27 February, 2015

A new option to make cricket ODIs more balanced

“ICC has ruined cricket, there is no real contest between bat and ball. Win the toss, bat first and there you go!” screams a cricket lover.  “ODIs now are no less stereo-typical than T20s! Please ICC, change the nature of the wickets,” berates another.

Several thousand feel the same way, whether they voice it or not.  Teams scoring about 200 runs in the last 20 overs have become as unexciting as it used to be when they scored about half the runs in the same space. SA scored about 222 in just 15 overs in the latest against WI with De Villiers raking up 60 plus in the last 14 balls he faced, almost obliterating memories of Chris Gayle’s 215 just a match before.  Ironically, this was 8 shy of their booty a few weeks before against the same team in Jo'berg in the last 15 overs, where AB's strike rate was 333 plus as opposed to a mere 245 in this match. 

With cyber-debris of such numbers hurtling at one literally at the speed of light, even (chrono-) logical awareness is consigned to the black hole of mental fatigue. Rohit Sharma’s 264 seems like a distant galaxy while Kapil’s 175* in 1983 seems as radiant as the Sun. 

Karma-cricket

This is not nostalgia in full bloom - objectively, AB's phenomenal ability is as timeless as the games' greats. It is a commentary on how predictable batting has become, especially when making first use of the wicket.  Even when a team is no more than 125-2 (or 130-4) after 30 overs, there is a sense of jaded inevitability one feels that they are on par for about 330 or more, based on some great karma in their previous matches (where they may have generously donated much more)!  Even chases of 300 plus have become so clinically risk-free because there is absolutely nothing for bowlers though batsmen like Kohli and Rahane have become mentally tougher and technically versatile to control the game from first to 10th gear in  form of the game.  

Tournament sixes roll is as deadening as spectator turnstile.  In fact the first thing I looked for in the Sri Lanka vs Bangladesh match was how many 6s Dilshan and Sangakara had not scored. I was thrilled that they had hit just one six between them and immediately watched the highlights! 
RIP, 50-over ODI?

Sensible people want keen contests, not mindless marauding.  Between T20 and ICC’s new rules, the ODI is in grave danger of losing its identity or even existence, what with ECB contemplating proposing what could be named an OD-40 format.  Were ICC to accept it, a more apt name could not be found.  

Fans will sure overdose on more 6s off hapless attacks, “boring” new inventive strokes, more brain-drained field restrictions, more concessions to batsmen at the cost of the game on the field.  TV viewers can “extra” OD on cricket between ads, new types of manufactured hypes by commentators long dried out of clichés, sleep-inviting “Extra-hour” analysis by tried and tired ex-players ranging from great to ugly, extra-cricket snippets on camels to crocodiles, desperately trying to maintain eyeball rating for the match and so forth. 

ICC’s synthetic stats

The ICC could well turn around and say that even as such arm-chair analysts are showering it with bouncers, it’s laughing all the way to the bank.  Viewership and sponsorship have surely increased but the questions persist – ‘At what cost?’ and ‘For how long’? As a wag quipped, “Nothing succeeds like success – and nothing exceeds like excess”.

While desperate suggestions have been made even by pundits like Martin Crowe who called for a “Restriction on bat-sizes” and others who have suggested to revisit the two new balls from both ends and field restriction rules, all of them may not be implemented in one stroke nor may they make viewing more exciting. 

Bowler-dominated mismatches

The fact is lopsided contests are inevitable in any game, once in a while and there have been hundreds of such matches dominated by bowlers in the first innings, making chases a foregone conclusion.  A case in point is the latest Eng vs NZ mis-match after Southee’s Seven launched McCullum’s massacre. The 1983 Final threatened to be in this list when India was bowled out for 183 until Kapil Dev’s brilliant catch of Richards and Mohinder Amarnath’s cool-headed dibbly-dobblers thwarted a late recovery attempt by Dujon & Co.

A solution

Thus, changing pitches in favour of bowlers, reducing bat sizes etc may be only partial solutions.  A far simpler and elegant one is staring at us in the face.  Just as Batting Power Play has been introduced, why not a Bowling Clever Play phase of 8-10 overs, preferably over 2 segments? This will not only give bowlers a fair chance but also test batsmen’s skills, something that both T20 and ODIs have omitted to do almost 100%. 

Ideally, the first phase must be compulsory within the first 10-12 overs and the next one can be chosen by the fielding captain any time before the 42nd over, so that the last three overs are back to “general” mode. 
BCP 1 could be with no field restrictions and no free-hits for no-ball.  No sensible captain is anyway going to have 9 fielders guarding boundary ropes at anytime, least of all within the first 15 overs.  BCP 2 can stipulate 4 fielders inside the 30-yard circle but impose the non-free hit rule. 

Ideally the Free-hit rule needs to be banished altogether but that is another story…

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