The new concussion rule in Test cricket comes into force as of the first Ashes Test this week.
Its application may well prove to be a headache for match referees, as they will be the sole arbiter as to who is allowed to replace a concussed player.
The new ICC regulation states that the replacement has to be “like for like”, meaning the match referee has to decide what “like for like” is.
Let’s use a hypothetical. If Nathan Lyon is concussed while batting on Day 1, could he be replaced? If Marnus Labuschagne was not in the playing XI, would he be granted permission to take his place?
Labuschagne has played five Tests, in which his leg-spin has claimed nine wickets at 27.1 – handy figures – while Lyon captured 12 wickets at 34.6 in his first five Tests.
But are Labuschagne’s figures enough to sway Ranjan Madugalle, the match referee for the upcoming series, to allow him to slot in for Lyon, who is seen as a specialist spinner?
Does Labuschagne come in or does Australia play one short for the remainder of the match because there is no obviously similar replacement?
It would be a tricky question for Madugalle, even more so if it happens to occur during the final Test, with the scoreline locked at 2-2.
If he were to give Labuschagne the nod, he would no doubt have to bat in Lyon’s regular position, which would likely be No.11.
And then what happens if, when the ninth wicket falls, he joins Steve Smith at the crease with just another 30 runs remaining to win the series? For a man who would normally bat in the top six and with a first-class average of 37.4 and nine centuries, it would be a handy bonus.
Again, it all comes down to the match referee’s decision as to whether Labuschagne actually checks into the game in the first place.
Another example, let’s say given the fact he has played no red-ball cricket on the tour so far, Usman Khawaja is omitted from the opening Test and opener Cameron Bancroft gets concussed. Is Khawaja seen as the logical replacement?
Both are specialist batsmen, but would Khawaja be assessed as being too experienced? What process does the match referee go through?
It will be Bancroft’s ninth Test if he plays on Thursday. He averages 30.9 and is yet to make a century. Khawaja has played 41 Tests, averages 42.5 and has scored eight centuries.
Does that mean the replacement has to be Marcus Harris because he has played only six Tests, is yet to score a century and averages 32.7? Yet Khawaja and Harris were both deemed as unsuitable by the selectors prior to the match.
If Peter Siddle were concussed, could you replace a 130 kilometre per hour right-armer with the 150 kilometre per hour left-arm Mitchell Starc?
Just what is “like for like” and how broad is the interpretation? All sport is ideally as fair and equitable as it can be. The new concussion rule, however, could favour touring sides.
Traditionally during matches in Australia, the selectors name a No.12 with one player missing out. More often than not, he is a bowler. Let’s say the Test is being played in Perth and a batsman gets concussed. If the Western Australia Shield team is playing an away game that week, where do they source a replacement player from?
If the WA team is not playing that week, does Justin Langer need to ring someone on a golf course and ask if he could head home and get his creams and kit, and hightail it to Optus Stadium?
Yet a 17-man England tour party would have a batsman at the ground ready to check into the game immediately.
When playing in Perth, will Australia need to have a squad of similar size with a reserve spinner, fast bowler and a top and middle-order batsman, thus potentially denying those players match practice if their respective states are in action concurrently in the Shield competition?
ICC operations manager Geoff Allardice has stated, “There will be a period where we’re going to find out if there are any loopholes with the rules.”
That is bound to be the case.
Surely the simplest thing would have been to allow the 12th man to slot straight into the game when a player is ruled out through concussion and to allow him to fulfil any role in the game he is equipped to do.
That way there is no judgement call to be made by the match referee and both teams know they have one specific player in reserve.
Yes, it may mean a bowler replacing a batsman or vice versa, but you name a 12 at the toss and you are stuck with that as a consequence.
That way, a team is at least guaranteed an active substitute, whereas the way the concussion rule is written nowadays the match referee will decide whether you continue on with either ten or 11 players.
Either that or you simply continue to treat concussion as you do any other injury incurred during a match.