India has had tremendously bad luck in the First Test at Lord’s, losing Zaheer Khan, Gautam Gambhir and Sachin Tendulkar to injury at various intervals. If the Indians had to bowl another hour, I’m sure poor overworked Praveen Kumar would have joined the list.
Cricket is a cruel sport, and cruelest perhaps in its substitute rule, which basically reads: No team can have ‘em. If you feel sick, or need to go to the bathroom for a moment, someone from the pavilion can temporarily fill your place on the field. But if you have a more permanent problem, then either you rest and let your team play 1-down, or you allow yourself to play the greatest role reserved for a cricketer — the injured man, hobbling down the steps and to the crease, ready to face a bowler on one foot, one leg, with one arm, or one hand, or a broken jaw. Your call.
As a basic rule on substitutes, I believe cricket is an exception in its severity. For a while, the one-day games allowed a ‘super-sub,’ but that was discontinued (for reasons I can’t fully recall). It’s been suggested that the larger reason cricket doesn’t allow substitutes relates to its larger emphasis on the role of fate and chance in games. Who can say what the weather will be like tomorrow? Who can say how the pitch will behave? Who can say if, in the course of playing at a routine position, one of your men will be hit on the elbow? Such is life.
A more practical person would also say that a substitute in cricket would be very difficult to police. What would happen if cricketers started to feign injuries so that a needed player — an extra bowler, or an extra batsman — could take his place? Say you restricted it so that each team could use one substitute per Test match, and that substitute had to be named before the game began. Well, that still wouldn’t solve the problem because a batsman substitute wouldn’t fill Zaheer Khan’s shoes, and Zaheer Khan wouldn’t fill Tendulkar’s. (Very few people would, in fairness.) But I don’t know much about cricket rules as I should: why aren’t substitutes allowed? And if we could allow them, what would the rule be?