ODI RIP

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?

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28 thoughts on “ODI RIP

  1. Pingback: SightScreen » Blog Archive » Weight and watch

  2. The novelty of 25*4 could keep bums on seats for a few years.

    I think the problem for ODI’s is one which is already affecting T20 and even Tests, but is most magnified in ODI’s – lousy pitches producing boring cricket. And it is here that the sub-continent needs to shoulder the bulk of the blame.

    There are too many permutations and combinations in ODI outcomes which spell boredom (D/N games where dew makes chasing much harder than batting first, flat pitches making for boring batfests, small grounds making Pinochios bat like Tyson).

    It’s simple: a game in which, more often that not, by the 10th over of the 2nd innings, the outcome seems pretty clear, is not going to work.

    By contrast, in T20, the outcome for most games wasn’t clear till late, and with many last over finishes, and twists and turns, which guarantee viewer involvement.

    Think back to the past 3 or 4 World Cups – the most engrossing ones were in SA (2003 ODI WC, 2007 T20 WC) and the English ones were fun too.

    By contrast, the tournaments in India/Pak/SL (96 ‘WC, ’06 CT, ’02 CT in SL) and the WI (’07 WC), were much more flat and dull.

    Yet, none of the ‘stars’ of today would suggest this, as they are all… batsmen.

    Forbes recently published a list of the top 10 earners in cricket – the only bowler in the list was Brett Lee, down at no 7. The rest (Dhoni, Tendulkar, Ganguly, Clarke, Ponting, Pietersen) … all batsmen, with Flintoff the only all-rounder.

  3. I have the following suggestions to improve ODIs, apart from reducing the number of ODIs.

    1. Make ODI and T20 cricket being played by 14 players, instead of 11 players. 10 players who can bat & bowl, 11th player who is specialist batsman, 12th player who is specialist bowler, 13&14th players who are specialist fielders. We will get to watch good cricket overall.

    2. Fielder touching the rope while stopping a four – This is awarded as four after endless replays. Wastes spectator time. Revert it to old, where fielder is allowed to push boundary rope.

    3. Minimum and Maximum ground sizes for ODIs & T20s – At least 65 meters from batsman on straight, cover & midwicket boundaries. Maximum of 80 meters. Minimum 65 meters to avoid mishits to go for 6. Maximum to avoid unfair advantage to spinners, a good 80 meter hit should get a 6, not be caught at long-on by a fielder, like happened in World Twenty20.

  4. And i didn’t even know that India was part of the tri-series. In fact, it is a shame to call it a tri-series when it has only 4 matches! 3 prelim matches & 1 finals!

    I want to understand the logic behind the tournament from any of the three boards!

  5. Some of my suggestions (a few might be very radical!):

    1. Can we increase the height of the stumps to adjust for the increase in average human height from 19th century to date? That will increase the chances of LBW decisions for bowlers.

    2. Formula for Bowler Over quota: Max no. of overs = 10+(No. of wickets taken -1). So, if a bowler takes 3 wickets in his first 10 overs, he gets to bowl 2 additional overs.

    3. Remove ALL field restrictions in the last 5 overs.

  6. The sachin plan is not his as others have been credited to this much before Sachin came out.My take on ODIs is it was made very one sided ie favouring batsmen and combined with an overdose of ODIs.If you till 1985-1987 there was not much tinkering with rules favouring batsmen and bowlers did not misuse it by bowling too many bouncers.Now we have a rule which says not more than 1 per over,the batsmen can improvise as much as they want,as well as no restrictions like number of hooks or pulls or sweep ,they can freely reversehit,paddle,scoop.I suggest a bowler should have a leeway,if he sees a batsman charging ,then he can bowl a bouncer there should be no restrictions in the number of bouncers,I have played cricket,and no bolwer will bowl 6 bouncers before the critics jump in.
    Similarly,2 bowlers can bowl un limited overs for their side-rational being-if a bowler is bwoling well why restrict him?You want to see the best bowlers and best batsmen in any form of the game.If batsmen do not want to face the best bowlers there is no point in playing.With this anyway bowlers will not bowl more than 15 overs each and two bowlers or 3 completing the quota of 50.
    I would not like Tests to die out nor the ODIs,if they can survive with changes then why not-for me the joy of a tearing fast bowler with three slips is unparalled.
    Lets hop they keep the Tests as they are not make them 4 days.

