The final verdict?

In the midst of the mass heartburn last month about the future of ODIs, the more sober voices in the commentariat

The Mystery of the Missing Audience/Courtesy Cricinfo

The Mystery of the Missing Audience/Courtesy Cricinfo

suggested that perhaps it is necessary to wait until the end of the Champions’ Trophy to render a final verdict on the format.

What happened was, the jury left the box and didn’t bother to show up to render its verdict — check out the three men and a dog watching as Shane Watson launches his assault on the target.

None of the usual reasons apply. This was a world-level tournament, not the kind of senseless, overlong bilateral series that prompted the heartburn in the first place. The format was short and crisp — too short, some felt when India, with a record of one win, one loss and one no-result, was dumped at the preliminary hurdle.

There was considerable skill on display — sporadic display, admittedly — ditto grit. There was a fair share of tight encounters, chiefly the one between Pakistan and Australia with India’s fate at stake. And the final was no slog fest, but a real contest between bat and ball in conditions that helped the bowlers.

In sum, there was every single thing we keep asking for, and criticizing the ODI format for lacking — and yet, there were no spectators.

Time now to worry? To move beyond the knee-jerk reform proposals [reduce the format to 40 overs; split the game into four innings]? To admit, finally, that the problem is only partly with the structure of the one day game, and that any lasting solution will need to begin with the international schedule itself?

While on that, the reason advanced for the absence of spectators is that the final ‘happened’ to take place on a Monday. How did that ‘happen’? Because in drawing up the tournament schedule, the ICC felt the need to allow for the overlong seven-game bilateral series between England and Australia, and schedule time for the two teams to land in South Africa and get in a measure of acclimatization. Net net? Very few people watched that bilateral series — and even fewer watched Australia retain one of two global titles on offer in this form of the game.

I’ve been banging on [Don’t you get tired of saying this, a reader was moved to ask the last time I brought this up] about the ICC’s need to stop dicking around with knee-jerk ‘solutions’, to admit to itself that it has through inept scheduling run the game into the ground, and to start the process of reform with the calendar itself. [While on that, Peter Hanlon in The Age is already lamenting a lackluster Australian summer]. So I’ll stop this exercise in ‘I told you so’ right here — and wait to see what the reform merchants and their mouthpieces come up with in the coming days.

Nothing substantive, possibly — there is always the Champions League to distract ourselves with. And then the ‘Revenge Series’ or ‘Champion of Champions’ series or however the hypemeisters plan to bill a seven game odyssey between India and Australia.

Outside of two brilliant opening bursts, by Lee and Siddle for Australia and Bond and Mills for the Kiwis, I didn’t watch enough of the game to comment. So I’ll leave you with two good pieces by Sambit Bal: on how South Africa’s templated tactics are a large part of the reason for its sub-optimal performance, and how Australia’s sustained success is largely rooted in its ability to find within its ranks men who will rise to any occasion.

Cricket clips

I like quiet Fridays. Production of India Abroad is a time-consuming process, and major events cricketing or otherwise tend to be a distraction — to edit copy or blog? No such problems today, with all quiet on the cricket front. Early morning browsing threw up only two commentary pieces worth your while.

In a column that revisits his earlier argument that the verdict on the Champions’ Trophy and by extension on the future of one-day internationals can be delivered only after this edition of the tournament is over, the part that caught my attention was the afterthought:

I hope though that when the men in blue take the field, attention will be focussed on their performance rather on the content of a privately circulated note which is actually far more thought provoking in the segments that are unlikely to have made it past news editors. So now our young sports reporters have to grapple with conjuring stories on whether having sex on tour is good or bad. Their canvas seems to get broader every day! Time to redo the syllabus in media schools!

What made it into print is clearly the ‘highlights’ package with the question of sex dominating for obvious reasons, but somewhere out there is the full text and judging by Harsha’s throwaway line, it promises to make interesting reading. Hopefully, some time soon.

Elsewhere, Mike Atherton has a couple of interesting points in his piece on the one day game. First, his definition of the problem:

The 50-over game, though, is suffering from more than administrative myopia; it is suffering an existential crisis that was probably inevitable in the wake of Twenty20. Sandwiched between the longest and shortest forms of the game, it neither appeases the traditionalists nor does what it was originally designed to do — to entertain and titillate — now that Twenty20 can do those things much better. Its sole purpose is financial.

And then, his solution — not more regulation, but less:

The answer, surely, is to deregulate, so that the game becomes more like it was intended to be and therefore less predictable and less formulaic. If captains could place their fielders where they wanted to, rather than where regulations dictate, there is a chance they might start to think again and a chance that one side’s tactics might differ significantly from another’s. If a captain could bowl his best bowler for more than the stipulated ten overs, there is a chance that he would and that attacking cricket played by the best players would become more a feature of a one-day match. Powerplays dictate the pace of the game to batsmen; do without them and watch batsmen take the initiative again.

In other late breaking news, Gary Kirsten says he had no idea of the sex dossier, and dumps the onus on Paddy Upton. Revised demand from Rajan Zed expected momentarily.