March 25, 2011

No curtain calls for the ODI yet

The Powerplays have kept teams on their toes, the DRS has reduced mistakes, and the World Cup has been a success so far

It's been a pretty good World Cup, you have to admit. Yes, we took a long time to arrive at the eight teams that most thought would make the quarter-finals; yes, we had a lot of one-sided games, but that was factored into our expectations. But favourites have occasionally stumbled and underdogs have had their moments in the sun as well.

Dhaka wept and cheered and wept. The Irish marched, maybe short of weapons but not of spirit, Pallekele gave us a picturesque venue. Indian stadiums are, apparently, looking quite nice, England practised standing on a knife's edge, the Aussies haven't evoked awe, and South Africa have a legspinner. Clearly much has happened. Even the DRS has started winning some people over!

The decision reviews added a great deal to the World Cup. While there has been debate on the accuracy, teams and players have much less to complain about, and it seems a logical extension to the progress that was made when third-country umpires began standing. Not everyone is convinced that the projected trajectory of the ball is accurate, but it needs to be looked at in competition with the accuracy of the naked eye. And since machines have neither emotions nor loyalties, the merits or drawbacks will be uniform.

Has it eliminated howlers? I'm not sure we can be completely convinced of that but it has certainly minimised them, though it would help if someone told us the real reason behind its lesser admissibility when the ball pitches less than 40 centimetres from the pad or hits pad more than 2.5 metres from the stumps. I can understand Hawk-Eye being less reliable, and that the limits set therefore actually enhance its effectiveness, but it makes the game more complicated for the spectator. And it didn't help that the ICC kept making the odd alteration. It must work well, and it increasingly seems to, but in a sport that so depends on the public for its sustenance, it must work easily too.

I do hope, though, that we do away with the replay for the low catch. Nothing has failed as spectacularly as this has over the last 10 years. Or more. It doesn't work, it will always look not out, and you cannot deny a bowler a wicket or a fielder a catch on that count. Sadly it has to remain with the umpire because the other method, asking the fielder and trusting him, is too ridiculously naïve. If players stand when they know they are out, if players appeal when they know a batsman isn't out, they lose the right to be trusted. How can you trust a fielder if he says he caught it clean when a few minutes earlier he was probably appealing for one that went straight off pad?

If it is largely thumbs up for the DRS, it is a resounding yes for the Powerplays. When the batting Powerplay was first introduced it was felt, and with some justification, that it was another nail in the coffin for bowlers, particularly spinners. But these bowlers are wonderfully innovative fellows; maybe years of being suppressed by the laws have taught them to survive, and the batting Powerplay is actually being looked at suspiciously by some teams. It is a wonderful development.

In course of time, I think, it will remain a batting weapon, but it is asking more questions than many thought it would. With the fielders being forced in, the gaps within the circle have reduced, and batsmen have felt the need to go over. It begs the question: if the batting Powerplay can produce wickets, why not bring the fielders in more often to cut the singles and force the batsmen to play riskier shots? We see five fielders in the circle far too infrequently, and maybe that will change now.

It is interesting too, and maybe a touch predictable, that the side batting first tends to lose more wickets in the Powerplay (15 balls per wicket as opposed to 19 balls per wicket by sides batting second). Teams that know what their target is seem to approach it with greater care, whereas those that are setting a target seem to throw caution to the winds.

So the 50-over game seems in pretty good health, and maybe the packaging and promotion that a World Cup provides has helped. Good, organised batsmen are still topping the batting charts, and wicket-taking bowlers are still in fashion. And people are watching. There is much life left in this old dog.

Harsha Bhogle is a commentator, television presenter and writer. His Twitter feed is here