October 18, 2013

Let's tonk for all our worth

Why pick bowlers, why have fielders, why grow grass on wickets? Let's give people what they want - a welter of runs

Video games can't match the action we saw in Jaipur © BCCI

And so to the slaughter at Sawai Mansingh Stadium the other night, in which both sets of batsmen flogged the bowlers as if they were unrepentant 18th-century horse thieves. In 93.3 overs of crazy-mad bludgeon, Australia scored 359 and India chased it down for the loss of one wicket. Entertaining? No doubt. A contest? It was not.

For while all this heavy-batted bashing was sort of interesting, and you can admire the timing and skill required to achieve such high-octane hammer, the game itself was not a contest in terms of bat against ball. It was an arms race in which batsmen bullied bowlers and bowlers were powerless to fight back. And one team of bullies were just better bullies than the other. It was a lot of things. But cricket it was not.

Not cricket?

Not cricket. Cricket is meant to be a contest. A contest has two parts. In cricket's case it's a battle between batsman and bowler. And the other night all the various weapons and devices available to bowlers - line, length, seam, swing, pace, spin, bounce, sweat, spit, minty sweets - were rendered redundant because of a pitch friendlier to batsmen than girls were friendly to Elvis.

What could bowlers achieve on that deck? What could they do? Everything from toe-crushing heat to half-tracking "spin" was dispatched by batsmen confident the pill would do nothing untoward. Like, at all. There was nothing doing. The cricket ball was nude. It was an ex-parrot. You'd have more chance against Viv Richards with a tennis ball on a beach.

I mean, had India been allowed to keep batting and had scored at a not-implausible 20 runs per over, they would have got close to 500. That's all well and good. People could have gone home and said, "I was there the night India scored close to 500." That's great. But it's not cricket. And it worries me how little people care that it's not.

Look at the rapture in the stands in Jaipur. Look at the worldwide love of T20. People love big hitting over everything else. Tonking trumps fast bowling, spin bowling, acrobatic fielding, a run-out, a stumping, a tail digging in to save a match. Everything is second to bat smashing ball. People enjoy it more than even winning. They would rather see their team smash 400 and lose than win chasing down 230 on a green top.

So let's not fight it. If the People's lust for the tonk is so prevalent, let's flat out change the rules of cricket. For instance, why not have let India keep going the other night after they had passed Australia's total? Give the people Full Value. Instead of ending the innings once a team has "won", continue as an exhibition of tonking, and so excite the people.

If the Jaipur pitch is the new paradigm, why grow grass on cricket wickets at all? Why call them "turf" wickets? Get the boffins to create a scientific blend of synthetic space-mat to give a perfectly uniform bounce every time, allowing batsmen to confidently tee off unfettered by doubt the ball will do anything "bad".

Why should teams be able to select bowlers who are any good? They may as well save their best bowlers for Test cricket anyway, and throw out any combination of grade hacks and kids and backpacking Fanatics. If Mitchell Johnson, Clint McKay, Shane Watson and James Faulkner can be flogged for 239 runs in 28 overs, it doesn't matter who you throw at them. You may as well pick a pace pack of piss-pots from the press gallery.

Does cricket need bowlers at all? Why not have a bowling machine at each end that shoots out a mixture of slow-medium full tosses, half-volleys and long hops, all relayed to the batsman before the ball is fed in. Or have the type of delivery required designated by the batsman. Instead of Aaron Finch asking for guard from the umpire, he could instruct the ball-feeder guy, "Half-tracker outside leg stump please", and so blaze away.

Why have fielders? Such is the public's ravenous appetite for boundaries, aren't these speed bumps just getting in the way of the fun? And on these wickets are they not largely superfluous anyway? They are there to chase balls thudding into the boundary and going over their heads. People in the crowd have more chance of catching Virat Kohli when he's batting on 192.

Maybe we make cricket like those home-run exhibition things they have in baseball. And have guys like Dave Warner and Chrissy Gayle - who under the new rules of cricket can play for whichever country/franchise they wish - toss balls in the air and flog them high into the crowd for people to catch and then wave like crazy people on big screen.

No bowlers, no fielders, no winners, no losers. Just big tonks soaring over the fence and into the crowd.

Sure, it won't be cricket. But it's not now either.

Matt Cleary writes for several Australian sports and travel magazines. He tweets here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on October 22, 2013, 18:41 GMT

    @ Matt - So what I understand is that you are saying the Aussie bowling attack is great, but due to the pitch they lost. What about the 3rd ODI? Did Aussie win because of the pitch or bad bowling from Ishant? As others have pointed, what about the 2006 Aussie-SAF match, or 2012 India-Sri Lanka Hobart match??Were they played in the subcontinent? NO. So Australia is preparing bad pitches as well? Would you accept that? I don't think so.The main issue is ICC is making things too easy for the batsmen. If you need to blame, blame the lawmakers. e.g.If they allow more fielders outside the circle. Things would be better.

  • Simon on October 22, 2013, 2:34 GMT

    "Int.Curator" don't let the current series in India affect your view, it's not just happening in India. Some of the highest scoring ODI's have been played in other parts of the world like Sth Africa. It's not about producing wickets for team deficiency or strengths, either. It's hard to believe that an Indian ground could produce a lively wicket with the overuse they get. The benign wickets are being produced world wide in conjunction with rules to ensure six hitting exhibitions. Have a look at the bigger grounds in the world and see how much grass is behind the rope. The unique characteristics of grounds are being shaved away to ensure batsmen can confidently believe they can hit a bouncer or yorker for six at any ground of any size in the world. It's happening because rule makers believe smashing sixes fills the extra seats with spectators, not cricket fans. It'll kill the ODI quicker than a boring middle 20 overs, because the cricket fan wants to come back; the spectator bores easy.

