Wanted: more Powerplays, and warlocks as umpires
Four of the six Test series played so far in the 2012-13 season have been followed by an ODI showdown between the teams involved, tagged on for the commercial and logistical hell of it, as so many ODI series are nowadays, like a bowl of porridge after a Michelin-starred meal. Bowls of porridge have their virtues. They can be tasty and nutritious. If properly prepared. And served at the right time. Which, most food-scheduling experts would agree, is at breakfast, before ‒ not after ‒ your main meal of the day.
All four Test series produced decisive, almost worryingly dominant victors. West Indies won both Tests in Bangladesh, averaging 64 runs per wicket and registering their third and fourth away wins in the 46 away Tests they have played since 2003 (one of the other two victories was also in Bangladesh, whilst the other, in South Africa in 2007-08, was one of their only two away Test wins against top-eight opposition since 1996-97). England, after a disastrously sluggish Ahmedabad beginning against a misleadingly potent India, soundly beat their decreasingly competent hosts in every facet of the Test game.
Australia clobbered a Sri Lankan team whose seam attack was statistically the third-least effective bunch of visiting pacemen to play a series of three of more Tests in Baggy Greenland in the last 85 years, averaging 59 against an Australian batting line-up that is by no means the third-best to play a home series in the last 85 years. South Africa eviscerated a weakened but nonetheless historically abject New Zealand, in one of the most imbalanced Test series of recent years, a cricketing equivalent of Shark v Baguette in a Who Has The Most Teeth? competition.
In the ODI series that followed, the best result any of the four triumphant Test nations secured was Australia's slightly fortuitous 2-2 draw with Sri Lanka. West Indies lost 3-2 to Bangladesh. England began their series in India well with the bat, and ended it well with the ball, but were soundly curdled in the three decisive matches in between. The Kiwis bounced back from their record-breaking Test mauling to win the ODI series, and came within one ball of scoring a 3-0 whitewash. Sri Lanka thrashed Australia in Adelaide, humiliated their batting in Brisbane, and were in position to claim a 3-1 lead when rain intervened in the Sydney game, before losing in Hobart to end with a 2-2 series draw, and compensating themselves by claiming the best collective average (24) by a visiting seam attack on an ODI tour of Australia in 17 years. And by then winning the two T20Is.
We thus have the slightly peculiar situation of four teams who should be taking some long, hard baths with themselves over their performance in the Test arena, ending proceedings in triumph.
So what conclusions can we draw from all this? You decide, from the following options:
(a) That one-day cricket would be more exciting and relevant if it was played before Test series, as a rivalry-establishing curtain-raiser before the most important phase of the action begins. Test cricket is the Undisputable Pinnacle Of The Game As Everyone Keeps Saying, Even If That Is Not Always Obvious In The Way The World Game Is Managed, and needs and deserves to be scheduled as such.
(b) That one-day cricket would be less exciting and relevant if it was played before Test series. The underdog has a better chance of victory in the shorter formats, and this is further enhanced if the overdog thinks he has done his job already, and has settled down for its afternoon snooze. Besides, one-day cricket deserves more than to be relegated to a warm-up slot when more people want to see it than the supposed headline act.
(c) That it makes no difference when one-day series are played. It is a different format with different teams. As it T20. So relax. Besides, cricket is only a game. Or, to be more accurate, cricket is only three games. And we should appreciate each for its own qualities.
(d) None of the above. And none of anything else. These were just one set of coincidental results.
Write down your answer on a piece of paper, hide it in a hole in the ground for 50 years, then dig it up, consult with a passer-by over whether or not Test and ODI cricket still exist, and decide whether you were right, wrong, or somewhere in between.
● I am still not entirely sure what all of the latest tweaks to the ODI format are, or what they mean for the game. As a cricket fan, I have to make an executive decision whether to attempt to assimilate the latest alterations into my brain, or to assume that they will soon be jettisoned, re-altered, de-altered, superseded or rotated with a squad of other new regulations to keep them all fresh and motivated, and instead devote my valuable remaining headspace to more lasting and valuable knowledge, such as when my children's birthdays are this year, international advice on how to safely address Shane Warne and Marlon Samuels in a potential combat situation, and where in the kitchen my wife might possibly have hidden the food processor.
From what little I have seen so far, the reduction to a maximum of four fielders outside the 30-yard circle will have a major impact on how the one-day game is played, but, personally, I would still like to see more regulations pre-emptively regulated into existence to prevent further staleness in the format.
I have previously suggested an additional Powerplay in which the batting team's captain controls the fielding side for five overs of mayhem. I remain befuddled that the authorities have not implemented this. TV viewing figures would go through all available roofs. I would also like the following to be implemented:
‒ Two further Powerplays, in which (a) either captain can opt to revert to the regulations from a previous era of ODI cricket, and (b) the batsman can designate exactly what ball the bowler has to bowl in the first three balls of the over, but then has to tell the bowler exactly what shot he is going to play for the last three deliveries.
‒ Rather than the curious use of two balls throughout the innings, each over should be bowled with a different ball selected at random from a specially adapted silo filled with hundreds of cricket balls ranging in age from brand new to 150 overs old, plus, to add a much-needed element of unpredictability, a few large tomatoes.
‒ A one-run bonus for any boundary hit with what a majority of a jury of cricket commentators judge to be a "proper cricket shot".
‒ Umpires to be replaced with warlocks.
I have no idea what impact these changes would have on the game, but, as a means of maintaining or provoking interest in ODI cricket, they deserve ‒ no, demand ‒ to be trialled.
● Ravi Jadeja's 40.4 overs in the series against England cost only 142 runs, giving him an economy rate of 3.49 - the lowest by an Indian bowler who has bowled more than 20 overs in an ODI series since Zaheer Khan against Sri Lanka in 2008 (3.10 per over in 47 overs), and the lowest by an Indian spinner since Harbhajan Singh against South Africa in 2005-06 (3.42 per over in 40 overs).
● James Tredwell was England's best bowler in the series, taking 11 wickets in the five matches at an average of 18.18, and with a tidy economy rate of 4.25. The Kent Konniver thus recorded the lowest average by an England spinner who has bowled in four or more innings in an ODI series or tournament, edging out Graeme Swann (18.37 v India in 2011) and Vic Marks (18.92 in 1983 World Cup). Swann also occupies fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, tenth and 12th place on the list.
Spinners have rarely been central to England's ODI strategy, so the advent of the partially fathomable two-new-balls regulation has been celebrated with wild street parties across the nation. Swann, despite lean returns in the last year, has been comfortably England's best one-day tweaker of the last 25 years, and needs two more wickets to become the first England spinner to take 100 in ODIs ‒ 32 tweakers and twirlers from other nations have done already passed that milestone. Tredwell's 18.18 average might be groundbreaking by English standards, but it is not even in the top 100 ODI series or tournament averages by a spinner from anywhere else in the crickosphere (in four or more innings).
Andy Zaltzman is a stand-up comedian, a regular on the BBC Radio 4, and a writer