Holder’s ban just, but only just

It is possible to be delighted in Jason Holder’s success with bat, ball, and captaincy, and to maintain that his suspension for the third and final Test at St. Lucia was correct.

As has been observed elsewhere, slowing the game down yields a tactical advantage: the less a bowler has to bowl each day, the more energy he conserves. West Indies thus gained a small but not entirely inconsequential unfair advantage in bowling at a slow rate.

This is not, of course, to claim that England’s loss was due to the the slow over rate; they were simply thoroughly outplayed by a superior West Indies team. Furthermore, should any English supporters be about to climb on to the moral high ground, it should also be noted in passing that Len Hutton cottoned on to the potential of the tactic for the 1954-1955 Ashes.

Nevertheless, the idea that England’s batsmen were equally culpable for the early finish misses the point. The shortchanging of spectators from slow over rates is not caused by an early conclusion to the match, but by providing less play for your pound/dollar/rupee. Spectators are not financially robbed by games that finish early: refunds are typically issued for missing days of play.

One wonders if the outcry would have been so vocal if the offender was not so eminently likeable a character. Had David Warner been in charge and suspended for such an offence, it seems unlikely that he would have garnered as much sympathy as Holder did.

What certainly is unsatisfactory, however, is the current system of post-game penalties. Several years ago on ESPNcricinfo I called for fielders to be suspended during games. Russell Degnan’s analysis of the problem merits careful reading; he calls for a delivery clock, similar to that used in tennis. Either way, to justly redress the in-game advantage unfairly gained, an in-game penalty is required, whether that be penalty runs, fielder suspension, or some other means.

Post-game fines and suspensions do not remediate, they punish; for the sake of spectators and the game itself, in-game penalties should be used wherever possible. The redrafted Law 42, indeed, gives umpires more leeway in this regard. Had such an in-game penalty been applied in this instance, the Second Test would have been marginally more balanced, spectators could have witnessed Holder in action in the Third Test, and less time would have been wasted both on the field and in writing about the disappointing outcome.