Two balls make batsmen battle
On May 26 at Grace Road, Josh Cobb and Greg Smith put on an opening partnership of 235 in 24.5 overs for Leicestershire against Somerset. That is the sort of run rate you can only just get to in your best daydream. In the 40-over game, Somerset's 323 was chased down with seven wickets and 10 balls to spare.
In the YB40 competition they use one ball.
Listening to science podcasts about conspiracy theories has taught me a lot about how I know nothing about causality. So it's obviously not just because they don't use two new balls that Cobb and Smith smashed it everywhere. Two new balls that stayed hard could have gone further for longer. The pitch could have been such a powder puff that whether you used a football or a golf ball, the scoreline was going to be messy.
In UK limited-overs cricket, especially at the highest level, the fast men are often favoured. Quality international batting line-ups often end up as mashed as the white ball. With two new balls, more men inside the circle and often favourable bowling conditions, the fast men can dictate a game.
At Lord's it started with Kyle Mills and Mitchell McClenaghan. Their role was not to kill the opposition, despite Mills and McClenaghan sounding like two killers from a Cockney gangster film. What they did was slow England down with the odd play and miss.
It was Tim Southee, who can now have Lord's specialist added to his LinkedIn page, who took the wickets. Perhaps anywhere else other than England, and in any game without two new balls, Southee would bowl the first overs. Here, New Zealand have the opportunity to get the most out of their top three seamers. Southee started England's downfall.
The second new ball wasn't needed for New Zealand to feel the pain of seam bowling. Third ball of their innings, Luke Ronchi was out. Fifth ball, Kane Williamson was out. Even after the initial spell, which was followed by a match-winning partnership, James Anderson and even Jade Dernbach, made things difficult for the Kiwis. Not enough to win the game but, when Brendon McCullum was dismissed, I bet there were nervous Kiwis around.
When the new changes were brought in, it was also supposed to be the end of spin bowling (which has now officially died more times than the spirit of cricket and Test cricket). Spin bowlers wouldn't be needed with two new balls, and with less players allowed out in the field, they would be more susceptible.
Today we saw how the opposite could also be true.
The new balls helped with the breakthroughs, which helped keep the pressure on, which meant that it was harder to hit out against the spinners when they came on. More fielders in the circle made singles harder to come by. It means spinners can build pressure and choke batsmen. As Nathan McCullum and Graeme Swann did.
It's always hard to tell why one-day cricket is tampered with. A second new ball in Asia might mean higher scoring rates. Extra fielders inside the circle often mean more wickets, except on truly flat wickets where they mean carnage. I doubt that anyone in cricket was actually trying to help bowlers, so I can only assume that the idea of two balls was because someone assumed the harder balls would go further and the fielders brought up for more boundaries.
Instead what has been set up is a potential summer of ODIs where batsmen actually have to earn their runs, and bowlers are not just there to take the pace off the ball and help batsmen look good.
If that does happen, the rules might be changed back, because who wants an ODI where batsmen have to fight for their runs, when you could have them scoring opening partnerships of over 200 at nine-and-a-half runs an over.