Mike Holmans August 29, 2009

Right for the wrong reasons

Playing 50-over cricket domestically in England does not do anything to train people for the international 50-over game

The English counties voted this week to scrap the 50-over and retain a 40-over competition from next year, and were quite open that the decision was made on the financial grounds that 40-over cricket gets better gates than 50-over.

This may not be because 40-over cricket is more appealing than 50-over: the Pro40 is mostly played in July and August and the 50-over Friends Provident mainly in May and June. For Pro40, normal dress is shirtsleeves but for the FP it's three layers, at least one of them waterproof; the Pro40 is in school holiday time and the FP is largely played on midweek days when kids are at school and dad is at work. Swap them over, and maybe 50-over would be more popular than 40. I doubt it, however. A 40-over game is a longish afternoon out, whereas a 50-over game takes up the whole day.

Chief selector Geoff Miller and Paul Collingwood, pro tem one-day captain, are saying that is very bad from a cricketing point of view because we ought to be playing domestic one-day cricket that exactly mirrors the international form in order to prepare future England ODI players.

But, if playing the same length game is so essential, should not Test cricket's training ground, the county championship, be a five-day rather than a four-day competition?

Test matches expanded over time from three days to four and then to five because top-class batsmen would not obligingly surrender their wickets in time for games to be resolved. And all the batsmen in Test cricket, just about, are top-class. Domestic teams do not in general have line-ups consisting entirely of top-class players. They have some pretty average players mixed in with the two or three who might catch a national selector's eye. Give them five days to play their games and they will usually be over in four. It therefore makes sense to schedule it as four-day from the outset.

Playing 50-over cricket domestically in England does not do anything to train people for the international 50-over game. In fact, far from giving people experience of tactical situations they will encounter in the ODI arena, it gives them all sorts of incentives to play very differently.

An ODI team typically has five top-class batsmen and two lower-order power hitters. Between them, they can play aggressively and usually last the fifty overs. A county team, on the other hand, has three pretty good batsmen and two average ones, a big hitter and someone who is really a big misser. If the good batsmen play the way they could if they were surrounded by other good players, it's very likely that their team will be all out in forty because the lesser lights can't keep up. 35 overs to go and only two decent batsmen left is a position that you rarely encounter in an ODI but is not uncommon in county 50-over cricket. So the good batsmen learn to play more conservatively, and we wonder why we can't find anyone who is convincing in ODI Powerplay overs when nobody plays that way domestically because it would be stupid cricket if they did.

Playing domestic games which are shorter than their international equivalents compensates for the lower standard of player. It is no coincidence that South Africa play 45-over games at home and are the most consistently successful 50-over ODI side year in year out – even if they choke in World Cups.

Though the counties made their decision on commercial grounds, they have inadvertently stumbled on the best thing they could do for the England ODI team.

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • testli5504537 on September 1, 2009, 5:43 GMT

    Yes, we can start the 50 over format at 0145 pm so that we can get a half working day. Nothing wrong in that. Again the end time is irrelevant as 20 overs extra takes 1.5 hours.

  • testli5504537 on September 1, 2009, 2:47 GMT

    They need to change to a format "Day Night Tests" 40 overs 1st innings followed by 20 overs 2nd innings. A new flavor to keep the crowds glued for the whole day.

  • testli5504537 on August 31, 2009, 23:23 GMT

    @Arvind... of course, there's the fact that 50-over games require longer mid-innings intervals, extra drinks breaks, the compulsory ball change...

    It is not possible in the UK to start a 50-over game at 2.00pm and reliably finish it in daylight outside of June and part of July, given all possible eventualities. You can't plan for the smoothest possible running - you must ask "what if?" and ensure games don't finish in semi darkness, or get interfered with by dew. as that is a surefire way of creating farcical results.

  • testli5504537 on August 31, 2009, 18:01 GMT

    I don't see why financial concerns should always be written off as the "great god dollar" as Looch puts it.

    Increased revenue is of course directly related to popularity, and I think it's laudable that counties want to encourage formats that people actually want to see - it must be discouraging for counties to put on one day matches during the week that no one wants to turn up to.

    Also, people forget that this decision actually drops one major cricketing competition from the calendar, following widespread criticism that too much county cricket was being played as compared to the domestic seasons of other countries.

  • testli5504537 on August 31, 2009, 17:42 GMT

    There was a recent piece on cricinfo which referenced a certain S.K.Warne's 6 point plan to improve world cricket.Warne's thoughts are radical and though I agree with him for the most part,I'm not sure I would eliminate 50 overs as a format altogether. There is a definite opportunity for a revamp though. One such option exists in the form of breaking the 50 over game into 4 segments of 25 overs each. Each segment will allow the teams to have use of all 10 wickets and make a new ball available, and over and above that would also allow captains to make as many as 3 substitutions during any stage of the game. The run time for the game will remain as much as the 50 over format or less, considering that the lunch break can be broken into 3 change overs of 10 minutes each between innings.The time spent on change over could be sold exclusively for advertising with no ads during the innings.This translates to a significant revenue opportunity. My thoughts then, what say Mike?

  • testli5504537 on August 31, 2009, 15:31 GMT

    @Neil and @Siddharth. Well, interesting indeed. Now, you basically say that the problem is not the duration of the game but the starting time. Why don't you start that 50 over game at 1:45 pm. That should solve your problems, right? Because after all, my point about "20 overs taking hardly 1.5 hours" is due to my "self-absorbed arrogance" and because of "shoot my mouth off about something you know nothing about". Why is the end time irrelevant? 50-over format does not take "the whole day" as the author and you both think. It only takes your whole *working* day, and that too, because of the start time.

    MORAL: I would take my arrogance with my superior intelligence any day, rather than be lacking in both.

  • testli5504537 on August 31, 2009, 10:11 GMT

    I think that there is a feeling in Australia that 50 over cricket has become predictable and fairly boring. There seems to be a patch in the middle of the innings where not much action is taking place. I was interested in a comment that Sahin Tendulkar made during a recent IPL match. It was along the lines that a family could get an action-packed game all over in 3 hours. The cricket to be had in that time was entertaining and sometimes enthralling. I find 7 or 8 hours of cricket watching a fairly laborious exercise, particularly as I get older.

  • testli5504537 on August 31, 2009, 9:56 GMT

    I agree with Neil, as a 1030 am start means taking the whole day off. A 1:45 pm start means you can put in a half day's work. The end time of the format is irrelevant.

  • testli5504537 on August 31, 2009, 8:43 GMT

    The England players barely play a match for their counties anyway so preparation for international matches is irrelevant.

  • testli5504537 on August 31, 2009, 7:39 GMT

    The ECB has certainly been innovative what with the T20 revolution and Pro40 launch etc. The thing of it is to market it well enough firstly to the English public most of whom consider boring or their third choice among preferred sports.

    I don't think Pro 40 or T20 etc has done the trick with respect to filling up grounds and till when that does not happen, whether its a longish afternoon or a full day or even 5 full days none of it matters...because empty stands put broadcasters off and therefore the vicious cycle gets perpetrated.

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