    • I’d broadly agree with you that the one bouncer per over rule is daft, and should go. I’m not sure about the unrestricted use of bouncers, though — a bowler trying to save a game doesn’t care a fig for what the critics will say afterwards. I’d go with a restriction — of say three bouncers, which gives the bowler the option of not using his quota, but leaving the threat hanging there in case the batsman is thinking of charging him, and it will make the batsman less reluctant to jump out before the ball is bowled even.

      I’d agree too that restrictions on bowlers is daft — after all, no one restricts how many overs a batsman can play.

  7. HI Prem
    THis is truly worrying for one day internationals in particular and cricket in general-These days you hardly see any spectators in the stadiums for one days and tests-I used to remember during my schooling days we even used to go for 3 day matches involving international teams-I once went after bunking my school and got caned by my teacher-
    Compare that with the attendance in todays match in Srilanka-even though the home team was playing there were just a handful of spectators-the lack of interest in probably threatening the very existence of cricket-there is too much cricket these days and too much of any good thing leads to revulsion-
    The ICC with the BCCI as an accomplice have succeeded in killing the golden goose
    Ram

    • The even more worrying factor is dwindling TV viewership. Cricket depends on TV for the bulk of its revenues [in stadia advertising and ticket sales only comprise a fraction of earnings]; once the TV audience begins dropping off, the game will get in real trouble. And yeah, the ICC and member boards can point fingers at themselves — their insistence on scheduling vast numbers of ODIs in the 1990s and early 2000s is one direct reason for the current situation.The funny thing is, even at the height of the ODI glitz the media consistently warned that this would happen, but no one bothered to listen.

      • I noticed it last year when India was playing Australia at home-Even though it was a high profile series there were hardly any spectators in the stadium-I can still remember the noise of the bat hitting the ball reverbrationg around empty stadiums
        Compare that with the series in 2001 in Eden Gardens-On day 4 even though the match was lost for all practical purposes until that amazing come back, the ground was nearly full in the morning and more spectators joined in as the day progressed.
        I hope the ICC does something to rekindle interest in the game
        Ram

  8. With only 7 or 8 major teams and 5-6 kick-ass players in each of the teams and only 20 or so legendary stadia in which to play, does common sense seem to dictate that it’s only less frequent matches that will keep people watching cricket? It’s not the middle overs that people are bored of, it’s all of them!

    A couple of World Cups ago, I would have spent a day urging India to kick some serious ass or even followed the progress of a SA-Aus series. Now, I just don’t care because I could come back a year later and find very minor changes to the line-up and to Pepsi ads. Yawn!

    If they don’t win this one, the law of averages dictates they’ll win the next one, or not. Either way, I don’t really care…

  9. Thought the ‘Sachin’ plan is where you have two complete innings per side. Basically 25 overs for 10 wickets two times. You need to preserve your wickets for only 25 overs not 50 overs. Is it not?

    • No, the Sachin plan is not for two completed innings but for one innings split into two halves. The other — 25 overs, ten wickets, twice — is occasionally being mooted as a means of creating a more interesting version of Test matches. Might work for a brief while, but I am not sure it is even close to being a long term solution.

      • Prem, for mathematical reasons along, any ‘set target, chase target’ kind of game have to be played over multiple innings. This eliminates the concept of a ‘par’ score which exists in ODIs (and even Twenty20). Currently, at the half way stage, if a team scores more than that ‘par’ score, they win 80% of the times and vice versa.

        Test cricket and baseball, which are both played over multiple innings, do not have this problem as they do not have the concept of a ‘Par’ score.

