October 22, 2013

The declining value of the single

We wondered how T20 would affect the 50-over game. It appears that answers might be at hand

Virat Kohli: informed by T20 cricket, but not overwhelmed by it © BCCI

Around the time that Andy Flower was building the team that would bring England's first global white-ball title back from the West Indies, he spoke, in his usual guarded fashion, about the increased role that the black-ops analysis unit at Loughborough was playing in his thinking about the game.

On being pushed, he offered only one seemingly bland stat to illustrate his point. The team scoring the most singles usually won a 50-over game. The team scoring the most singles in a T20 match generally lost.

What was becoming apparent at the time was that T20 cricket would push the boundaries of the possible by its simple constraint of resources. The fewer balls faced, the further you had to try to hit each one. An inarguable consequence of that logic has been that the art and science of batsmanship has evolved more in the last decade than at any time since its origins. The impact on the Test game has been clear: more results, more quickly than ever before.

What was less certain was how it would affect the 50-over game. At last an answer is beginning to suggest itself here too. It is only a hint at the moment, but it feels true and it feels as though it is coming.

As Ian Chappell pointed out, in the extraordinary second ODI between India and Australia, 64% of the runs scored in the game came from boundaries, singles accounting for just 28%. Being a simple blogger rather than a stats man, I haven't counted who scored more of them, because what's evident is that it doesn't matter. The singles - the bulk of which would be scored during the "dead" 30-over period in the middle of an innings - have begun to lose their significance. The horizons have changed and the view is different now.

It's not the only illustration offered by this remarkable series. In Jaipur, India chased down 359, not with sudden surges but instead with a sustained and symphonic period of batting of the very highest class. The play of Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli has been informed by T20 cricket, but not overwhelmed by it. What they had accepted into their game was that sense of the possible, and with the knowledge deep in their bones, they bore down upon their target unrelentingly.

The jolting counter offered by MS Dhoni and James Faulkner in Mohali shaped a further argument. Here was another way in which scores could be set and chased, with shocking onslaughts in a very concentrated and calculated space at the end of an innings.

What remains a conundrum is that overall, totals in 50-over cricket do not seem to be getting higher in the way that T20 cricket at first suggested they might. Three hundred remains a general benchmark. Instead it is the way that teams are getting there that is changing fast.

The argument that the domination of bat over ball is somehow "not cricket" or that it's spoiling the game is harder to agree with, because it is a short-term one. The wider patterns of batting and bowling are an ongoing conversation had over decades, in which one responds to changes in the other, sometimes slowly, sometimes less so. It's generational too: there will be another era of great bowlers along soon, and batsmen in turn will have to respond.

Before that happens, Kohli is emerging as some kind of prototype; a batsman finely attuned to these shifting patterns. His is a glorious talent, a wonder of the age as well as a product of its thinking. He seems to have absorbed both Tendulkar and Sehwag into his soul, and offered both a futuristic twist. In that, there is something magical.

Jon Hotten blogs here and tweets here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • suresh on October 23, 2013, 13:01 GMT

    I think, u the one not been watching test cricket for last 3 years. India's whitewash 8-0 against ENG and OZ, OZ whitewash against india 4-0, eng against SA 2-0 and PAK 3-0, WI against IND 2-0, NZ against eng 2-0, recent ashes 3-0 for eng and list goes on. Pak vs zimb was very very rare case. Who would like to watch one side test series? Enough said?

  • I on October 23, 2013, 12:34 GMT

    @Stup1d I wonder if you chose your username ironically. Either that, or you've not been watching any test cricket in the last 3 years - the game has been flourishing. The only 'boring draws' have been down to the weather, otherwise we've had cracking matches and series. Everything from Pakistan's last tour to the West Indies, England's struggles in New Zealand and victory in India, the recent Ashes series, even the current series in the UAE. Hell, Zimbabwe have been entertaining us on the test stage. Throw in freak matches like the last 2 Aus v SA series with low totals and dogged rearguard stands, and you'll soon notice that your opinion is based on not having seen any test cricket in the last few years.

