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2015: Rod Marsh

Australia selector Rod Marsh used his Cowdrey Lecture to call for Law changes to cricket and put forward his argument on how to keep Test cricket in a healthy state.

Rod Marsh's MCC Spirit of Cricket Cowdrey Lecture

The last time I recall seeing Colin Cowdrey was at a warm up match for the 1983 World Cup at Arundel. We were playing against New Zealand and the captains had agreed that each team would bat for one day. We had batted first on a belter of a pitch and scored plenty. So day two it was the Kiwi's turn and didn't they cash in?

I remember Glen Turner opening the batting and our great fast bowler DK Lillee opening the bowling. Dennis bowled a few short deliveries in his first over and each one was dispatched to the boundary by Glen. Needless to say his next few overs were a tad quicker and sadly a tad shorter. He was belted from deck chair to deck chair around the picturesque ground as Turner raced towards his half century.

Sanity prevailed for an hour or so when Dennis was rested but when he returned for his second spell just before lunch, the mayhem recommenced. For some reason our fast bowler must have thought there was extra pace and bounce in the pitch since his last turn at the crease. He bowled the same length and Turner gave him the same treatment.

Thankfully, the lunch break came, just in the nick of time I might add. DK was fuming and he stormed off the ground as only he could.

I'm not sure what Colin had been doing that morning but it was pretty obvious he hadn't been at the match. I say this because he was there to greet us as we came off the field and said to our champion fast bowler as he burst through the doors of the pavilion "well bowled master". Now Colin would have just expected Dennis to have bowled well. He would never have seen him bowl any other way.

The purpose of this story is to mention the Spirit of Cricket and to give an example of just how nice a man Colin was. He always had something nice to say! His comment to Dennis was very well intended.

Dennis' unprintable reply however was certainly not in the Spirit of Cricket but hilarious given the circumstances!

Tonight I will talk about the Spirit of Cricket in the modern game, I'll touch on some law changes I believe can benefit the game and give you some of my thoughts on how we can ensure Test match cricket will be in a healthy state in the future.

Firstly, the Spirit of Cricket.

When I was a youngster there was no television and we had to rely on the radio or wireless to follow Test match cricket. There was no one day cricket and it was indeed a highlight when my brother and I managed an invitation to our parents bedroom to listen to Test match cricket being broadcast from England. I dreamt of playing Test cricket as a result of those radio broadcasts.

There was no thought of an umpire making a mistake before television, there was no thought of a player disputing a decision. The game happened without microscopic scrutiny. But, there were characters in the game. You can't tell me Freddie Truman wouldn't have had the odd word to a batsman after he'd played and missed three on the trot! The banter was and should remain part of the game.

What remains vitally important is the players are educated at an early age that above all they must respect the game, the umpires, their opposition and their own team mates. I was fortunate enough to be involved in 3 National Academies in Australia, India and England. This message of respect was very much part of my non negotiables for these young tyros.

I completely understand how players can get hot under the collar during the contest but I will never understand how personal abuse can make the situation any better. This should not and cannot be tolerated in our game.

It makes my blood boil every time I am quoted as having delivered one of the best ever cricket sledges. Supposedly I said to Ian Botham on his arrival at the crease during a Test match 'how's your wife and my kids?' He also supposedly replied 'the wife's fine but the kids are retarded'. I can promise you I would never ever make a comment like that to a fellow cricketer. I have too much respect.

I do plead guilty to something I said to Derek Randall during a Test match at Old Trafford however. He was not out overnight and next morning he arrived at the crease in his usual fidgety fashion and turned to me (I was standing up over the stumps) and said good morning Rodney.Naturally I didn't reply, after all it was and always has been a case of 11 versus 2 and I didn't want him to feel comfortable. He continued to turn to me and continued to greet me with morning best wishes. In the end, he won the battle because I broke my silence by pointing out it was a Test match, not an Effin garden party.

Ian Chappell is mistakenly labelled as one of those players who didn't necessarily abide by the Spirit of the game. I can promise you Ian played the game hard, he was uncompromising, but I never once heard him abuse an umpire or an opposition player. I did hear him say on many occasions after we'd appealed for an LBW and the batsman indicated he'd hit the ball that the said batsman should leave the appealing to us, the decision making to the umpire and that he should concentrate on his batting. (Expletives deleted!)

