South Africa in England 2012 September 6, 2012

Make 50 overs special again

England's awful display at Trent Bridge was partly down to the skewed priorities of the cricket schedule and, instead of the current fixture cram, short one-day series should be played before the Tests

There was something oddly relevant about England's abject cricket at Trent Bridge on Wednesday evening. Greed forced the game into the schedule - the summer's 14th of 17 limited-overs internationals; there are still three T20s to come - and that greed cost the public the occasion they deserved for their unwavering support.

Everything was in place, even the weather for goodness' sake, but sunshine was the only bang the good folk of Nottingham got for their buck. The England batting was dreadful and the match, bar a brief period by James Anderson with the new ball, a non-event. Too much of a good thing never did anyone any good, and boy, do we get too much of one-day cricket. So there is relevance in this defeat.

The greed in the schedule is the preference of one-day cricket over Test matches. The corridors of power keep telling us that the primacy of Test cricket is of overriding import, but the evidence does not support the claim. Eight short-form games against South Africa, only three Tests. Four against West Indies to go with three Tests - that's better. But five one-dayers against Australia - what were they about, what did they mean? Where is the logic in this planning? The performance of the players, though indefensible in itself, seemed to be saying enough now, enough.

Alastair Cook's face was a picture when the tenth wicket fell. A picture of confusion. We did not see Andy Flower's face because he was elsewhere, exhausted of mind and feet up far away. It has been a demanding three months. First Kevin Pietersen's show-stopping retirement from the 50-over game, then the aggro over resting James Anderson from the Edgbaston Test against West Indies, then humiliation at The Oval by the South Africans.

We are warming up now. Next came the post-Headingley Pietersen outburst, followed by the texts about the captain and the sender's axing, then defeat at Lord's and the loss of the top dog world ranking. Wait, there is more. Next came goodbye Andrew Strauss, hello Alastair Cook; then another tranche of Pietersen (they met on Saturday, we are told); before the false light of 50-over victories at The Oval and Lord's. And now this thumping. Just hope that Flower did not watch the Trent Bridge game, because if he did we might find him in the Thames with lead boots on.

Make the 50-over game special again by making it less accessible and interest will return for both spectator and player. Cricket can and should sustain three formats

In some ways, then, it has been a wretched year. Perhaps we should have spotted the loosening of the wheels in the Middle East, where the newly anointed Champions of the World were hammered in all three Tests by Pakistan. Then again, England have won 12 of 14 completed 50-over matches this year. Having watched last night's shambles, explaining how is tricky. Pietersen kicked it off with a couple of hundreds in the UAE; West Indies were pretty ordinary earlier this summer, and Australia were out of season in July. That helped.

Arguably England are four players short of the best team. Stuart Broad is on sabbatical, Matt Prior is ignored, Jonny Bairstow is keen to the point of bursting, KP is in SW3 en famille. It was commendable to outplay South Africa in two matches and much thought went into doing so. It is equally commendable to finish the year at the top of the ICC rankings. But there is a lot of unravelling left. England's cricket has gone mediocre of late. Some common sense is required to bring it back to scratch.

Moving on. Tweet tweet goes the country after these humdrum contests that finished without a winner. Fifty-over cricket is the frenzied theme of Twitter exchanges across the land. We're over it, they are shouting. Bring on the global phenomenon that is T20 and leave it at that. Test cricket survives and T20 will thrive.

I do not buy it. The quality of the cricket makes the format worthwhile or otherwise. Too many games and not enough importance attached to them is the reason for the limited interest in the 50-over game. Even the players have tired of the process and thus pay it less attention. It is no coincidence that many a team that wins the Test series goes on to lose the one-day games.

A challenge over the best of three matches is ample and should be played as the warm-up to a Test series, the main event. These shorter, sharper series should count towards World Cup qualification and seeding, and therefore be played with meaning. Ideally, 50-over cricket should be the first flower of spring, the return of the game into a summer's consciousness or the first format back after time away for such diversions as the Olympic Games or football championships. Offering a taste of both the longest and shortest form of the game, the 50-over game is the one to whet appetites.

Tickets should be hard to find in countries other than England, where the small grounds and relatively large populations tend to guarantee full houses. World Cups must be pre-eminent, not overshadowed by bi-annual T20 tournaments. There is good reason for the theory of supply and demand. Make the 50-over game special again by making it less accessible and interest will return for both spectator and player. Cricket can and should sustain three formats. Working out what goes where, when and how often, is the key to its diverse appeal in the future.

Mark Nicholas, the former Hampshire captain, presents the cricket on Channel 9 in Australia and Channel 5 in the UK

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on September 8, 2012, 7:10 GMT

    Similar voice was raised by Dravid in Bradman oration Saying " 5 matches or 7 matches long bilateral one day series are meaningless. Series involving more than 2 countries(like triangular series) will be interesting for the spectators".

