Where in the world is seriousness mixed with the frivolous to the point of turning a revered game into one that was built specifically for entertainment purposes? If the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) has its way, Test cricket may be one of those in that rare, ignominious league.
Amongst the many recommendations made by the World Cricket committee of the MCC was the idea of introducing free hits in the sphere of Test cricket. Currently a no-ball on the part of the bowler in the limited overs game incurs a free hit wherein the field changes to enhance the scoring opportunity for the batting team. Not only does the no ball prove costly for the bowler but also, the free hit generates added excitement because of the run scoring opportunity provided to the opponent.
Over the years, particularly over the last decade since the advent of Twenty20, several recommendations have been made towards incentivizing spectators to turn up at the stadiums for the five day format. With a greater propensity of cricket boards to propagate the shorter formats, particularly Twenty20, with a view to making easy money, Test cricket has often had to bear the brunt of ideas that are not only not original but also, unlike its own character.
However, the idea being mooted is not just or rather primarily from the point of view of generating additional energy and excitement but rather as a way of curbing bowlers from bowling too many no-balls in Test cricket. While the bowler is indeed penalized for the no ball in that he has to bowl the additional delivery but also, is now threatened with being hammered for runs given the idea of the field change as a result of the free hit.
The question though arises whether the MCC or even the International Cricket Council (ICC) could not come up with a better solution towards the transgression of bowers, particularly fast bowlers, which, also, means more time in the field in order to bowl the additional delivery and the eventual cost of time in Test cricket terms. Whether free hit and not a penalty run system is a better way to tackle the menace of no balls is highly debatable.
For Test cricket to become more popular, several ideas have been derived from the more so-called entertaining formats. However, it seems somewhat misplaced to have Test cricket suddenly change from a more deliberate, tactful avatar into a sudden death scenario every time the bowler steps across the white line at the crease in his bowling stride. While innovation and ideas have their place, whether Test cricket should go to such an extent wherein the batsmen, playing essentially the endurance game, should suddenly be asked to switch gears and play with a limited overs mindset every time the bowler veers off his mark is under consideration.
While Test cricket does provide its exhilarating moments as it does its absorbing ones, the idea of a free hit seems to have hit the fabric of Test cricket for a toss. If the intention behind the effort of introducing such a formula is to prevent the incidence of no balls alone, arguably there are more adequate measures to put in place that would take care of it more effectively. Automatic run penalties to the batting team in addition to the one additional delivery and run would be one way to go.