game are changing and these should be viewed progressively,” reckoned former wicketkeeper Vijay Dahiya.