  • Arvind on October 23, 2013, 4:39 GMT

    Test cricket is almost dead. The empty stadiums in most grounds would be a fine testimony to it. Barring a few tests between the top teams (and sometimes not even those), the typical Test match is either a boring one-sided affair, or a 3 innings draw.

  • Dummy4 on October 22, 2013, 20:23 GMT

    I don't really know about the "test cricket will die" theory. I'm an ordinary fan by most standards, and although I don't have 5 days to invest in a match, I always follow the score and watch a few overs, and I love it. All the ebbs and flows - it is like a suspense movie, slowly unravelling the yarn (if it is a close game, that is). Same with ODI's, except faster. And I don't like T20 much - to quote the Joker, "You can't savour all the… little emotions". Simply put, test cricket will evolve, and it most definitely won't die - the fan base is vocal enough to save it. Also, bowlers with evolve with time. Batsmen did too...remember the time when batsmen had to fight to save their lives, not wickets against the WI pace quartet? I hope there will be a day when bowlers will also get the benefit of new weapons...smaller, heavier balls would be a good start.

  • Dummy4 on October 22, 2013, 17:30 GMT

    some more stupid points... 2.free-hit is penalty for bowler; y not some penalty for a batsman 4.& 5. restricted shots :P for batsman 7. even the bowler is not allowed bowl consecutive overs 10. batsman can chose his bat; yes y not the bowler choosing his ball :) allowing the same technology to make it interesting?? (balls within icc guidelines) 11. batsman can switch hit; but bowler cant switch sides without informing umpire

    for any format to be interesting, there needs to be striking balance between bat and ball

  • Dummy4 on October 22, 2013, 17:20 GMT

    the idea of the advent of an age of great bowler looks far fetched as of now. even if some bowlers emerge from nowhere, these club weilding giants will ensure that thier morale is nipped in the bud. I would still love to see some chin music and that 'no clue' look on batsmen's face when the balls dart horizontally across their bats, if only it could be possible now.

  • Karabo Obakeng on October 22, 2013, 16:56 GMT

    @TRAM_Hahahahahaha, whether you meant it as a joke or not, it's still funny just the same. It made me chortle. Okay, back to 9: I do see your argument but I still maintain that the law is not an unfair law against bowlers, but neither is it fair either to some extent. Still, I have no problem with it.

    PS: Just for interest's sake, what do you think about bowlers bowling lines? (Eg. Spinners bowling down leg with a predominantly leg-side field or pacers bowling outside off with a predominantly off-side field).

  • VAIBHAV on October 22, 2013, 15:41 GMT

    What I noticed in India's chase of 359 was that whenever even a little pressure was building on the batsmen, they just lofted the ball over the infield to get a boundary. And in case of Rohit, mis-hits also travelled to boundary because of lack of fifth fielder outside the boundary. This rule certainly needs to be changed otherwise quality less hoickers would be the future greats and legends of ODI cricket.

  • TR on October 22, 2013, 13:49 GMT

    @Joe-car, Re >>9. I fully agree with that law. The ball is said(rightfully so) to have a tendency of disappearing in the batsman's vision when it's pitched down leg.....<<

    It disappears from view because the batsman is standing in such a posture. Who asks him to stand in such crooked posture? (:-) but I am kind of serious). See how Shane Watson smashes leg stump attack balls from spinners nowadays. He has mastered that recently. It is the bowlers who have all restrictions. Batsmen are allowed to stand wherever/whatever manner and can do all sort of switch hits, so whats the problem? I would prefer another closer wide line at the leg side - both for gauging wide balls as well ruling the ball as "pitched on leg side" for LBW decisions.

  • Karabo Obakeng on October 22, 2013, 11:43 GMT

    @TRAM_although I agree with you in principle, I do have to disagree with some of the points you make. For instance: 7. I don't have too many qualms about bowlers only allowed to bowl a certain(restricted) number of overs, but I do see your point and maybe that law should at the very least be debated in future. 8. That law has been revised and non-strikers run the risk of being run out if and when the 'back-up' far too much. 9. I fully agree with that law. The ball is said(rightfully so) to have a tendency of disappearing in the batsman's vision when it's pitched down leg. 10. I support the use of technology in cricket.

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