Ian was also quick to put an end to any of his teammates misbehaviour on the field. He saw this as his responsibility and this is very much what this law, the Spirit of Cricket, actually means.

On field volatility seems to have got worse since the advent of live television coverage. Or, maybe it hasn't got worse at all, maybe it's just that we notice it or are made aware of it by a commentator who as a player was no doubt an angel. When the players can see in the dressing room that the umpire may have made an error then some of that respect and sometimes trust they have for that particular umpire may well begin to disappear. They are more likely to stand and either dispute a decision or make it quite apparent to all and sundry they disagree with the umpire. My simple advice as a player and a coach was that players make far more mistakes than umpires ever do. So, get on with it!

The thing which really worries me is that the administrators of the game will take all of the characters out of the game. We cannot afford to clone players into being silent robots who go about their business without either a smile or a frown. Passion remains paramount and there is nothing more satisfying to the paying public to see a player playing with passion. Cricket is very much part of the entertainment business and the players are responsible for the show. Continue to educate them but let them perform their wonderful skills with great passion and flair.

To my mind a great example of over zealous interference by the administrators came during one of the quarter finals of the last World Cup. Australia were playing Pakistan at the Adelaide Oval in front of a bumper crowd. We'd bowled Pakistan out for a very mediocre 217 and I must say the atmosphere in the ground was very ho hum! There was no atmosphere as we were cruising to victory.

Enter left arm fast bowler Riaz! All of a sudden Pakistan had got up off the floor and were counter punching because this young man was desperate to win. He bowled with terrific pace, bounced out the Australian captain and then made life extremely uncomfortable for the experienced Shane Watson and Glenn Maxwell.

All of a sudden the crowd came to life. It may have been because Riaz got right in the face of Watson and even blew him the odd kiss. Whatever happened out there was intriguing and brought the game to life. As a result of Riaz breathing life into an ordinary contest, both he and Shane Watson were fined for their on field behaviour. They should have both been given a bonus

The Spirit of the Game is very straight forward to me and I feel as though I understand it completely. I was involved in two incidents during my career for which I thought I received unfair praise. The first was during the Centenary Test match at the MCG in 1977. Derek Randall was given out caught behind off Greg Chappell and I called him back. He was well over a hundred at the time and had we not dismissed him England probably would have won this historic match. The ball did not carry to me and therefore it wasn't out. It was a simple decision to call him back because I hadn't caught the ball. The fact that he didn't hit it had nothing to do with my decision! I was brought up not to cheat and it would have been cheating had I not called him back. Why should I have been praised for doing this, it was the correct thing to do.

The other incident was also at the MCG in the early 80s in a one day match against New Zealand. This was the infamous underarm delivery and although I don't really recall what I did , television footage showed me shaking my head and saying something like "don't do it." At that stage it was within the laws of the game but it certainly wasn't within the Spirit of the Game. The law has since been changed.

I reckon I understand the Spirit of Cricket law pretty well but I'm not so sure about some of the other laws.

Let me begin with the no ball law. I can't see why we ever went to the front foot law and just quietly I can reveal there are a few umpires out there beginning to wish it would revert back to the back foot law. You put yourself in their position when a batsman with a massive weapon runs at the bowler and smashes a straight drive at about chest height. I for one would want to be standing back as far as possible and by reverting to the back foot law the umpire has a chance to stand at least 2 metres further back.

It's only a matter of time before an umpire in an International or first class match is seriously hurt, if not killed. This appears most likely to occur in T20 cricket but looking at the World Cup earlier this year, it could happen at any time. If I happened to be umpiring right now I'd be wearing a baseball catchers helmet, a chest pad and shin guards. Also an abdominal protector and that wouldn't be the pink plastic one! Maybe we have to make this safety gear for umpires compulsory for all international and first class games.

One could argue the bowler is even more at risk and there will be no argument from me on this. I've only heard of a bowler being struck in the head by a drive once and this occurred in Brisbane on December 5th 1976 when Viv Richards was playing for Queensland. Incidentally Viv was batting, not bowling and his slightly lofted straight drive took out the Tasmanian medium pace bowler, Kevin Badcock. He was taken to the Princess Alexandra hospital where he spent the night with a seriously fractured cheekbone. Somehow, the bowlers seem to get out of the way, as do the umpires in the main. What worries me is the deflection from the bowler's hand. The poor umpire is just avoiding the ball and all of a sudden it changes direction.

