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October 6, 2010
Split-innings cricket is currently like getting the birthday present you didn't ask for and aren't sure you want. It's looked at it in strange ways, with awkward smiles and mainly polite expressions, as the receiver tries to work out the point of it all.
Even before the 45-over Ryobi Cup competition started there were people involved who didn't think it would last more than a season. Cricket Australia would love it to be adopted internationally by 2015, when they are scheduled to host the World Cup. It will need more of the excitement provided by Nathan Rimmington in the final six overs of the opening fixture if it is to go on to grip even one nation.
Rimmington, a No. 11 who had already taken four wickets, saved the contest with 42 off 24 balls even though he could not seal victory for Queensland with a six from the final delivery. Until then the game had burned dangerously slowly.
What the match showed was that the players were right to be confused about the regulations and the over structure of 20-20-25-25. At first glance it was disruptive to watch and the change-of-innings order was uncomfortable. The rhythm of the game was also upset for players and spectators.
Mark Cosgrove finished Tasmania's first innings unbeaten on 59 off 60 balls but was out early in the second for 69 off 74 after battling to re-start. The advantage of what he had achieved early in the day was lost. Only at the conclusion of both innings did the batsmen really race, just as they would have in the concluding stages of a traditional one-day affair.
Understanding the score was complicated by the four segments making up two completed innings. It was better for the television watchers than the sprinkling of supporters at the ground, where the main scoreboard didn't work because the computer software couldn't translate the new conditions. (Our ball-by-ball commentary didn't work over the second half for the same reason.)
One of the arguments for the introduction of the format was to increase the strategy of the game, but even Tasmania's coach Tim Coyle felt it was important not to "over-think" the tactics. The spinners Xavier Doherty and Jason Krejza were used in the first 20 overs, which isn't that unusual for Tasmania, and Queensland briefly went for a first-innings bonus point. Having only four men outside the fielding circle made the captains frown more, but overall it was hardly a case of Mike Brearley staring at Stephen Fleming.
Under the conditions two bouncers an over were allowed but there weren't a barrage of short balls. They were used as an attacking option by Tasmania towards the end of the match, but that gave Ryan Broad and Rimmington room to power a couple of sixes each. Broad also picked up a bruise on the neck from a Brett Geeves lifter. That was different to a normal 50-over exchange in which the bowler finds it hard to defend himself.
What was most fair was that both teams had to bat under lights and experience the seaming conditions that usually help the bowlers on Brisbane evenings. The prospect was made even trickier with two new balls being used at the start of each first innings, meaning they were only 10 overs old at the beginning of the final stanzas. Still, it was a lot to take in during one match and would be a nightmare to explain to a first-time watcher.
A player involved in the competition this week described the format as "s***house". Cricket Australia thinks the idea is brilliant and believes it will show the organisation leads the world in innovation. Like a surprise gift, it will take a while to work out what exactly it's useful for.
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