  • Steve on October 22, 2013, 2:24 GMT

    jb633.......there have always been flat pitches but good bowlers have always got something out of them. Even if they aren't able to get movement off the pitch it was through the air or they just varied length and pace to make it harder to hit. Maybe there is a revolution happening at the moment. T20 has increased scoring rates, but in the end the bowlers will need to adapt. Apart from Anderson and Stein there are no other consistant performers out there and that is kind of weird. Even Australia can throw a rug over 6 slightly above average pace bowlers.

  • Dummy4 on October 21, 2013, 19:12 GMT

    Matt, another couple of suggestions - PowerPlay overs should be overs where the batsmen decide the field placing & get to choose the bowler. ...And, have it for 50 overs. I will go with 3 Longon's, 2 Long-off's, 2 Fine third men & 2 FineLegs. effectively, 5 fielders behind the bowler in a straight line & 4 behind the wicket keeper, again in a straight line. If the batsman touches the ball, in most cases he will get at least 2, if not 4. Maybe one more version of Power-play, where batsmen put a stamp on the pitch, any ball not landing on the stamp is a front-foot noball, wicket not allowed + a free hit next ball.

  • Jon on October 21, 2013, 13:36 GMT

    @Thegimp, maybe so but I am not too sure. I agree bowlers need to develop the ability to get the yorker in more than they are doing now but those guys I have mentioned also got something out of the pitches. At the end of the day if the pitches are doing nothing and the only ball that won't go for 4 or 6 is the yorker then they will always struggle.

  • Steve on October 21, 2013, 9:24 GMT

    @jb633........Any of those bowlers you just mentioned would still do well on these pitches. Donald, Warne, Stein, Murili, Flintoff, McGrath, Wasim, Dev, Lillee, Hadlee, Marshall, Ambrose would still stack up and bowl smart enough to limit batsmen and take wickets. I don't think the pitches, bats and grounds have as much influence as some might think. What happenned to the Steve Waugh slower ball? What happenned to the Malcolm Marshall sandshoe crusher? I am finding it very tough to believe a bowler can get to International standard without the ability to bowl a yorker. How can an International quick bowler turn a yorker into a waist high full toss? I don't think the administrators, bats, grounds, pitches are at fault. We have a distinct lack of real tallent in the international bowling department at the moment.

  • Steve on October 21, 2013, 9:13 GMT

    Ummmmm isn't this why One Day Cricket was invented? Didn't the aborration that is now 20/20 come from 50 over cricket becoming predictable and slow? Isn't this what we wanted? Didn't we love watching Gilchrist and Sehwag tee off in the first ten, didn't we get off on Sir Viv and Dujon, O'Donnell and Bevan fleying attackes in the last ten overs? 50 over cricket can't win. If it's a slow grinding run chase everybody starts calling it obsolete and boring. If it's a high scoring runfest everyone laments the loss of competition between bat and ball. Yes the bats are bigger and the grounds smaller but the game is evolving. Just like in Test cricket where 350 a day is the norm whereas thirty years ago it was 250. T20 has marked its influence on 50/50 proving 10 runs an over is achievable in the last ten overs. 20 years ago that wasn't the case, as soon as the run rate crept above 6 or 7 per over the game was done and dusted. These days it's never safe to turn off the TV. I love it!!!!!!!!!

  • Jon on October 20, 2013, 21:05 GMT

    Excellent article and I think your point has been proven once again by the fact Aus chased a 300 score with an average line up. India will never produce a good bowling attack with these wickets as they offer nothing for the seamers. This article is not written out of bitterness but thoughtfulness. I agree @Roshan, that watching a guy make a hundred when times are really tough is how you separate these players from the rest. This is why I respect Sachin and Dravid so much more than people like Dhoni or Yuvraj, they have made runs on green tops against good bowling. There is nothing better than watching a bowler moving the ball around or spinning it both ways and the batsmen trying to find ways to counter. All three of these pitches have been roads IMO. There is no incentive to be a bowler on these decks. Watching things like Donald v Athetron, Warne v Lara, Steyn v Sachin, Murali v Thorpe, Ponting v Flintoff, is what cricket is all about. Watching this stuff is mindless garbage.

  • ESPN on October 20, 2013, 16:19 GMT

    Exactly. What is the point of any of the other aspects of cricket if the public just want hitting? It is not cricket, absolutely not. I cannot tell you how much joy I get out of watching Jimmy Anderson steaming in, bowling on a length and nipping the ball away. Seeing the batsman flounder and be totally flabbergasted against quality bowling is much more exciting. And if batsmen play well in this situation, this is equally thrilling.

  • Simon on October 20, 2013, 3:19 GMT

    Any of my batsmen mates reading this, will undoubtedly say, for gods sake Matt don't encourage him. My opinion hasn't changed from that ludicrous 1 Dayer where Aus & SA scored a million between them. One among many of the laughable 'conditions' the rule makers have contrived is the rope 10m in on a postage stamp. When you see a one handed swipe from a part time batsman go 30 rows back at Edens or the G, the rope becomes an irrelevance. Don't tell me it's a safety thing, todays pros can slide and glide to save a single, then they can before a fence. It was done to produce more boundaries because the ADHD administrator looked at a sheet and said more balls in the crowd, means more crowd. Add the rope to bowlers having to bowl every ball within 15cm of the stumps and as Matt says, it's an exhibition not a contest. Interestingly when pro baseball games became home runfests grounds were made larger, so the homer became an event again, not a given. Crowds love it. Is cricket that smart?

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