Golden Oldies Cricket, New Zealand

To bounce or not to bounce?

How many captains have faced that dilemma when probing every avenue in a bid to win a Test match?

It confronted New Zealand captain Kane Williamson after he chose to bowl first in the first Test against Bangladesh at Wellington’s Basin Reserve in early January. The visiting team put on 595-8 declared.

New Zealand replied with 539 and then successfully set about trying to defy history and secure the win. Never before had a team conceded so many runs in the first innings then gone on to win the test match. The previous record was set in 1894-95 when Australia were unable to defend their 586 at the SCG against England.

To achieve the win New Zealand had to dismiss Bangladesh, second time around, quickly and resorted to short-pitched bowling. This followed left-arm fast medium bowler Neil Wagner taking three knocks to the head late in New Zealand’s first innings.

Views have varied on the bowling: some see it as entirely within the laws while others see it outside the spirit of the game.

Some believe the umpires should have stepped in.

There are several factors to consider.

Firstly, technique.

This is probably the most important. Technique is the batsman’s greatest asset. Keeping your eye on the ball has never diminished as a key element in the game. Yet, how many of the players hit in this Test match failed to keep their eye on the ball? How many of them chose to duck into the ball as a consequence?

That batting technique has declined, as weightier bats inflate reward in lesser forms of the game, is one of the great problem areas for the game.

The simple fact is that batsmen with the right technique should be able to survive in any form of the game.

Secondly, by legislating in favour of the batsman, yet again, lawmakers would be denying yet another part of the bowling armory to bowlers who are already cannon-fodder, seemingly just making up numbers, in shorter forms of the game.

Thirdly, there is no doubt, much thinking in the last year or two has been dominated by the death of Phillip Hughes. No one wants to see that sort of thing happening on the field and the sight of an ambulance taking first innings century maker Mushfiqur Rahim to hospital on a stretcher did not help the situation.

But these are exceptions, not the norm and legislating bouncers out of the game would be a gross over-reaction. Bowlers do have some protection from the law when batting, but if they dish it out they should also be capable of taking it. For many years there was a general agreement that lower-order batsmen should not be targeted, but that appears to have gone the way of the red telephone box, the fax machine and summer in New Zealand.

Batsmen playing international cricket should be expected to have the technique to cope in those conditions, just as they should have the technique to cope in all batting situations.

It is the players who need to address their skills, not the lawmakers.

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