Just a few days after the tragic death of Philip Hughes former Israel captain Hillel Oscar died while standing as umpire at the bowlers end. Reportedly the ball ricocheted from the stumps to his head. Five years before that in Swansea a 72 year old umpire died after being hit on the head by a ball thrown by a fieldsman. I realise the back foot law wouldn't have helped the umpire in Swansea but it could well have helped Mr Oscar.

This brings me to my next discussion point, the size of the cricket bat. Perhaps we should take the lead from golf. Many recently developed drivers have a marked trampoline effect.  (a large deformation of the face upon impact followed by a quick restoration to original dimensions, acting like a slingshot) resulting in very high ball speeds and great lengths of tee shots. As of January 1st 2008 the USPGA and the R&A have settled on a regulation which limits the actual trampoline effect to a coefficient of restitution (COR) - a measurement of the efficiency of the transfer of energy from the club head to the ball - of .830.

Now I'm not suggesting we should go that far with cricket bats but still on golf, what about the square grooves that everyone was buying in the Ping Eye2 irons. The USPGA argued that players using these clubs had an unfair advantage in imparting spin on the ball which of course helped it stop on the green. Karsten Manufacturing, makers of the Ping clubs sued the USPGA for 100 million US dollars when they decided to ban them. Thankfully, sanity prevailed and us duffers can still use them. They are legal under the rules of golf . However, the USPGA has deemed them illegal in elite level competition.

Maybe we can limit the size of a cricket bat for international and first class cricket but still allow those who play the game every weekend can use whatever they like. I would put a restriction on the width of the edges because I will never condone a player being totally beaten and yet the ball travels 70 or 80 metres for 4 or 6 off the fat edge. That's just wrong!

I have read where former great South African batsman Barry Richards has suggested to even the balance between bat and ball, the fielding side should be allowed to tamper with the ball. This would allow the ball to reverse swing and give the bowlers more chance on some of the flat pitches around the world. I recall seeing footage of players rubbing the ball on the pitch when a second new ball had been taken in years gone by to allow the spinners to grip it better. That law has certainly changed and I for one would be happy for it to be reintroduced on an experimental basis. Incidentally, Barry is one who would like to see the size of the bats limited.

I am all for experimentation in the short forms of the game. I'd love to see ODI series played on different surfaces. For example, we have a five match series about to begin in this country. What about having the first two matches played on greenish pitches where the faster bowlers could well dominate. The batsmen would have to really buckle down to survive. It would be like the first session of a Test match. There would be no scores of 400 plus but rather somewhere in the region of 200/ 250.

The next two games could be played on turners which would simulate days four and five of a Test match and the final match could be played on a belter of a pitch. I would advocate each country is only allowed a squad of 15 per one day series. The winner would rightly be classed as the better side.

When I was a youngster one of the skills we were taught was running between the wickets. We were taught to watch the ball leave the bowlers hand and then and only then should we leave the safety of our crease and actually back up. Where I played you watched that ball leave the bowler's hand like a hawk. If not, Mankad!

With the laws as they are, a bowler is penalised if he oversteps the front line, in fact some part of his foot must be behind the line. However, the batsman at the non strikers end can back up as far as he likes it seems well before the ball has left the bowler's hand and there is no penalty. That's all very well but imagine a packed Lords for the next World Cup and England have one run to get with one ball remaining, Joe Root on strike on 149 not out and Mitchell Starc Mankads Stephen Finn, who incidentally is three metres out of his crease.

As the law stands today, he has every right to do this but realistically no one wants this to happen in our game. The only way to stop the non striker cheating, and that's exactly what he's doing, is to penalise by taking either taking runs from the total or calling dead ball if there is any illegal backing up. That ball then doesn't have to be bowled again. It is both sad and ridiculous to watch players being paid a million plus dollars a year who wander out of their crease without even a casual glimpse at the bowler.

