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.

Hit or miss

The most used computer in recent times, according to Anand Vasu reporting out of Colombo, is the one between MS Dhoni’s ears, and it seems to be telling him that triangulars like the one in Sri Lanka where India opens today, where each team gets only one crack at every other team, is tougher than a bilateral series. His rationale:

“In a bilateral series, as the series proceeds, you get to know more things about a particular player or how he is performing at that time. Subconsciously you plan for his strengths and weaknesses,” explained Dhoni.

“In a three-team competition, specially one like this where you play each team just once, you have to be fully prepared right from the word go.

“You don’t get time to adjust. Batsmen and bowlers have become smarter. You can come up with a plan for a player but on the day he may change the way he plays and still succeed. Countering that is really tough. If Plan A is not working you have to be ready with Plan B.”

On balance, you suspect India might have preferred to play the stronger Sri Lankan team first. You get to test your sea legs against the toughest competition in the tournament, and even if you lose you still have a game against a relatively weaker side to nail your finals spot. This way, India needs to hit the ground running, because a loss today to the Kiwis puts it in do or die mode against the hosts.

Harsha had some thoughts on the lineup, that he shared during our recent chat:

Let’s look at it this way: who is going to open the batting for you? Gautam Gambhir and Sachin Tendulkar? Gambhir can play in two forms, but he is coming off a bad patch just now [NB: We were chatting last Saturday, before Gambhir ruled himself out with a suspect groin]. Tendulkar is no longer the guy who can hit over the top first ball. And then there is Dravid at three. Who is going to give you a move on?

I honestly am not sure if Rahul should bat at three or five – he has played some of his best one day cricket at five, in 2003-04-05 when he was our best one day player, he was finishing matches with Yuvraj and company, and he took that form into the T20s as well recently where again he batted five.

I would not mind seeing Raina at three because you want to see if Raina has it in him to play at three on all surfaces. You can’t have a situation where our blue eyed boys are very good at batting up the order on flat tracks and have no qualms about going down the order when the going gets tough, and saying Rahul bhai ko aane do na upar. So send Raina at three, Yuvraj at four, Rahul five, Dhoni six. And where does that leave Dinesh Karthik? Every time you pick him he scores, so what do you do with him?

Should be fun — mild fun — to see how they line up, and how they do in the season opener. It’s Friday, I have newspaper production, so watching will be off and on. As will blogging.