Rollers, dew and using the rough – the nitty-gritties of Cricket

Are you someone who likes to go beyond the numbers and enjoys the intricacies of the game of cricket? Are you more impressed by a brave tactic gone wrong than a cake-walk victory? Then this read is for you! 

The Rolling Stones of Cricket!

Have you ever seen the captain of a fielding team walking out and wondered, “why is he stretching his arms out towards the groundsman?” No, he is not asking for a hug. It is a signal. He is signaling which roller he wants the groundsman to use prior to their innings. 

Metal rollers have been used to flatten cricket pitches right from the inception of the game. They are methodically rolled back and forth on the pitch to make it even and hard enough for the ball to bounce consistently. There are two types of rollers, the heavy roller and light roller, based on their weight as the name suggests. 

Back in the day, the heavy roller was the be-all and end-all of pitch doctoring. Groundsmen loved them, just like the gritty old man in the picture, Bosser Martin, who is standing next to “Bosser’s Pet,” his Heavy Roller at the famous 1938 Oval Test. 

Central Press/Getty Images

They made life so much easier for the pitch-menders as they flattened out the surface nice and even in lesser time and held it together through the course of a game. So, this is about what the groundsman likes prior to the game, but when can the players decide and use these rollers after the start of the game?

The law says, “During the match, the pitch may be rolled at the request of the captain of the batting side, for a period of not more than 7 minutes, before the start of each innings, other than the first innings of the match, and before the start of each subsequent day’s play.” About the choice of the rollers, it says “If there is more than one roller available the captain of the batting side shall choose which one is to be used.”

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Now, how does one decide which roller to use? There are so many opinions and many rely on their experience to decide which roller should be used. It also depends on the strengths of your batsmen and the subsequent innings that your bowlers will be in action.

However, in general, the Light Roller is used on hard surfaces if they are dry and lack any moisture in them, typically the kind we get mostly in Sri Lanka. It is because the pressure exerted by a Heavy Roller can cause the wicket to crack up or start crumbling due to the lack of moisture available. But there are some experts who say, “I never saw a Heavy Roller crack up a pitch.” Yet again, on a pitch that has a lot of moisture in it, the heavy roller can make life hard for your openers because it will suck up more moisture to the surface. In such situations a light roller will buy the batsmen a bit of time by keeping it slow and sticky. 

Scott Barbour/Getty Images

You wouldn’t want to use a heavy roller on any wicket if you are about to face a pace battery that has Mitchell Starc, Jasprit Bumrah or Jofra Archer in it! Yes, the heavy roller hardens the surface and gives more pace and bounce to it. But, it also does take away the lateral movement off the surface. Usually, a heavy roller is used on a softening surface which is turning and also keeping low. 

The use of a wrong roller can cost you a game, just like how it did for Virat Kohli in Newlands, Capetown in 2018 when Vernon Philander ran through the Indian batting with the extra pace and bounce that he got on the fourth day pitch, thanks to Kohli’s use of the heavy roller. 

The Dew Factor

Often, we hear the commentators say “the dew will come into play.” But what exactly is the effect of dew to a game of cricket? 

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During day-night matches, when the dew starts falling later in the day, the pitch gets a bit of moisture that might change the behaviour of the surface. It could either get slower and reduce spin on the ball or give a bit of zippy carry through to the wicketkeeper and reduce turn off the surface. 

The dewfall will also leave a lot of moisture on the outfield and that will wet the ball making it tougher for the spinners to grip it. So, one thing is for sure, lateral movement will be minimised by dew. 

On the flip side, for the batsmen, the damp outfield can restrict the ball from travelling quickly to the boundary too but there is always a give and take. 

The Benefit of Doubt

When there is no conclusive evidence to decide on a boundary or a six, the benefit of the doubt will go to the fielder and the umpire should take his word for it. 

Likewise, if there is no conclusive evidence to rule a batsman out, the benefit of doubt will go to the batsman. 

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Both these scenarios are taken into consideration upon the ‘spirit of the game’ and in general the cricketers don’t make ill use of the edge they have got. 

“Use the rough!”

Getty Images

The above is a term you would have heard quite a lot on TV during Test match cricket and it should be quite simply understood that this means using the patches created on the pitch by the boot marks of the fast bowlers. But, did you know that the captains today make optimum use of this scenario? 

If you have a tall, well-built seamer in your team, then your strike spinner is more likely to operate from the opposite end from where he bowls. Usually a tall, left-arm seamer is mostly adored by the off-spinner in the eleven. Captains tend to make these kinds of bowlers go on a prolonged spell and operate much closer to the stumps. Then bring your strike spinner from the opposite end. 70% of the batsmen in the world are right-handers and a left-arm seamer will create a rough patch right on the good-length of the right-hander, making it tough to predict the turn. 

Now, you know why Chaminda Vaas and Muttiah Muralitharan were such a good pair. Or, if you have Shane Warne in your team, then you don’t need a left-arm paceman, might as well just leave Brett Lee and Jason Gillespie to run down the track early in the innings. 

Hamish Blair / © Getty Images

The 12th man!

Most of us think the game is played with 11 players but usually even the 12th man is declared in the team card and is paid the equal amount paid for the playing-eleven. He should be the first replacement in case of a substitution. 

Substitution is a very complex law of cricket. If a player is permitted to be substituted, when he/she returns to the field, they will have to wait the length of time they were absent until they can bowl in the match again. Unless, he/she suffered an external blow on-field or any such reason where the umpires give the exception of skipping penalty time. 

If multiple players are injured and a substitution is permitted, you can field anyone and everyone who qualifies to play in the game, a physio or even a schoolboy who was watching the game on TV can be rushed into the ground to just be a substitute. Remember Ashen Bandara, the 18-year-old who fielded for Sri Lanka as a substitute in the 2017 Galle Test against India?

These are some integral details of cricket that often go unnoticed or unknown by many but the ones who have actually played the sport at competitive level. These kinds of features are what makes one fall in love with this sport. How else does one fall in love with a sport which is played for 5 days and still ends without a result?

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