Captains have been banned and teams fined for a slow over rate, while the game’s governing bodies have been criticized for being both too harsh and too lenient in punishing it. But what is an over rate in cricket and why does it provoke such strong reactions?
The over rate in cricket is the term given to the number of overs bowled in an hour and is calculated over the course of the match. Typically, teams aim to bowl at least 15 overs per hour in a Test match but this varies slightly for other types of cricket. Failure to do so can result in players getting fined or losing competition points.
However, in professional cricket, calculating the over rate is a lot more complicated than simply dividing the number of overs bowled by the number of hours taken and can also change depending on the type of match and who sets the rules for that particular match.
Let’s find out how Law 12 of the playing regulations deals with calculating the over rate in a Test match.
How to Calculate Over Rate in Cricket?
All official cricket between countries (be they Test matches, One-Day Internationals, or Twenty20 Internationals) is governed by the International Cricket Council (ICC). The ICC regularly modify their playing regulations which are heavily based on the official Laws of Cricket from the MCC.
The ICC’s playing conditions give teams time allowances for things such as the use of the umpire review system, drinks breaks, or wickets falling when calculating over rate. They also have slightly different minimum over rate requirements depending on the type of match.
Test matches should achieve at least 15 overs per hour, or 90 overs per day across the six hours of play. There is usually an extra half an hour of catch-up time at the close of play.
However, teams frequently do not bowl 90 overs in the six and a half hours, which you would think would be an over rate offence as 90/6.5=13.85 overs per hour. If they only bowled 88 then it would be 13.5 – well under 15!
Let’s use the second Test match between England and West Indies in 2019 as an example. West Indies captain Jason Holder was suspended for the next match because his side was calculated as being two overs short even after time allowances.
They bowled 103.1 overs in the match in an estimated 8 hours 23 minutes which works out at 12.31 overs per hour – so well short, indeed they should have bowled more than 125 overs in the time they had. However, they are due various time allowances.
There are various time allowances given to the bowling team. The indicative list is mentioned below –
- Treatment given to a player or time lost as a result of serious injury
- All TV referrals
- Time wasting by the batting side
- 2 minutes per wicket taken (unless it falls at the end of a session of play)
- 4 minutes per drinks break
- 1 minute for every 3 overs lost due to an interruption in a T20 International
- Other circumstances beyond the fielding side’s control
In this instance, 20 wickets fell so that gives them 40 minutes, while there were three drinks breaks so that’s another 12. That brings the playing time down to 7 hours and 31 minutes but that still leaves them well short on 13.72 overs per hour.
West Indies were ultimately found to have been two overs short after all other time allowances, which means in the time they had they ought to have been able to bowl at least 105.1 overs.
At the required minimum over rate this gives them a time of seven hours and one minute, meaning they had a further 30 minutes of time allowances for things such as the five reviews and matters such as medical treatment for players or other circumstances “beyond the control of the fielding side.”
They should have taken six hours and 53 minutes to bowl their 103.1 overs. Their actual time of seven hours and a minute is eight minutes too long, which at four minutes per over is two overs short.
Back then, the rule was that players were fined 10% of their match fees for each over short, with captains fined double that. Additionally, captain Holder was suspended because this was his second such offense in a 12-month period.
The penalties have since been changed for all international cricket with all players now fined 20% of their match fees for each over short and a two-point competition fine being issued in World Test Championship games to the team for each over they are short. Captains can no longer be suspended for over rate offenses.
Interestingly, West Indies would not have received any penalty under new rules that say any side bowling out a team twice in fewer than 120 overs will not receive any penalties. This was brought in partly because the match in question was actually over inside three days, leading some to question the necessity of Holder’s suspension.
Why Do Over Rate Penalties Exist?
For one thing fans pay their ticket price (and TV viewers their subscriptions) expecting to see a full day’s play and if they miss a few overs then they might feel annoyed. Furthermore, without any penalties it is likely that over rates would drift down to 12 per hour, leading to as many as 12 overs not being bowled out of the 90 scheduled for a day.
More cricket-related reasons relate to advantages that can be gained by time-wasting. For instance, if a side is waiting for a draw they will benefit from a slow over rate. If a side is only playing four bowlers to strengthen their batting then they might benefit from taking extra time so they don’t get so tired. There’s also the possibility of putting off the batsman by taking ages with setting the field etc.
It is interesting to note that West Indies have had the maximum number of over rate breaches in cricket since 2003.
How Do Over Rates and Penalties Differ For Different Forms of Cricket?
In One-Day Internationals, teams are expected to complete their 50 overs in three and a half hours (14.28 overs per hour), while in Twenty20 Internationals you get an hour and a half to bowl 20 overs (13.33 overs per hour).
This disparity is partly due to the extra time captains need to set fields towards the end of an innings and the extra time it takes to fetch the ball after it disappears over the boundary.
However, it can go the other way too. The England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) expect their county players to bowl 96 overs per day in the County Championship (almost 16 overs per hour)
In a county Twenty20 match in England, ECB expects players to have begun their final over within 75 minutes (15.2 over per hour). If not, they will have to have an extra fielder inside the 30-yard circle for the overs yet to be bowled after the 75 minutes, thus making things easier for the batsmen.
What Is The Fastest Over Ever Bowled?
It is not possible to say for certain because precise records won’t be kept for matches below first-class level.
However, a 2007 County Championship match at Headingley saw Pakistani overseas player Younus Khan complete one over of part-time spin bowling in 35 seconds according to Wisden. “A 50-minute rain-break killed off any hope of a result”, reports Wisden, “and the game descended into farce as Yorkshire rescued a slow over rate, which threatened a points deduction by rushing through 5.2 overs in eight minutes (almost 40 overs per hour!).”
Hopefully you now understand a little bit more about what commentators are talking about when they bemoan a slow over rate and just why the over rate might not be as slow as first appears due to the time allowances that are available for fielding sides.
A slow over rate may not sound like a big deal but, as we have seen, it can lead to teams losing points, players losing money, and, in the past, captains being suspended from playing so it is worth bearing in mind.
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