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