        For the above reason, I like Sachin’s idea of splitting the ODI game into two mini-innings. Baseball breaks innings based on outs, so no reason why Cricket cannot do it based on overs.

  10. Hi Prem,

    Another (simpler) way to make ODI’s more interesting is to get the correct balance between bat & ball. Low scoring ODI’s are always very gripping even in the middle overs 🙂

    Sauabh

    • Yeah, well, first catch your rabbit. You cannot legislate good pitches — making a law that pitches should be competitive is one thing, making such pitches is quite another, and very few if any boards seem even remotely inclined to go down that road.

  11. The Ind Vs NZ away series was most ideal, I must say, to keep the interest going.
    It started with couple of T20, then to ODIs and ended with Test Matches.
    In my view, this can be a template for all bilateral series’.
    2 T20s, 3 ODIs, and then 3-5 Tests.

    Or if the visitng team need some practice games then:
    1-practice T20 Vs domestic champs
    2-T20 internationals
    1-limited overs with domestic champs in home ground of the domestic champs
    3-ODIs
    1-3 day match with A side
    1-4 day match with domestic champs in their home ground
    3/5- Test matches

    T20 will get in crowds, ODIs will give good preparation for Tests and all the purists will be licking their lips for ultimate cricket to start.

    KP

  12. I think the Sachin plan was meant to ensure that the playing conditions do not unfairly prejudice one of the two teams.

    • At the expense of screwing both up? There is a narrative arc to an innings, whether it is Tests or ODIs or even T20s: build up, consolidation, crescendo… As a team, you approach a game with such a narrative in mind. Chop an innings up into two halves separated by a considerable space of time, and you kill that narrative, force a team to play for the breaks, and then come back out and start all over again: it is IMHO change for its own sake, and from the point of the viewer, adds nothing that will induce me to tune back in. Plus, while Sachin said that this would ensure that the toss did not unfairly help any one team, he was speaking against the backdrop of the need for ODI reform.

  13. I unsubscribed my sports package just yesterday. Felt I was paying for something that I do not watch at all. Is that also a reflection of what I think about the SL triangular series?

    BTW who are all in that team that plays in SL? I know that Dravid is playing? anyone else I know?!!?

    that is the level of interest I have. After unsubscribing I told my wife that I will subscribe again in April/May when the IPL starts.

    I think the panic button needs to be pressed – otherwise you risk losing the audience. ODIs are no longer attracting eye balls. No one at my work place even knows that something is happening in SL. 🙂

    IMO ODIs are dead. It will be Test Cricket for the few that enjoy the nuances of the game and T20 for the large majority.

  14. IMHO, Tests, ODIs or T20s – all are treats for a cricket lover.
    While ODI can be a starter, Test matches the main course and the T20s can be a called a desert!

  15. Prem,

    Why do you keep saying that this or that bilateral one-day series is boring. That we need to provide context. You keep talking about why it is of no use before champions trophy. Others want to introduce a test championship to make tests interesting. I find all this talk weird. Remember days when we used to play cricket without so many multi-country tournaments. Bilateral series were the only form of cricket then. And no context was required to make them interesting.

    Another related grouse I have is that winning a series has become more important than winning individual matches. So much so that once a team wins a series, the remaining matches are used for experimenting. No one takes them seriously. Worse, if a team gets a series lead, they do not attack in the last match and are happy with a draw. That is horrible and bad for cricket. Each match should be considered an independent event and should be equally desirable to be won by both teams. Rest should be left for statisticians.

    • Yeah, I also remember the days when I used to be greedy for sweets, and wolfed down as much as I could get. Ended up with revulsion for anything sweet.

      The “context” in the good old days was that you were getting to see one day cricket, which was a refreshing change from the humdrum of five days. But that context wore out a long time ago, thanks to an overdose. Hence the need to reinvent, to create fresh contexts.

  16. I like how a triangular can be decided in 4 games but it needs 7 matches to prove that england are hopeless in the pajama formats.

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