Does ODI cricket need so much tweaking?
This fortnight's Time Out show looks at the latest set of rule changes to ODI cricket recommended by the ICC's cricket committee. Is ODI cricket in such a crisis that it needs to be constantly tinkered with? Instead of imposing restrictions over the number of fielders inside or outside the circle, is there a case for the captain to be given a free hand in these decisions? Our panelists discuss what they think would be an ideal ODI format, assess the impact of some recently introduced rule changes, and talk about the issues the ICC needs to address to ensure the well being of ODI cricket.
Below are extracts from the discussion. The numbers in brackets are the duration of each segment.
Is the ODI format in so much danger that you need to tweak it all the time? (1.57 - 8.35)
Sanjay Manjrekar: I think so, because there was one event that happened last year. We were talking about November, which is peak cricketing season in India - a Sunday afternoon at the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai, which loves its cricket. Just 50% of the Wankhede Stadium was full, at an India-England match, an official ODI game. It was not just Mumbai, there was Eden Gardens later that failed to attract huge crowds. So you could get the feeling in India that the metros were not that excited about 50-over cricket anymore. I think there is this constant feeling among administrators when they watch a 50-over match that it's lacking something.
I have a very extreme view on this: this is giving a very strong message, this constant tweaking, that maybe this concept itself has a lot of limitations. And in today's day and age with changing tastes, and Twenty20 coming in, maybe it's not exciting the audiences as much as it used to when it came the first time in in the '70s and the early '80s.
Ian Chappell: I don't think it needs the tinkering. What it needs is a bit of a sensible approach. If you just keep playing mindless games all the time, then sure, the people are going to get sick of them. It's like what the good comedians always say: leave them laughing but leave them wanting more. I don't think the overkill has helped one-day cricket. But I also blame the administrators again, on the basis that you can't legislate for unimaginative captains. I'd like to see the game left to the players and run by the captains as much as possible. You're not going to see it when you have administrators who don't know anything about the game at the highest level.
If you've got a selection panel and they are told, "If the captain is a dullard, get rid of him and get someone in there who has got some imagination," they should be doing it anyway but if they don't, you give them a bit of a kick up the backside and tell them, "The type of cricket that your bloke is putting on here is not up to the mark."
Reactions to the latest set of rule changes. Plus, won't ODI cricket in its current form continue to remain formulaic? (8.36 - 16.22)
Harsha Bhogle: My gut feeling is there is a desperate attempt to make the 50-over game a longer 20-over game by tweaking the Powerplays, putting fewer fielders outside [the circle], encouraging the big hits over the circle…
SM: Four fielders outside the circle is a huge change, especially for the spinners. I'm thinking of somebody like Virender Sehwag batting in that time. And just four fielders outside the circle is just paradise for him.
IC: Here again, the administrators need a good kick up the backside. You've got the bats getting better, and in the same era, you've had the boundaries getting shorter. Explain to me how that is logical. And obviously, the first person who is going to suffer in that regard is a spinner. But here again lies one of the problems with one-day cricket. Just as the Test match doesn't need 600 runs scored in the first innings - because it then forces the team batting second basically to play for a draw, or think more about the draw than trying to win - one-day cricket doesn't need 300 or 350 scored in the first innings, as it basically obliterates the side batting second.
Two of the things that you heard in the early days of one-day cricket, when people got excited about it: they talked about the fielding and they talked about the running between the wickets. I'd like the administrators to explain to me: if you are going to bring the boundaries in and if you're going to have a pile of fours and a pile of sixes, where's the running between the wickets and where's the good fielding in that? A lot of what they do is totally illogical. I'd include the gimmicks as well, the Powerplays and the Supersubs.
SM: I can understand the pressure the ICC has with 50-over cricket. Meaningless, irrelevant 50-over cricket is not working. But because the World Cup is a huge event still, and it's an ICC event, they want to keep 50-over cricket alive as much as possible. I have always maintained that 40-over cricket makes a lot more sense. Then you don't need all these little gimmicks to bring life. I've found a 40-over match (when I've done commentary for games reduced by rain interruptions etc) a lot more exciting because the boring phase in the middle that you're trying to address becomes much more short.
IC: It doesn't matter what form of the game you're playing, when you've got a fielding captain whose aim is not to get hit for too many boundaries rather than getting the batsmen out, you're going to have a crashing bore. The batsmen are going to say, "Thank you very much," one run here, one run there and just pick it off. In some ways I think the Powerplays have contributed to the problem because a lot of captains have said, "Well, those are the Powerplay overs, we'll try and score as quickly as we possibly can. In the last five overs you're always trying to get a move on anyhow. In the other overs we'll just try to keep wickets in hand and pick five or six an over." And so you get a very formulated game and whenever any game is formulated, it's basically rubbish.