I guess everyone has their view on DRS and how best we can use technology to improve our game. There will be some in this room who believe we shouldn't need technology at all because it doesn't improve our game. And, I may add that it's very refreshing watching a Test match when there are two fine umpires in charge and there is no DRS.

However, I do believe there should be a DRS but I'm afraid I have little faith in the ball tracking systems. I have witnessed too many predictions on what path the ball will take that just don't ring true to me. I may add they don't ring true to anyone who has played a lot of cricket. Now whether this is operator error or the actual ball tracking system, I have no idea. All I know is in my opinion there are too many errors.

So, I would let the umpires call on all LBW decisions stand unless it was an absolute howler. The batsman knows if he's hit the ball and will ask for a review if given out. The technology reliably shows the edge and the decision will be overturned. There won't be too many howlers on height or direction because we'll be playing under the back foot no ball law and the umpire will have had more time to steady his eyes and give a very accurate assessment. The umpire can place a disc or make a mark where the back foot should land which basically means the bowler's front foot is behind the front line. If the bowlers resort to dragging on their back foot as did in years gone by, we now have a third umpire who can alert the on field umpire and he can then place the disc accordingly.

The added bonus to all this is that the Indian board may well agree to this and Test cricket would then be played under the same playing conditions world wide for every Test match.

As an ex-keeper I would like to see the umpires actually make a decision on run outs and stumpings rather than automatically review them. If someone is hit on the pads and the fielding side appeals, the umpire says out or not out. If the keeper whips off the bails and asks the umpire for a decision he doesn't get one, just a signal to review the appeal. I think this is discriminatory against stumpers and if I was playing today I would demand the umpire answers my appeal. If he did answer my appeal and it was in the negative then I would have every right to review his decision if in fact I thought it was out. Well, naturally I would review the decision because I wouldn't have appealed unless it was out!

Test cricket

It's not often the ICC get any praise but I think they should be commended for their actions in giving seven of the 10 Test playing 1.25million US$ each ,for the next eight years to ensure they don't lose money by having to play Test matches. India, England and Australia don't receive this hand out. Who would ever have thought this could and would happen. It is a fact that these countries actually lose money staging Test cricket and the ICC see this contribution as the only way Test cricket will actually survive as we know it today.

To my way of thinking this is fantastic but, it will soon be two million and then three and before we know, the well will run dry. There must be internal mechanisms within those seven countries to actually ensure they can improve the status of their Test cricket. What will they do with their hand out to make sure people want to come along to watch Test match cricket?

I'm no marketing guru but I do know if you can get as many kids playing the game and along to the cricket there will be some very positive outcomes. Firstly and most importantly, the next generation will begin to know and love the game. This in itself ensures the longevity of the game. Secondly, if the kids go then the parents will also have to go. They will also spend money on food and beverages.

So, let's attack the kids market. Let them in for free. Promote the hell out of the Test matches with all the money the ICC is giving the seven countries. Make it fun for the kids, get the players involved somehow. Sit down together and find a template which will work, be proactive. This is the best game in the world, don't just take the money, make it work for you. Get off your backside cricket!

Along with the 10 million the ICC are giving to the seven countries maybe they should spend a little more by getting an elite group of people together to both suggest ideas and to actually review the way the money has been spent. It may take a little while to get it right in each country but it will become pretty obvious by attendances and revenue streams which countries have embraced ideas and spent the money wisely. Sadly those who don't comply and can't get Test cricket moving in their country should be temporarily suspended from playing further Test matches. Another member could then have access to the ICC funding and have the opportunity of playing Test match cricket.

How can the Test match crowds in South Africa be so poor? They have a magnificent team with arguably the best fast bowler in the world and possibly the best batsman in the world. Yet no one goes to watch them play at home. Come on you guys get active, there will be a time when your product isn't that good and you'll struggle to exist.

Maybe the answer lies in participation. No longer can it be taken for granted that kids will pick up,a bat and ball. We know that has been the case here in England, where the competition from football is immense.

Other sports in their traditional homes are facing similar challenges. I read a recent Wall St Journal report saying that although Major League Baseball is strong in the US, the casual player is vanishing, threatening the sport's future.

Participation between 7 to 17 year olds dropped from 8.8 m in 2000 to 5.3 m in 2013. The shift threatens to cost the MLB millions of fans, raising concerns about the league's future at a time when revenues are soaring and attendance strong. The reason it's so concerning is that the biggest predictor of future adult fans is whether they played the game.

