Following the tragedy of Australian batsman Phil Hughes's death after being struck by a ball while batting, none would have issues about a concussion substitute in cricket. The rules around the replacement though remain open to scrutiny. Yuzvendra Chahal passing muster as a like-for-like replacement for Ravindra Jadeja, after the all-rounder had played a Mitchell Starc delivery on to his helmet in the first T20 on Friday, has raised fresh questions.
"Concussion replacements are a strange thing, today it worked for us; maybe another time we wouldn't have found a like-for-like," skipper Virat Kohli said after the win in Canberra. India could have struggled with no back-up spinner if they didn't have a jumbo squad to pick from.
There seemed some resentment in the Australian dressing room over the replacement. TV cameras captured coach Justin Langer shaking his head in disapproval after a discussion with match referee David Boon.
Australia all-rounder Moises Henriques explained why, after the 11-run loss. "Was it a like-for-like replacement, that is the question. Jadeja was more of an all-rounder and he had done his batting. Chahal is a (pure) bowler."
Former India skipper and coach, Anil Kumble, who heads ICC's Cricket Committee, disagreed. "Jadeja had done his part of batting. If you look at his other skill as a spinner, I'm sure Jadeja would've bowled his four overs. That's why a spinner was brought in as a like-for-like replacement," he said at a book launch.
Pretty much the point ICC rules make. "The ICC Match Referee should consider the likely role the concussed player would have played during the remainder of the match, and the normal role that would be performed by the nominated concussion replacement." Chahal bowled the 24 balls Jadeja would have, with India playing only five specialist bowlers. Chahal is rated higher as a T20 spinner, and his crafty bowling worked to India's advantage.
NOT CLEAR CUT
Imagine a similar situation arising during a Test, where Chahal is the only back-up spinner in the touring party. The visitors would then be at a disadvantage, Jadeja being the better long-format spinner. Ultimately, the like-for-like concussion replacement call is part luck, part match-referee's judgement call.
It could have been trickier if India had two leg-spinners on the bench—Chahal and say an inexperienced Mayank Markande with one international cap. Would the Indian team have had a say in picking the spinner of their choice to replace Jadeja? The rules say nothing. Perhaps it would have been Boon's call, again.
What if Hardik Pandya was fit and in good bowling rhythm? Would Chahal still have qualified to bowl four overs as a replacement, considering Jadeja wasn't originally expected to bowl all four overs. "If the ICC Match Referee believes that the inclusion of the nominated concussion replacement, when performing their normal role, would excessively advantage their team, (he/she) may impose such conditions upon the identity and involvement of the concussion replacement as he/she sees fit," say the rules.
So, is it Boon's decision to make on how many overs Chahal could bowl? What would have happened if India had an off-spinner in the reserves?
"The match referee could put conditions on a player being involved. The referee has some flexibility to best accommodate a like-for-like replacement," ICC general manager, Geoff Allardice, had clarified last year.
Some former Australia cricketers have questioned the integrity of India's decision to seek a replacement for Jadeja, who was in visible discomfort with a hamstring issue while batting. "Should he have had a concussion test then and there? You can't really have it both ways," Mark Waugh told Fox Cricket. "You can't have a substitute who can then bowl for you, but still bat on."
Kumble had an answer. "I've seen some reports suggesting that he didn't call for the physio. But it's not Jadeja's call to call for the physio. It's actually the umpire's. That did not happen perhaps because Jadeja ran for the single and continued to play (the incident was in the final over). Concussion doesn't necessarily mean it has to happen on the field. You can come back to the dressing room and then you may feel some headache or dizziness. And that's when the medical team comes in and stops. That's probably what has happened in this case."
A BCCI statement on Friday night said Jadeja is out of the T20 series and would be "taken for further scans if required based on the assessment on Saturday morning."
Adam Gilchrist said there should be an independent doctor attending to the player who has taken a hit and not the "team medical representative", as the rule book says. "You would think that would be the case, for that very reason, if there's any questions from the opposition," he told Fox.
As India play the second T20 game in Sydney, and India A face Australia A in a tour game, the issue could simmer for a while.
Allardice wasn't available for comment, but the word from ICC is that there is no immediate plans for a rule review.