STOP ALL THE CLOCKS
The blot of slow play
Did you know that in the recent rugby match between England and South Africa, the ball was in play for only 33 minutes? I do not know how much a ticket costs to watch an international at Twickenham, but I would bet it is not much short of £100. Add travel to and from the ground and a couple of over-priced pints of beer and you would be looking at a very expensive afternoon. For just 33 minutes of play! Hardly worth it.
That is why I applaud FIFA – and it is not very often I say that – for their commendable effort in the current World Cup to add on time to the allotted 90 minutes of play for stoppages and time-wasting. It is not unusual to see between six and nine minutes, sometimes much more, of added time. How odd, but how welcome, it is to see in the top left-hand corner of our television screens the minutes of play reach treble figures. No longer can goalkeepers dawdle over goal kicks. No longer can players go down to feign injury and waste a few moreminutes. No longer can managers introduce pointless substitutions in the last few seconds in order to run down the clock. Well, they can, but it will availeth them naught; time will be added on.
Managers, coaches, support staff are complaining about it but that is always the default position of those patrolling the touchline. They say that it is now impossible to monitor the fitness, the stamina, the endurance of their precious players because they don’t know how long the match is going to last. Managers feel they have to be in control; here is a case when they manifestly are not. Besides, their beef can easily be put aside by having a large clock beside the pitch. Whenever there is a break in play, the clock can be stopped and as soon as the ball is in play again, the clock is restarted. Simple! I do hope FIFA will shortly adopt a pitchside clock. And I do hope the domestic game back here in the UK follows suit next season.Rugby too, can take a leaf out of FIFA’s books. People like me, who enjoy the game but are not dyed-in-the-wool fans, are becoming increasingly turned off by the constant settingand resetting of scrums, the team meetings before every line-out, the frequent incursions of water carriers (I wonder why a water carrier needs to be mic-ed up!) and the interminable discussions between the referee and the TMO official in some dark, anonymous studio somewhere in the bowels of the stadium. The game has stultified, and World Rugby has a problem on its hands.
Slow play also drives me nuts at cricket matches, though ‘slow play’ is a bit of a misnomer. It really ought to be ‘no play’, because there are periods in the day when nothing is happening. I am not referring to a batting side that is blocking out for a draw or a fielding side that is merely going through the motions because a draw is unavoidable. I am referring to the way that the players (the umpires too) dawdle in the execution of their duties. I have long railed about slow over rates in Test matches and have always believed it is well within the umpires’ capacity and jurisdiction to gee the players up, to demand that they get a move on. But for some reason, they don’t. They are equally culpable, in my opinion,as the players for the dilatory over rates, in the way they wander slowly to their positions, often after a chat with their opposite number. There are supposed to be 90 overs in a day’s play. How often is that number never reached? When Test match tickets cost more than £100, yet again the spectator is being short-changed. Back in the day when I was playing professionally, we had to bowl nineteen and a half overs an hour; if we did not, we were fined, and in those days of feudal wages, that was something devoutly not to be wish’d. That over rate was perfectly possible; it just needed a will…. and an occasional sharp word from the umpire.
But now FIFA – glory be – have given me an idea. How about putting up a large clock alongside the scoreboard, which counts down the seconds before a bowler starts his run-up? The amount of time allowed between balls would obviously have to be agreed, and I realise that the umpires would need the flexibility to stop the clock in certain situations, such as injury. It would do away with all those annoying breaks in play, the setting and resetting of the field, the totally unnecessary changing of gloves, the bringing on of water, theambling between overs. If the batsmen are responsible for the delay, four runs shall be deducted from the total. If the bowling side are responsible, four runs shall be added to the total. I guarantee that 90 overs would be completed well before the witching hour of 6.00pm.
Think what fun the Barmy Army would have, counting down the seconds as the bowler rushes back to his mark. They could sing along to the Manfred Mann song of the 1960s:
“Five, four, three, two, one…
Uh, oh, it was the Au-ssies!”