Tighten rules for snappier games

When the French Open ended this year someone asked me if I had watched the matches. I said no because I think the French Open, which is played on clay, is more a test of endurance than tennis skills. Opinions vary on this but I also think the bigger culprit, or indeed the main one, is the obsession with rulemaking in the western countries. They want to make more and more rules for everything. By and large, I must say, these rules have been good.

But in the area of sports they have tended to make different games very boring and predictable. It doesn’t matter which game, cricket or hockey or tennis or football or whatever, over the last half century rules made by the West have had a deadening impact. As a result I now watch fewer tournaments, not least because there are so many of them. At first I thought the problem was me because I do love watching sporting contests. But gradually I realised that, for once, it wasn’t I who had a problem. It was the straitjacketed rules that have taken the fun out of the sport.

Let me just focus on the problem of too many rules. Because of the paucity of space I will discuss only cricket and tennis, the two sports that I love the most. For the other sports you can do a similar exercise and you will see how the rules limit the level of contest. These rules have reduced these sports to a zombie-like state.

I can’t understand why all these changes are necessary if the only effect they have is to dull down the games and make them last longer so that TV channels can rake in more ad revenue.

Take cricket first. Until the end of the 1970s, there were very few rules that governed mainly the bowlers. These rules were for a no ball, a wide and LBW. As a result, the contests used to be more intense. Then gradually more rules were introduced. These were tiny changes — I won’t bore you with the details — that had the effect of making the bat-ball contest uneven. The game became increasingly batting oriented because people like to watch the bowlers getting hammered. The moving force was TV. As the English batsman W G Grace is supposed to have told the bowler who got him out “They have come to see me bat, not to see you bowl.” He refused to leave the field. That was over a 100 years ago. To cut a long story short, let me just tell you how long the shortest rule book is — more than 200 pages. You can find it here. https://www.lords.org/mcc/the-laws-of-cricket/players-conduct.

The same thing has happened to tennis also. All sorts of limiting features have been introduced that have made the game ­mind-numbingly monotonous. The French Open is the daddy of all such monotony. Tennis used to be a fast-paced peer game. Now it’s a slow-paced power game because not only are the balls a little larger, the quality of the felt is also different. At Wimbledon they mow the grass differently. The rackets are larger and much lighter, but aren’t able to fully nullify the effect of larger balls, different felt, heavier clay and lawn restrictions. The US and Australian Open are only slightly better because the surfaces there offer more to players. For the life of me I can’t understand why all these changes were necessary if the only effect they have had is to dull down the games and make them last longer so that TV channels can rake in more ad revenue.

I have a suggestion therefore. Let’s go back to the sort of rules and conditions we had in the 1960s and 1970s. Let’s see if the games become snappier or not. If not, I will say I am wrong. If yes, everyone will be better off.

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