  • Guy on September 8, 2012, 3:47 GMT

    Also, I think the ODI format is a bit stale, as evidenced by the ICC's need to tinker with it with powerplays, supersubs (thank god they're gone!) etc. My main problem with it are the accumulation overs from 20-35 when everyone knocks the ball around for 5-6 singles an over and there are 5 men back. There is no value for high quality cricket strokes - a beautiful cover drive gets the same 1 run as a thick edge onto the thigh pad. I would have the fielding restrictions go to: overs 1-15: 2 men out; 16-25: 3 men out; 26-35: 4 men out; 36-50: 5 men out. Then at least we might see boundaries and attacking batting all through the innings. It would also increase the value of bowling for wickets vs for containment. To give the bowlers some chance, maybe stick with the new ball from either end as done in England.

  • Guy on September 8, 2012, 3:30 GMT

    @Busie1979, I like where you're going... but annual? Do you mean ODI one year, T20 the next and so on? I think the World Cup is what will keep ODI alive, and to keep it special it probably should only be every 4 years. I do agree broadly with you that making other matches have a 'qualifying' role will give them relevance. I also agree that the minnows should fight amongst themselves for the right to make the big show - so maybe Ireland and Afghanistan win through but the others miss out. Personally I find triangular series incredibly tiresome - if one team is a bit off its game, there are lots of dead rubbers just to get to an anti-climactic finals series. My hope is for an orderly set of home and away 3 match ODI series for some form of qualification/seeding for the World Cup, ideally giving teams like Ireland, Afghanistan etc a chance to earn qualification to compete in the big show against the major teams.

  • Robert on September 7, 2012, 19:46 GMT

    Mark - very much agreed. The old style format used to work perfectly; the aperitif before the main course. Even as recently as 2005, think how hard fought the one dayers were between Aus and Eng before the tests - gives players an opportunity to size each other up before the real battle begins. This summer's SAF-ENG ODIs were more a case of 'after the lord mayor's show'.

  • Dummy4 on September 7, 2012, 19:41 GMT

    Agree Mark - should be the aperitif to the main course. Even as recently as 2005 Australia tour of England, think of how hard fought and intense the one day series was before the tests. Absolutely set things up perfectly.

    Having the ODIs following the tests is clearly a case of after the Lord Mayor's show.

  • Fred on September 7, 2012, 12:59 GMT

    Why dont the ICC listen to the fans about this. Everyone agrees we should;ve had 4 or 5 tests against South Africa and not played the aussies - it also ever so slightly devalued the ashes next summer to have them hear anyway. Had they done this then a 5th ODI against South Africa may have been more entertaining than it was and the players (and coach) may have had the energy for it.

    I love 50 over cricket - and you can't scrap it because for real cricket fans it is the only decent short form of the game. They should try it though - prelude, main event, encore sounds like a good description really.

    For me the perfect length of series would be 3 or 5 ODIs followed by 4 or 5 tests and 2 or 3 T20's (for the money - i probably wont bother with them)

    and yes the fact that the world T20 is every 2 years makes a joke of the 50 over world cup. Why not scrap t 20's as part of a tour and have an int t20 cup every FOUR years 2 years away from the Olympics where it would also be an Olympic event!

  • Andrew on September 7, 2012, 12:31 GMT

    @Busie1979 - good idea, but I think eventually it would cheapen the event if it was played annually in either format. I think for cricket to survive amongst the minnows, they need to have the "potential" to reach the W/Cup, even if they get flogged. I agree re: context, that being said I thought there was context to the Tri-series in Oz, there is some context in the Asia Cup, but there was little context between Oz & pak in UAE & Oz & Eng in England. I think if ODIs were limited to 3 matches in a bilateral (prefer to ban bilaterals), to be ONLY played during a Test tour (before or after a test I don't mind, but I do think they are better before). I would look to have 3 or 4 -sided contests involving at least ONE minnow. Over time this would boost sides like Zim, Bang, Ireland & Afghan, even Netherlands, Scotland & Namibia.

  • Rayner on September 7, 2012, 10:09 GMT

    I do agree Mark, however all the counties are screaming out for international cricket games, after they have spent all the SKY money on new stands, grounds, pavilions etc. I think we should have one tri series ODI tourney in the middle of the summer with both the visiting teams, maybe even include the Irish and make it a 4-way? Each team plays each other twice, then semis and a final. That way we'd help Ireland to develop as they would always have test playing nations to play each year, there would be 20 ODIs to hold around the country in the summer, keeping the counties happy, but England would only play a maximum of 8, everyone happy! It would also give a bit more competitiveness to the affair and tournament like experience to all those involved.

  • darius on September 7, 2012, 10:09 GMT

    @Saqib Siddiqi mate can you tell me when was the last time Pak won a series outside Pak or UAE recently?India did win in Eng in Pak has also a lot to prove outside their den....

  • Dummy4 on September 7, 2012, 10:01 GMT

    What Mark Nicholas is advocating sounds like a return to the old Texaco Trophy format. He's right: It was a prelude to the tests, a chance to put a marker down at the start of a series and the opportunity to let bright, early starters in first class cricket be blooded into the full side. So how does this sound? A 3 match 50 overs series, then a test series and finally a T20 series to round a series out. Prelude, main event, encore.

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