September 1, 2010

Thumbs up, reluctantly

The most Australian players seem to be able to offer in support of the split-innings format trial seems to be "interesting"

"Interesting" is supposed to be an inoffensive word. It's how you might describe a wacky ex-partner, a boss' decision, or a friend's unflattering outfit. But tell a cricketer you find his strokeplay interesting when asking for an autograph and you won't be chatting for long.

Introduce a competition that the organisers hope will change the landscape of international cricket and they would hope the response from the main participants would be better than them saying "interesting". Yet that's the general view of Australia's major players to the split-innings, 45-over, one-day format that will be trialled in the domestic competition from October.

It's true that the players didn't like Twenty20 until they had a hit, but the response in this case has been so underwhelming that Cricket Australia has had to look to Sachin Tendulkar for the most glowing recommendation. Tendulkar has nothing to do with Australia's domestic scene, of course, and always says nice things about everything. Michael Hussey and Nathan Hauritz think the format is interesting. Ricky Ponting is hopeful.

Hussey, who was resistant from the initial stages, called the timing of the move "interesting" and said it's going to be "interesting" to watch how it goes. "We're going to be interested to see what new tactics are used, how captains use it, and how different players come to the fore," he said. "I hope we don't focus on it too much in this particular year in the lead-up to the World Cup because I think we've got to make sure we get our 50-over cricket very sound."

A rough translation from cricket speak to common usage is: "How can they be doing this before such an important event?" Between February and March, Australia will attempt to win a fourth World Cup in a row, but in the lead-up to the tournament those not involved in the ODI team won't have any formal 50-over games.

When a new sponsor comes on, like the phone company that gave the contracted players new mobiles during the camp last week, the player plaudits rain on social networking sites. Start a new format before a World Cup and it's almost possible to hear the grating teeth in the replies.

Ricky Ponting, now 35, was asked last week if he would ever play a split-innings one-dayer, and he first started discussing Australia's Sheffield Shield preparation ahead of the Ashes. He thinks he will play one before he retires, but it might not be this year because he rarely fits in games with Tasmania.

"I will get a taste of split innings at some stage, and even if I don't get to play it I will be hearing a lot from the other players about the format and how it works," Ponting said. "Hopefully that now we know where it's going, hopefully it's a great success and the players around Australia enjoy playing it."

"Hopefully" is a hugely different description from wonderful, fabulous or exciting. Ponting is the most important cricketer in the land, an increasingly thoughtful man whose views can sway opinion. Reading into his reply, there was a sense that golf or a bad back - or both - might take precedence if he's asked to join Tasmania for a 45-over affair this summer.

Cricket Australia's desire to improve the flagging 50-over format is commendable and the initiative is a rare show of radicalism from an often conservative body. Telling such a powerful group as the players that they have to do something they don't want to also shows leadership. Except in this case 78% of them said it was a bad idea

Cricket Australia's desire to improve the flagging 50-over format is commendable and the initiative is a rare show of radicalism from an often conservative body. Telling such a powerful group as the players that they have to do something they don't want to also shows leadership. Except in this case 78% of them said it was a bad idea in an Australian Cricketers' Association survey. If the game had to be trimmed, they wanted a 40-over two-innings match instead of four periods leading to 45 overs.

Hussey and Clarke are two well-mannered, mild-mannered players from the Tendulkar school of favouring the bright side in public outings. "I would need to play it before making a comment on it," Clarke said. He's the Twenty20 captain and so understands the lure of new formats and gimmicks. The most praise he offered in the short reply was to concede it was worth trialling in domestic cricket before internationals. "We will see how it goes from there," he concluded.

Nathan Hauritz recognised the need to do something different with the one-day format because of the glut of fixtures. This is the most common complaint from everyone but the broadcasters when it comes to 50-over games. A reduction of matches is as likely as the ICC being convinced of the new format in time for the 2015 World Cup.

Hauritz thinks spin bowlers could deliver the last five overs of the first innings, then open the bowling for the second half in the field. Is it confusing to think about playing it? "It's going to be tough on fast bowlers," he said. "It'll be interesting to see how it all goes."

The domestic one-day competition is currently without a sponsor, but Cricket Australia says the controversy about the format is creating interest, not hindering it. Player disgruntlement could already be pushing up the value.

Still, a couple of domestic players can't wait. Victoria's Aaron Finch and Tasmania's Xavier Doherty are excited by the format and there are rumoured to be senior players who think the same way. Hearing from them would be interesting.

Peter English is the Australasia editor of Cricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • CouchCommo93 on September 4, 2010, 7:49 GMT

    To a most cricket enthusiasts, a gruelling, 5 day long (i don't object to a sixth) test match is the BEST way to play. ODI's are worth it, but twenty twenty is just shoddy. I'm not gonna beat around the bush. ANYONE with basic hand eye coordination could do it. I've seen 15 year olds here play with more finesse and skill than some IPL players. Yes skill can be used in the format, like Sachin-paji, but T20 formats will not do anything to DEVELOP the game or the skills involved. Also @BoomBoomAdnan: The restrictions are used in order to create more pressure in the game. Balancing it out. It also develops necessity for all players to branch out as much as they can, rather than specializing four men in bowling and the rest in batting. With restrictions, that formula won't work. Restrictions force cricketers to become adaptable. Also part timers don't mean "smash-time". Australia of 6 years ago (at the end of Steve Waugh's reign) showed the value of multitalented and flexible layers.