HB: Someone called it the non-aggression pact. It's a bit like the Mahabharata. We say, "Okay, we'll fight by day. Now we'll take a little pause, we'll come back and fight for a while and then we'll take a pause."
Currently, a bowler can bowl a maximum of ten overs in an ODI. Why not have your best bowler bowl more overs?
(17.25 - 19.08)
IC: If your main bowlers can bowl a few extra overs… here again, you're leaving it to the imagination. Who's bowling well today? You don't always bowl Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne for the extra overs. Somebody's bowling really well today, you give him a few extra overs. If you've got your best bowlers bowling a few extra overs, you would think that the good captains, at least, are going to attack a bit more, whereas if they're going to bowl trundlers for ten overs, then that's when they go very conservative and try and contain.
SM: When you're trying to get the better bowlers bowl more overs, you're trying to be like Test cricket, because there you have the best bowler bowling the most overs in an innings.
HB: The original idea behind the Supersub was that you play seven batsmen and five bowlers, and you use your Supersub so that you have your best bowlers bowling at the best batsmen.
SM: Supersub would have worked to an extent if the Supersub would not have to be announced before the toss. Or let the teams have the freedom of naming 14 players a match and have the Supersub coming in at any time - taking an actual part in the batting and bowling.
The problem with two new-balls in an innings
(19.13 - 24.26)
HB: One of the things we used to see noticeable on the subcontinent was reverse swing, and now reverse swing has gone out of the game too.
IC: It's ridiculous that with technology and all the advancements we've made as a society… the white ball started in 1977 in World Series Cricket and we've been going 35 years. We've really had no advancement on the white ball at all. The fact that they can't even get it to last 50 overs - I just don't understand it.
SM: That should be the one-point agenda of the ICC. Instead of focusing so much on one-day cricket and how they can breathe life into it… is to find a ball that can retain its colour for 75 overs. Then you can play Test cricket in some parts of the world at night and you'll get audiences, because there is interest in Test cricket.
What I've seen in the last one year, since this [two new balls] rule was introduced, is that it's working in some conditions. It worked in Australia because the balance was better - the fast bowlers on lively pitches had more hardness to make the pitches more effective. But it's worked in favour of the batsmen in the subcontinent. Sehwag, when he got the double-hundred, it had a lot to do with the hardness of the cricket ball that he was playing with, even in the 35th and 40th over.
HB: Isn't it also interesting that the slower bowlers are getting better with the newer balls? We're seeing in 20-overs cricket that a lot of slower bowlers are bowling in the Powerplays.
IC: It depends what you class as getting better. If they're getting better at saving runs, that's only part of the equation. I'd like to see them getting better at both, economy rate and strike rate. Strike rate slightly more important than economy rate.
HB: One of the nicer things about this year's IPL was that wicket-taking bowlers were being valued, and wicket-taking bowlers were changing the course of quite a few matches.
IC: All the better bowlers that I recall facing, I was never in any doubt what was in their minds when they were bowling to me. They were trying like hell to get me out. That's a lot tougher to face than someone when you're on top and they've pushed the field back and they're obviously saying to you, "I'm just trying to contain you."
SM: When the audience is watching a bowler running in not to get the batsman out… just imagine how much damage that does to the spectacle. At least T20 cricket - also a limited-overs concept - goes to the extreme of a certain cricketing skill. Fifty-overs cricket has managed to put limits on everything. In T20 cricket, at least attacking cricket is taken to a certain level. You have Dale Steyn bowling a fiery spell of two overs in T20 cricket - maybe in 50-overs cricket, he just holds himself back a bit because he's got to bowl ten overs in about three and a half hours.
What next for the ODI format? (26.05 - 28.26)
SM: I'll keep it simple. Not too many gimmicks. Just keep it to 40 overs, till the World Cup is viable.
IC: There's still a place for 50-over cricket, if there wasn't so much overkill in the game. But I'd like to see it simplified with the legislation. I'd like to see it left to the imagination of the cricketers. As long as it's a contest - if it's a really good contest, then it's interesting and it's entertaining. The basic job of an administrator is to keep that balance between bat and ball. I think at times they forget that.
Numbers Game (28.30 - 32.48)
Question: In ODIs since October 2008 (when the batting Powerplay came into existence), the rate for a boundary (a four or a six) in the first 15 overs is one every 10 balls; in the last 10 overs it's one every eight balls. What's the corresponding number in the middle overs (16th to 40th)?