October 31, 2009

Australia

A plea for Fifty50

Andrew Hughes


Dino alert: Ishant does his thing © Getty Images
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After the sweaty, rustic charm of the Champions League, the resumption of international festivities has brought about a welcome elevation of tone. Wednesday’s clash of continents was full of good things, and whilst Sunday belonged to Australia, India struck back to stir the sediment of our jaded imaginations with the enlivening possibility of a genuinely suspenseful series. Dhoni, of course, was immense but it was the reinvigorated Ishant Sharma whom I most enjoyed watching, his angular, bent-forward lope to the crease putting me in mind of a velociraptor, ball perched between claws, intent on savaging the batsman’s knuckles (battered and swollen metacarpals being the tell-tale sign of an Ishant attack).

And with two of the game’s greatest batsmen on the same field of play, it was an ideal opportunity for the collector of cricket images to acquire more pieces for the memory. The batting displays in the Tendulkar and Ponting wings of my mind’s museum are already pretty crowded, so during the current series I have been on the look out for cameos, intriguing Tendlya or Punter-related items of sentimental or curiosity value.

A good collector has to be patient and wait for the right moment. On Wednesday it came in the 62nd over, when Lord Sachin was called upon to take human form and intervene at square leg. His stooping, tumbling dive was the everything-falling-out-of-pockets scramble across the platform of a portly businessman whose briefcase has become trapped in the door of a departing train. Yet he reached the ball. Returning the offending item to his captain with underarm disdain, he dusted down his suit and reassembled his composure. It was Tendulkar encapsulated: successful yet free of swagger; whole-hearted yet dignified.

Perhaps the same could also be said of the one-day format, still packing them in after forty years. Fifteen overs into the second innings, with the Aussie run-chase beginning to sigh like a yellow dinghy with a slow puncture, the atmosphere had eased from febrile raucousness to contented hubbub. But the double-tiered Vidarbha Cricket Stadium, an immense bowl of light, remained packed throughout. This summer’s Natwest Series, another 50-over bash assailed from all quarters as a motion-going-through exercise was also played out, under autumnal skies, to full houses.

It seems counter-intuitive then, that when cuts in the Future Tours Programme are being contemplated, so many people in the game seem to favour the end of a format that has remained so popular with the public. But then there has always been a perverse streak of anti-populism in our game, going right back to the 19th century. Those Victorian gentlemen of the MCC who reluctantly organised the county championship preferred sparsely attended three-day mid-week cricket to the popular weekend matches of the northern leagues. And a hundred years on, the English cricket establishment looked down its nose at the spectators who flocked to the Gillette Cup and the John Player League. The aristocratic distaste for making a profit may be long gone but the high-handed tendency to overlook the preferences of paying spectators lingers.

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Posted by matt on (December 20, 2009, 10:11 GMT)

Poniting is a great batsman. He could take over sachin's test runs if he hits the same bradmanesque form he hit in 06/07.

Posted by Sabmac on (November 10, 2009, 22:20 GMT)

Not sure if she will see this, but I'm sorry Mel, have you been watching cricket or some other sport? Explain to me exactly why you believe Ponting would not make any top IX when most commentators, including Wisden and the ICC itself, disagree with you.

Posted by Mel on (November 3, 2009, 3:17 GMT)

@Zac: Calling one as 'The' greatest batsman is not the same as brilliant 'cricketer' or 'captain' or 'player with arrogance/guts' and I sure doubt he ever making it to any top XI team as there are far more better cricketers than him, definitely not as a batsman, IMO.

Posted by Asad's Ashes on (November 2, 2009, 11:58 GMT)

I agree with you Andrew H. Mike Atherton was interviewed during the autumn ODIs and said that it was easy for commentators, players etc to moan about the ODI series that was scheduled but for his 11 year old Godson it was the first time he had been to Lord's and was loving every minute. That series was the only chance for many (e.g. at Trent Bridge, Chester-le-Street etc)to see England v Australia in action as was borne out by the full-houses. Likewise, a full ODI can be more fulfilling as a paying spectator. In 20-20 you may not see your hero bat nor more than 4 overs of your favourite bowler. I think the schedule of all international cricket (tests, ODIs and 20-20) needs to be rationalised but 50-50 should not be scrapped.

Posted by Abhishek on (November 2, 2009, 11:13 GMT)

To the extent that neutral fixtures are unable to attract capacity crowds, nothing much has changed (case in point : neutral matches in CLT20). But something else has been happening ever since T20 came on the scene. How else do you explain spots rate differing so significantly from ODIs to T20s to even IPL matches? Given that the number of days in a year are finite, there has to be competition between the three formats, and T20 seems to be scoring over ODIs. I think in the longer run we will see more T20 specialists shielding ODI and test players from workload, similar to how the Jadejas and the Bevans were the ODI specialists in the 90s and Laxman and Steve Waugh were left to play tests. In any case, the rise of other domestic T20 leagues will see a lot of Flintoff - like exodus from ODIs and tests.

Posted by Zac on (November 2, 2009, 5:33 GMT)

@Mel: I'm no Aussie and so its hard for me to say this - Ricky Ponting is one of the greatest batsmen EVER. Truth be told - I hate his guts and arrogance but the guy is an absolutely brilliant cricketer. He would surely walk into any XI and definitely be in all of mine.

Posted by TheMatchReferee.com on (November 1, 2009, 14:02 GMT)

Exactly what I have been arguing for quite some time. Show me these naysayers, I say!

Posted by Mel on (October 31, 2009, 18:58 GMT)

I think many would agree for Sachin being one of the greatest batsman of the game, but Ponting? whats cooking Andrew? Did I miss some pun there? ;)

Posted by Cmis on (October 31, 2009, 17:47 GMT)

The evidence, as hughes says, is there. Judge for yourself Abhishek. To me the 50 over format hasn't declined. It's an illusion created by the failed tournament that was the '07 world cup and the successful staging of its T20 counterpart. And deserted stands, whenever they occur, are more a function of people staying away from neutral fixtures. Matches involvig home teams are generally played to capacity crowds.

Posted by Abhishek on (October 31, 2009, 11:53 GMT)

Wait.. so are you saying that England aren't responding to the changing market in cricket or that ODIs are still capable of satiating the viewer's appetite?

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Andrew Hughes
Andrew Hughes is a writer and avid cricket watcher who has always retained a healthy suspicion of professional sportsmen, and like any right-thinking person rates Neville Cardus more highly than Don Bradman. His latest book is available here and here @hughandrews73

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