The future of ODIs as seen through this World Cup
I once met a futurologist. He worked for a major international corporation, and his job was to predict technological and lifestyle trends as they pertained to the business. And not things that would be happening next week, either. Stuff that would happen years and years ahead.
"Wow," I thought. "That's the kind of job to have: one where you can never be wrong. Or at least by the time you are, everyone's forgotten about it."
So with a competition halfway done and the next one four long years away, what has the 2015 World Cup got to tell us about the future of the 50-over game? What hints and tremors is it giving out? What are the trends that will shape how it's played?
It has been perhaps a longer wait than anticipated for T20's heightened dynamics to blow through the 50-over form, but now that they have, where will it lead?
That's where the futurologist comes into his own:
Left-arm bowlers are the new mystery spinners
Left-armers are the shiny must-haves of World Cup 2015: Mitch Starc, Mitch Johnson, Trent Boult, Shapoor Zadran and the rest. Who wouldn't want one of those? England do, naturally, being stuck with a load of mid-'80s right-arm merchants. They'll probably build some too, just as the trend dies out.
But the desire for left-armers is not really about left-arm bowling. It's about difference. The history of cricket is also the history of the shifting dynamics of bat and ball. They are like the mechanism of a watch, one cog turning the other and demanding a response. For a while, one dominates until the other comes up with an answer. We are currently in an age of the bat, and left-armers, like mystery spinners before them, appear to be a viable counter to batsmen drilled on range-hitting. The change of angle demands a slightly different cognitive response (see here a blog on a real cognitive switch required by baseball sluggers trying to hit a female softball pitcher).
Batting has undergone its technical revolution. I expect bowling to follow: new arm angles, higher pace, different types of swing and spin. Change is gonna come.
Allrounders will count double
The value of an allrounder of the James Faulkner/Glenn Maxwell/Andre Russell type is, in T20 cricket, a pure numbers game. The most valuable players are those who can affect as much of the game as possible with their primary skills. As a simple example, an opening batsman who also bowls can maximally influence 20 overs of batting (should he bat through the innings) plus four overs of bowling - 60% of the match.
The equation is obviously more complex and unpredictable than that, but the allrounder's value in the shortest form is clear. As a new generation of cricketers grow up and enter academies, those that can offer the widest range of match-affecting skills will rise quickly, and batting order Nos. 4 to 8 will be full of 'em.
Stats are meaningless
Admittedly everyone except England appears to have realised this already, but the only stats that count at this World Cup are the ones that demonstrate how quickly the game is changing: 162 off 66, for example, or the fact that David Warner's score of 150 against Afghanistan was the fifth of this event; the previous ten World Cups had just 12.
The rug has been yanked out from under all analysis of more than six months old. That's how quickly the game is changing. Previous highest scores on a ground? Forget them. Average runs off the last ten overs? Useless. Double the score at 30 overs - yeah right. An earthquake has hit the empirical stats base. Consider the following two quotes after Sri Lanka had cruised effortlessly past England's 309 in Wellington:
Eoin Morgan: "We were 25 above par, and the stats backed that up. Par here is about 275-280..."
Kumar Sangakkara: "We knew that ten an over for the last ten overs is comfortable."
In four years' time, when the base has been rebuilt a little, statistical analysis will be more concerned with the micro rather than the macro - small advantages at key moments rather than broad-brush figures like overall totals and economy rates.
Scores will get lower as well as higher
The new game is about fearlessness. T20 cricket has encouraged the acceptance of risk, and it will be ingrained in the consciousness of a generation of players. Given a flat pitch and regular conditions, the need to score outweighs the need to eke out a "respectable" total that will be overhauled. You might as well be all out for 150 having a go as for 230 digging in. You'll lose anyway. In the same way that Test cricket has lost much of its attritional, "draw first" mentality, so the ODI game will accept the notion that all-out attack is now the norm. Low scores, as well as high, will follow.
Thus ends the view from 2019. So what do you think?