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World Test Championship

Explained: Why the ICC’s ‘minimum over rate’ requirement is anything but

Ben Gardner by Ben Gardner
@Ben_Wisden 4 minute read

The thorny issue of over rates has once again been in the spotlight, with more than 30 overs of play lost across the first three days of the World Test Championship final.

With the weather set fair for the whole game, 270 overs in total were scheduled to be bowled across the first three days, and even with four overs lost for the two mid-session changes of innings, a total of 235.1 overs bowled represented a significant deficit, equivalent to more than a session of play. With India facing a possible battle for survival, any lost time could prove crucial.

Any possible penalties will be decided at the end of the game, and there has been debate over how to keep the pace of play at a good level, with some suggesting that in-game penalty runs be in place to act as a deterrent. As it stands, close inspection of the ICC’s playing conditions shows that the minimum over rate isn’t really a minimum at all, with the 90 overs in six hours target also way above the least that needs to be bowled to avoid a penalty. Here’s why.


The minimum isn’t really 15 overs an hour

The first thing to note is, while Clause 12.9.1 of the ICC’s playing conditions states that “The minimum over rate to be achieved in World Test Championship matches shall be 15 overs per hour”, Clause 12.9.6 makes clear that a team will only be punished if “the over rate calculation determines that a team has bowled one or more overs less than the minimum over rate requirement”.

This means that, as long as a team is found to have bowled more than 14 overs an hour, they will avoid punishment.

There are plenty of allowances built into the allotted time

While a standard session is two hours long in actual time, in ICC playing condition time, it is slightly less than that. This is because, according to sub-clause, an allowance will be given of “4 minutes per drinks break taken”. Given each day of Test cricket will have one drinks break scheduled per session, that means that, even taking into account the extra half-hour allowed to a side if they have bowled less than 90 overs in the scheduled hours of play, a team can bowl 89 overs, without taking a wicket and with no other allowances given, and avoid a punishment.

This is because the allotted time would be 378 minutes (two hours per session, the extra half-hour, and 12 minutes subtracted for three drinks break). Bowling 89 overs in that time equates to 14.13 overs per hour, well below the supposed ‘minimum over rate’, but above the threshold that would see a team punished.

There are other loopholes too that can see a team avoid sanctions even when bowling their overs slowly.

Some innings aren’t taken into consideration at all, if a team is too slow

A minimum over rate is calculated across a match, rather than a session, a day or an innings. However, some innings, if they are short enough, aren’t taken into account, but only if a team is slow to bowl their overs.

Sub-clause states “if the fielding team bowls out the batting team in 60 overs or less in any particular innings and the minimum over rate requirement for that innings has not been exceeded (taking into account all of the time allowances described above), no account shall be taken of the actual over rate in that innings when calculating the actual over rate at the end of such match”. That’s a long sentence, so a couple of examples should illustrate what this means in practice. If say, Team A bowl out Team B in 59 overs but takes three sessions to do so, the over rate, significantly below 15 overs an hour, won’t be taken into account when calculating the overall match over rate for Team A. However, if Team A maintain a rate of 16 overs an hour, that will be taken into account.

This can be a negative for fielding side on occasion, since the penalty increases given how far below the minimum over rate a team is. If, for example, Team A bowls out Team B twice, once in 62 overs and five hours (a rate of 12.4 overs per hour) and once in 59 overs and four hours (a rate of 14.75 overs per hour), the latter innings won’t be taken into account when calculating the match over rate, and Team A will be more than two overs below the required rate, and hence be sanctioned. If the latter innings were taken into account, the rate would be 13.44 overs per hour, and so incur a lesser penalty.

Also of note is that if the fielding team bowls out the batting team twice and takes 120 overs or less in total to do so, they will incur no penalty. So if Australia bowl India out in under 50 overs in the chase, they will be safe. If the fielding team has bowled fewer than 60 overs in the game, no penalty can be imposed, regardless of if they bowl out the batting team or not.

There are other allowances built in as well

While the time taken out for medical treatment to an on-field player, any reviews by the TV umpire, and as a result of time wasted by the batting side is calculated on an ad hoc basis, of note is that each wicket, if it falls mid-session, gives an allowance of two minutes. This means that, should a team take one wicket and bowl only 88 overs in a six-and-a-half hour day, they will be above the over rate which would incur a penalty. There would be an allotted time of at most 376 minutes in this case, with 88 overs bowled in that time corresponding to an over rate of 14.04 overs per hour.

To bet on the World Test Championship final with our Match Centre partners bet365, head here.

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