January 1, 2014

Is this good for cricket?

World records are being broken but it points to a deficit in skills at the international level

Why was Corey Anderson receiving balls short enough to cut? © AFP

For those who may have had a few too many drinks last night and switched on the TV to ease into a New Year's Day hangover, they may be mistaken for thinking that someone spiked their drink or that they're watching a highlights package. This cannot possibly be live cricket. In fact, it is almost not cricket, full stop. Perhaps this is an exhibition baseball game - some of the West Indian bowlers may have more of a career in that sport than in cricket, judging by the number of deliveries that didn't bounce, and by the bowlers' inability to use the cut surface, despite its true nature.

Corey Anderson's world-record innings looks like it will stand forever, but the way cricket is going, it probably won't last that long. Boundaries that have been brought in, heavy bats, and bowling attacks that clearly do not have the skills to bowl yorkers regularly will see Anderson's record beaten again sometime soon.

There was a time when world records were so rare that they were special, but the speed at which they are being eclipsed now cheapens them somewhat. It's hard to know whether to be in awe of Anderson and Jesse Ryder's power hitting or whether this was like shooting fish in a barrel. Fastest ODI hundred, most sixes by a team in an innings (despite this innings being just 21 overs long), 150-run partnership in 58 balls, the highest run-rate target in an ODI, possibly an unofficial record for the most full tosses bowled (including junior cricket!)… the list goes on.

Is this good for cricket? I'm not convinced it is, though I salute the mighty efforts of the batsmen involved. A combination of factors has contributed to this situation, but one of the undeniable factors has been a rapid decline in the standard of bowling. It is a topic that I have written on recently, and it appears that a few months later, the problem continues for all bowlers throughout the world. You can think of all the excuses - bigger bats, smaller grounds, more shot innovation (scoops, for instance) - but a bowler at this level should be able to land a decent yorker just about anytime he wants. Really, he should.

I played in a match at the MCG yesterday (Melbourne CC v Marylebone CC - MCC v MCC) and despite not having bowled at all for more than 13 months, I was able to land my blockhole choker every single time, even when bowling near the death when the slog was well and truly on. Now if I can do that at age 45 with no practice and with a massive talent shortfall compared to full-time professional international cricketers, I refuse to accept that it cannot be done more often at this level. Yes, I was bowling to 1st and 2nd grade cricketers of district-level standard, and there was clearly less pressure than bowling to Anderson and Ryder, but even allowing for all of those factors, I'm here to tell you that it's not that hard! If I can do that at my age with no practice, an ageing body, and an obvious lack of natural talent, is it too hard to expect international cricketers to execute a simple skill at least four balls out of six?

It's a different story if the bowlers were executing yorkers that were then being scooped over fine leg for six. There's not much any bowler can do to combat that except to keep landing them in the same spot, drop fine leg back and wait for a mistake. You might go for the odd boundary but you won't keep getting swatted over midwicket and extra cover for six. Even the spinners were dishing up waist-high full tosses and looking rueful when they disappeared into the crowd.

Is this entertainment? One team scores 284 for 4 at 13.5 runs per over and the other team ends up at less than half that total, at 5.9 runs an over. Watching Ryder bowl his innocuous offspin is proof that even non-regular bowlers can pay the groundsman a compliment by landing the ball on the pitch that he has so lovingly prepared. Perhaps that anomaly puts both the New Zealand batting and the West Indian bowling into perspective.

Michael Jeh is an Oxford Blue who played first-class cricket, and is a Playing Member of the MCC. He lives in Brisbane

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • $$ milind on January 3, 2014, 3:56 GMT

    This is where cricket is different from many games in the world. Absolute bowling friendly conditions in game 1 and on another day boundaries being bashed all over the place on a match situation where you just have to go for the kill. West batted pretty much on the same surface but didn't get as many. So, I believe its just a part and parcel of the game.

  • Dummy4 on January 2, 2014, 20:17 GMT

    A well thought out analysis. While I admired Corey Anderson for battering the West Indies clueless bowling, I wonder if this should qualify as an official ODI. One would expect at minimum half of the legitimate 50 overs must be bowled to qualify as an official game. I wonder what are the rules. I guess cricket is now purely entertainment even when the reputation of the game is battered.

  • I on January 2, 2014, 9:01 GMT

    @4dee Have you not watched any ODI cricket in the last 2 years? Batting records have fallen thick and fast, stop pretending that it isn't true

  • Ross on January 1, 2014, 18:18 GMT

    @wiki8: If being "pretty good at cricket" is simply landing only 8 overs of leg spin on the pitch, I'm the next Shane Warne. Which just paints Tahir's first innings effort as exactly what it was: pretty pathetic. Even Smith thought so, which is why he took Tahir off, because last time he persisted in Oz, Tahir set a world record for crap bowling.

  • Stark on January 1, 2014, 12:47 GMT

    I agree whole-heartdly with your points in this article!

    I will also echo what the Indian pacers said after the Ind-Aus series "It's better to have bowling machines" or something along those lines, which may become a reality.

  • Lakpriya on January 1, 2014, 12:47 GMT

    Agree in a way to the writer, i watched highlights and the bowling was terrible no way this much of runs be scored if the bowling was a bit decent than what it was. But take nothing away from Anderson, Most of his sixers landed well out side the boundary and some of them out of the grass banks even. so most of those would have been sixers on any ground. Then again Afridi hit his century in Nairobi, a ground on high altitude and the balls travels a more. So I think things balance out.

  • Pradeep on January 1, 2014, 12:24 GMT

    Records are always records,but consistency always speak. Many record holders struggle to retain their place in team.One day & T-20 records are hit & win ones.Test records require good techniques to reach.

  • S on January 1, 2014, 12:23 GMT

    @nuxxy you sound like you're pretty good at cricket, why aren't you in the test team?

  • Dummy4 on January 1, 2014, 12:13 GMT

    agress completely with iceaxe (Posted by iceaxe on (January 1, 2014, 9:12 GMT)). These are wonderful accomplishments, and achieved well within the rules of the game. Whether the rules are fair are not is a different issue. We must learn to accept changes and enjoy the game.