IT makes awful reading — 585 wides in the first three completed rounds of Warrnambool and District Cricket Association division one matches.
On average, the umpires extended both arms to signal a wide 34 times in each of the 17 one-day matches played in the first three rounds.
The lowest was 26 wides and the highest 51 in what were supposed to be 45-over-a-side games.
The round three match between Nirranda and East Warrnambool-YCW included 51 deliveries that were wide of the mark — almost nine extra overs had to be bowled because of inaccuracy.
In another match, one senior umpire called seven wides in what was supposed to be a six-ball over.
In total, 97.3 extra overs were bowled in the first three weeks of competition. Last season, in the first three one-day rounds, 400 wides were called at an average of 27 a match.
It’s been a tough start for the leather-flingers. Why?
Is it because the talent pool has been stretched too far by increasing the top grade from eight sides to 12 since the end of the 2010-11 season?
Are the bowlers just not as accurate or are the umpires too harsh?
It seems the wide epidemic dates back to the association’s decision last season to adopt strict wide rules for one-day games — similar to those enforced at international level where any delivery down leg-side missed by a batsman has to be re-bowled. Guide dots or lines are painted on pitches to help the umpires — anything outside those lines are wide.
Woodford coach John Houston said the idea behind the move was to lift the quality of the bowling.
But after an errant start to the season, it appears it isn’t working. Yet. “From a player’s perspective it is disappointing our bowlers aren’t accurate enough to bowl more in the right area,” Houston said.
“It comes down to coaching.
“I think we have to improve our coaching at all levels.
“Hats off to Patto (John Pattison) and Gordon (McLeod) who have their junior structure in place and are picking up more players at a young age.
“That is only going to strengthen the senior competition but the results won’t be seen for probably five years as they step up.”
Houston said the idea of lifting standards was well-intentioned.
“They want to improve the quality of cricket,” he said. “I can see it from both sides. “It is probably fair enough wanting to raise the bar.
“But it puts a lot of onus on the clubs to perform (with the coaching). “I think it is a coaching thing from the club’s point of view but it comes down to the quality of individuals.
“By the rules the umpires are getting it right. The lines are painted on the ground.”
Alarmingly for the art of tight bowling, Houston said he thought the umpires relaxed their interpretation of the rules in the second and third rounds.
Former premier cricket paceman Mick Rantall, who is back playing with Dennington, has more than 20 years of experience in the middle.
“They are very, very stringent,” he said. “It is the most stringent I’ve ever seen it in over 25 years. Anything down leg side at all they call wide, even balls a batter should hit. The depth of the bowlers isn’t there to what it has been but I think the umpires are too harsh.”
One senior cricketing source told The Standard this week that he believed the rules were too strict and needed tweaking for next season.
“We are trying to hold our cricketers to a higher standard that they are not up too,” he said.
East Warrnambool-YCW coach Dan Oakley said the number of wides so far this season seemed high. “The umpires call it as they see it,” he said.
“They have to interpret the rules, not make them.” He said balls going down leg side by “one or two inches” shouldn’t be wides.“The ones down leg side only one or two inches outside, good batsmen should be clipping them off the hip. When it is getting six, seven, eight inches outside they are wide.”
He said if the leg side strict ruling was eased slightly, it would speed up the game but not limit a batsman’s scoring opportunities.
He said one-day games promoted inventive batting which sometimes saw batsmen move across to the middle or off-stump and try and work balls into the leg side. Sometimes they missed and the ball narrowly missed the leg stump but was deemed wide.
Oakley said bowlers needed to improve.
“Bowlers could probably get their line a bit better and help their captains set fields.”
Merrivale coach Michael Walsh said he had a simple solution.
“It’s pretty basic, if you bowl down leg side it’s a wide,” he said. “My boys know if you bowl down leg side you are off.” He said the restrictions meant bowlers couldn’t deny batsmen scoring opportunities which was a positive.