But why is that the case?

The president of a local little league hit the phones to find out. Some parents told him their children were more interested in lacrosse. Others in basketball or soccer. Some didn't respond to messages at all.

Then there's a greater emphasis on performance over mere enjoyment and exercise that has driven many kids to focus on one sport from an earlier age, making it harder for all sports to attract casual participants.

Cricket needs to learn from this. There are many challenges that are common across all sports, but top of that list is about persuading more kids to play the game. Simple as that may sound, it is not an easy task and there are many obstacles. As a grandparent I see these challenges first hand.

TV and computer games continue to compete for kid's leisure time. Sport and physical education is not part of a child's schooling to the extent it once was. Communities are not perceived to be as safe as they once were meaning casual street and park cricket are not encouraged as actively as when I was growing up.

Parents are generally busier, work longer hours and have less time to dedicate to their children's sporting pursuits.

They are all very real factors we must contend with as we work to grow the game for participants and seek to generate more fans and an increasing level of interest and passion in our sport.

Even in India, where cricket is still the biggest sport in the country by far, others have started to make a mark with several new leagues in football,hockey, tennis, badminton and kabaddi. The rate of growth of cricket in India is far lower than other sports.

At home, Cricket Australia's research of the late 2000s showed that cricket was becoming less relevant as a sport for kids, females, young families and Australians from non-English speaking backgrounds.

Something needed to be done to get them into the game. Otherwise, the figures showed that cricket was on a path to becoming a minor sport as today's non-cricketing kids became tomorrow's adults and, eventually, future Australian grandparents. It also meant that Australia needed to be careful about focussing all of it's loving attention on Test cricket while ignoring the fact that traditional cricket was not engaging masses of young people

Now Twenty20 is not everyone's cup of tea, but the introduction of the Big Bash League has brought thousands of new fans to cricket. That is it's role and purpose. And you know what, the kids are playing some form of T20 in their schools. 10 years ago very few schools played any organised cricket.

So how we respond to these challenges around the world is critical.

What we do today will be judged in 10 or 20 years when the jury of that era assesses whether cricket is still a fundamental part of our way of life or whether it's a minor, exotic boutique sport played by a small clique of devotees fondly remembering the game's former glories.

The hand out can't be used to prop up areas within the particular country which need financial support. It must be used for what is intended, and that is to make Test match cricket successful again.

I really believe Test match cricket will regain some of it's status once International T20 matches are restricted to a T20 World Cup which will run on a four year cycle.

Chairman of Cricket Australia believes ODI's should be called World Cup Cricket with every one day game having an impact on which teams play in the next World Cup. He also believes there should be no full members and Associate Members, only members. Everyone is equal and everyone has the right to qualify for any ICC event provided they win enough matches. I agree with Wally.

The other thing I am really hot on and believe must be addressed is over rates. Teams are asked to bowl 90 overs per day, six ball overs that is, and you know what, they rarely bowl them in their allocated six hours. So, what do we do? We give them an extra half hour and still they don't always bowl them. I do understand there are more reasons why overs take longer to bowl what with the DRS and the fact the players must rehydrate every five or 10 minutes but come on boys. The public are paying for 90 overs in six hours and that's what they should get.

The solution is to suspend the captain for a game. It would only happen once and if the batsman is not ready to face up then suspend him for the next match. Obviously a little common sense must prevail and there can be some extenuating circumstances but we must do something about it. A note to the umpires as well....don't let runners with drinks on the field unless a wicket has fallen and no time can be wasted.

You know in the famous 1960/61 series Australia v West Indies the average number of overs per six hour day was 82, and that was eight ball overs which of course equates to 109.2 6 ball overs. Remember the West Indies had Wes Hall in their side and he ran in from the sight screen as well!

So in conclusion, I plead with the ICC not to legislate the characters from the game, get the umpires and match referees to use good common sense when deciding on behavioural issues of players.

Go back to the back foot no ball law and get rid of ball tracking for LBW decisions. Be strong with over rates and the penalties imposed on offenders. Experiment with the one day game but most importantly get kids playing cricket. This is the key to growing the Test match game.

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