Lasith Malinga, I read in one of the morning papers, practices his devastating late swinging yorkers by placing a pair of boots where the batsman’s feet would be, and trying to knock its toes off. Nice. Reminds me the silly season is about to begin later today, with another clutch of one dayers we’ll watch reflexively and forget as soon as they are over, if not sooner.
In the week or so that I was away, everyone and his uncle appears to have been busy writing the obituary of the one day game. Here for instance is Mike Henderson about a one day series no one gives a hoot in hell about.
As Kingsley Amis said, more will mean worse. After this interminable bunfight against the Australians, England go immediately to the Champions Trophy in South Africa, then return to the republic for a tour that kicks off with 11 one-day matches, over 20 and 50 overs, before the first Test starts in Centurion on Dec 16. Were England to reach the Champions Trophy final, a long shot admittedly, they will have played 25 one-day matches between Tests.
The problem, suggests Stephen Brenkley, is that in the 50 over version there is a prolonged period when the game is in a state of stasis.
It is the manner in which the players approach the game. Between roughly the 20th over and the 40th in most innings of one-day internationals the game is put in a kind of suspended animation in which the bowlers bowl and the batsmen bat, but only way, as if by unspoken agreement.
Defensive fields are set, runs are nurdled and squeezed rather than struck, it is risk-free on both sides. Anything beyond is a bonus. Things start to happen again in the 40th over. It was like that at Lord’s again yesterday. Australia, having reach 75 for three off 20 overs, were 169 for six from 40 and then added 80 in the final 10. Perfectly innocent Sunday afternoon slumbers were disturbed all round the ground.
It is formulaic cricket, which the introduction of power plays has not fully addressed, and its torpid effect has been aggravated by the advent of Twenty20 which is not perpetually exciting but is short. And at least in 20-over cricket, somebody is always trying something.
Sachin Tendulkar suggested that a solution to this and other ills is to split the ODI game into two innings per side — a formula they are now calling the Sachin Plan, though various luminaries have been arguing this case for years now. [Most recently, Dean Jones suggested a marriage of the T-20 and Test forms].
A solution that does not address the problem is IMHO no solution at all — merely a case of activity without direction. If you accept the argument that the problem with ODIs is the lull in the middle, what then causes that lull? The fact that teams have to preserve wickets for a late order blitz, yes? If that is the case, how does splitting the boredom into two halves change anything? Teams still have 50 overs to play, and need to keep wickets intact for the end, and so will ease off after the field restrictions are removed. All this Plan, whose birth certificate now boasts Tendulkar’s name as ‘father’, will do is create an artificial jerk in the progress of an innings.
Err, how would it be, since Tests too have begun failing to draw crowds, if we split the Tests up too? The first five batsmen play, then the first innings is adjourned, the second team has its five batsmen play… no? Or how about the side batting first plays 50 overs, then the second team gets a shot at bat, then the first team comes back… again, no? Too ridiculous? How then is it sensible to implement such a system in the ODI format?
Dean Jones had an alternate suggestion — reducing the number of overs, hence shortening the mid innings stalemate, by 10. In other words, are you bored because there is a period of two hours in mid innings where nothing much happens? Pity — so tell me, would you be hugely enthused if the boredom quotient was reduced to an hour and a half?
No? Thought so.
Derek Pringle has five solutions, not one.
1 Allow bowlers a maximum of 12 overs each rather than the current limitation of 10. That way fewer bowlers are needed to provide the bulk of the overs, a move that would simultaneously allow more batsmen to be picked to face them.
2 Remove the playing condition that restricts bowlers to having a maximum of five fielders on the leg-side. Packing that side of the wicket can restrict the scoring, but it would open up the off-side field allowing bold batsmen to score boundaries that are such rarities in the middle overs these days.
3 Only allow both the fielding side and the batting side to take their Powerplays after the 20th over. That way, you will have 10 overs of the “boring” middle period where play should not be predictable.
4 The use of a new ball at either end as used in the 1992 World Cup. Might be tough on batsmen on early season pitches in England but it precludes the need to change the ball while making it easier for both spectators and TV to pick it up.
5 Ensure every team carries a home and away kit so there are no colour clashes of the kind that marred this year’s final of the Friends Provident Trophy where both Sussex, Hampshire and the umpires all wore the same shade of dark blue.
I’m kind of amused by item 3: All it means is that teams will look to preserve wickets, that is, to bat sedately, in the first 20 overs so they have their wickets for when the powerplays kick in after twenty overs — the choice being offered, then, is do I want to be bored pallid at the beginning of the innings or at the end?
What characterizes much of recent commentary on the subject is a pervading sense of panic: No one is coming to watch ODIs any more; something must be done [Why? Because what would happen to the ICC’s cash cow, the World Cup, otherwise?]; this is ‘something’; therefore let’s do this.
The most relevant comment/solution came from Sambit Bal, the other day.
Meaning. Context. Provide those, and interest will kick in. Speaking of — give me one good reason to care a damn for a triangular one day series beginning in Sri Lanka today? Even the journalists covering it are so bored, they are reduced to suggesting that this — a tournament being played out on low, slow pitches — is the perfect opportunity for these three teams to get their act together ahead of the Champions’ Trophy, which of course is going to be played in conditions that are the exact antithesis.
Update: In the first game of the tri-series, Sri Lanka has opted for first strike. And as the camera pans across the ground, what you see are large swathes of empty stands. Would the seats had been filled if this game was to be played over two innings per side of 25 overs each, do you think?