Two angst-ridden themes dominate the press today: the future of ODIs, ditto of the West Indies.
Much of the criticism of the one-day format centers around the middle overs where, experts agree, the game slips into stasis. Matthew Hayden has a contrary viewpoint:
But that’s where your main skill sets get shown: containment, ability to be able to play spin, fitness levels, mental stamina, all elements of the one-day game. And then you can time your run-in with the power play as well. If you do break it up, it will make the game even longer because there will be intervals. It is worth considering but there are bigger fish to fry. It’s time for a consolidation of the cricketing calendar.
Certainly, if you want batsmen to dominate the game then break it down, split the game up. But we have already got Twenty20 cricket. What I want to see in a 50-over game are the nuances of those middle overs. Granted, they can be painfully slow and, granted, in a 50-over game you can be on the end of a shellacking and you have to grind out the last few overs, but in any sport you get a bad day at the office.
If, however, you want to see the skill sets of cricketers tested you need to leave the game alone and let them go about their business. It’s not about moving with the times – we’ve got Twenty20 cricket, of which I am a major advocate. It’s key that we have the three formats of the game and I’m certainly not sure that tinkering round with it is the way forward.
Interesting deviation from the norm of current opinion, but I have a question for Haydos: in the days of high-decibel television coverage, does the average fan even care for the nuances the Aussie great holds dear?
As a mind experiment, try following a one day game only through the commentary, without looking at the visuals: you’ll find a remarkable degree of somnolence in those middle overs.
True, there is skill involved in consolidation. True, it is an interesting battle of wits — the fielding side wants to run through the overs of the lesser bowlers without incurring too much damage and, at the same time, rotate in the better bowlers often enough to try and take wickets and hamper the big push at the end. Against that, the batting side wants to maintain a 5+ per over run rate with a minimum of risk, creating a springboard from which to leap towards the huge total in the death overs.
But does any of that permeate the commentary? No. Bored mike-smiths talk of neckties [vide Arun Lal, yesterday], while keeping half an eye out for an edge that goes to the boundary so they can scream about what a fantastic shot it was [Again, Arun Lal yesterday, though he is by no means top of a list that includes the likes of Tony Greig and Jeremy Coney to name just two serial offenders].
Television coverage, which in the early years did much to make the sport exciting, has in more recent times done even more to take the fun out of it — and that is an area no one is looking at. Contrast Haydos’ impassioned defense of the middle overs with the take of a much-awarded sports writer:
The game has been rumbled. The players have worked it out. As a result, now that 50 overs is the standard format for a one-day international, we have a period between the end of the fifteenth over and the start of the 41st in which the batters tip and tap their way on in nudged and nurdled singles that the fielding side are perfectly happy to concede. Meanwhile, the bowlers send down slowed-down seamers or speeded-up spinners, aimed to prevent boundaries and there, by definition, to permit singles.
It’s become a convention, a sort of non-aggression pact, a Christmas truce that lasts for 25 overs. You score at 4.2 an over in this period and try to restrict the opposition to 3.7. You don’t score too fast and we won’t bowl too nastily. As a result, on Saturday England scored 95 runs during the truce period….
As a result of Barnes’s Law, 50-over cricket is now a busted flush. It is a game that has been totally worked out, to the extent that, like billiards, it has become nearly unplayable and all but unwatchable. Well-meaning tinkering — fielding restrictions, the bowling power-play, the batting power-play, the super-sub — fail to disguise the fact that 50-over cricket is obsolete. The players have become too clever, too competent, too conniving.
If that is how a star sports-writer sees the middle overs — unwatchable, obsolete, conniving, a truce where nothing happens — how then do you expect the fans to catch fire?
On the other — the subject of West Indies cricket — two stories that, in the run up to Champions’, is worth your while. Peter Simmons laments that the game the islands dominated for so long has now turned that same team into an international laughing stock. And Peter Roebuck is even harsher:
Everyone is sick and tired of the West Indians. South Africa ought to withdraw its invitation to take part in the Champion’s Trophy. Let Ireland come instead — at least they want to play. West Indies have been treating cricket badly for years. It’s high time the favour was returned.