The laws of cricket are devised so as to address possible difficulties that might be faced in mounting a competitive and entertaining cricket match. One of the popular laments of latter-day cricket captains is about the paucity of genuine all-rounders.
Not so long ago, the likes of Botham, Imran, Hadlee and Kapil Dev strode the cricket field, batting, bowling and fielding with equal ease and felicity.
For instance, India’s World Cup win in 1983 was built on the backs of men who could do everything their captain demanded of them, men answering to names such as Mohinder Amarnath, Roger Binny and Madan Lal. But those days are a distant memory, now.
For a brief period in 2005, the ICC thought it had a solution to the problem. It introduced, in ODIs, the Super Sub rule, devised specifically to encourage all-rounders.
Under the rule, the captains at the toss would name 12 players, including a super substitute, who could be introduced at any time into the game, while ensuring that no more than 11 players represented the team at a given moment.
The super sub was allowed to bat, bowl and keep wickets, at the discretion of his captain. But there was a condition to be satisfied. Once the substitution was made, it was permanent. The replaced player could not come back.
Not surprisingly, captains were quick to try and exploit the rule, in a way the ICC had not considered, while devising it. For instance, if it was a bowler friendly wicket, a captain hoping to bowl first would name an extra specialist bowler in the team, to be replaced by a specialist batsman as a super substitute, when the team batted.
But there was a slight hitch that prevented captains from benefiting. They had to name the substitute before the toss. This meant that any advantage of having a specialist batsman or bowler as super substitute depended on winning the toss, and electing to bat or bowl according to the team’s choice of a batsman or bowler as the super sub.
This often resulted in the super sub not taking any further part in a match, if the captain lost the toss. Far from helping to produce all-rounders, the ostensible reason for the law, the super sub rule soon became a farcical device, and the ICC thought it best to consign the rule to the dustbin of cricket history.