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