  • CouchCommo93 on September 4, 2010, 7:41 GMT

    @GreenandGold: Very funny mate... go stateside why dontcha. but i think i know where your coming from. Cricket does seem to be trying to compete with Baseball. Competing is one thing. Turning into is another. And i think that's what you meant. Remember one thing. Cricket will always have at least 1.1 billion fans...

    @BoomBoomAdnan: It's not about puritans objecting to change rather puritans pointing out flaws in changes, advising younger generations to put a LOT of thought into any change. a mentor of mine once said: "If we change the rules willy nilly, we might as well not have them and play the game by ear". It's also not the older generations. I'm still in my mid-teens, and most of my friends who fully understand the game love and respect test cricket.

  • Cricinfouser on September 3, 2010, 22:02 GMT

    Lover the no power play rule if they cud do that in the regular ODI and not limit the overs a bowler can bowl it would great to watch. i mean i don't think any bowler can bowl 25 overs in one day. im sure the most overs a bowler can bowl is around 14 -15 and that will make better competition instead of watching part timers bowling and getting whipped

  • Cricinfouser on September 3, 2010, 21:54 GMT

    Old people never like new ideas and they always think their time was the best.

  • Green_and_Gold on September 3, 2010, 13:37 GMT

    This is a great idea but rather than having a split 2 innings we should have more - like 9 cause that would make it 9 times better and rather than having the batsman run up and down they should run in a diamond shape and you could have the bowlers bowl only full tosses (cause everyone likes those and their easy to score off) plus we should change the shape of the bat, maybe make it round (wonder if mongoose has already released on of these).... yeah - I love the sound of these new cricket ideas!

  • CouchCommo93 on September 3, 2010, 11:48 GMT

    @neutralfan: i couldn't agree more. my main question to anyone who's played this format is: How does the bowler's over limit work? Will they be replenished each innings? or will they have to deal with the limitation? Also, if declaration is to be modeled on test cricket, it becomes clear that you cannot declare if trailing. What happens if you bat second (with the first team declaring for a high score from their first innings). If you can't declare, your team would get all out. If you somehow get to a point where you are in the lead and declare, the opposition then have all the advantages of a full top order. This may work in test matches, since there is no limitations to maximum overs bowled, but won't work in shorter formats. Any thoughts guys?

  • _NEUTRAL_Fan_ on September 2, 2010, 15:01 GMT

    @youcanhaveabat, every format of the game works brilliantly when it is close doesn't it? I too have played a bit like that back in my teens when light determined how much we could play and I personally don't quite like the idea, its good to tinker but thats a bit too much, something tells me it will lead to even more strife for bowlers....just a gut feeling.

  • dummy4fb on September 2, 2010, 9:20 GMT

    I really don't think this format will drag in the crowds as much as Cricket Australia thinks it will. It might initially - as there is already a growing interest in Australian domestic cricket - but once the novelty of this wears off I'm not sure the Ford Ranger Cup will have much bigger attendances than it does now.

  • CouchCommo93 on September 2, 2010, 7:57 GMT

    @Yotta (continued): The final issue is that it could cause a disruption in the spirit of the teams. Everyone like to bat. Even bowlers. Even if it's just to go out there and swing the willow a bit. Everyone wants runs under their belt. Now if 4 or 5 players were consistently not allowed a chance to bat (because of the captain's declaration), it could cause major issues in a team. Think back to the days when you played club cricket as a kid (which was only a couple of years ago for me) and particular people were never allowed to bowl, or to bat. They would start grumbling, whining, and eventually maybe a fight would break out. It causes tensions in the team. It is a captain's responsibility to maintain a sense of respect, good nature and cricketing spirit within the team. So all in all, I think your idea is worth looking into, but with modifications and considerations (mainly the second innings to be a continuation rather than a restart). Sorry for the bombardment mate.

  • CouchCommo93 on September 2, 2010, 7:51 GMT

    @Yotta: The idea of opted declaration comes with a few side-effects. Firstly it tests the level of foresight a captain has about the game. Second,it makes bowling allround positions (such as the role Brett Lee and a number of other Aussies have aken keenly into their stride) completely obsolete. Captains might as well declare at the fall of the sixth wicket and effectively give their top order another go. Cricket has always been a team game. The crux has always been to perform as a unit. It's not just about the top-order batsmen scoring. At times it has depended on the prowess of the tail-end to help pull along the team. Another problem is that it changes the selection criteria. Generally, a selection committee would prefer bowlers that can bat and hence reduce the tail. In that case, a team that has spent years developing that characteristic has lost all of their hard work's merits.

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