April 14, 2013

Make the shortest format two-innings a side

Bring Test cricket's great strength to cricket's money-making format

The doomsday scenario is all too visible. Within a decade or two, should those entrusted with running our precious game carry on careering down their current treacherous slope, T20 will be the only game in town, rippling with cheap thrills and uniform skills: McDonald's without even the pretence of nutritional value. We might as well call it bashball. To go forward we need to go back to basics.

Cricket hasn't always been a two-innings game, but at the risk of being branded a fascist, I would say the best of it is. Even if we set aside the dramatic possibilities, the very fact that everyone, in theory, gets a second chance is justification enough. Without wishing to get too philosophical on your bottoms, I can't think of a worthier message for any cultural activity to send.

Trouble is, attention spans are not what they were, so seducing new disciples is a big ask and a vast task. If Test cricket is to have any prospect of long-term survival, therefore, the shorter incarnations should, ideally, serve two functions: 1) Make pots of money, thereby funding the less punter-friendly format, and 2) Replicate as much of the latter as possible. As things stand, only the first of these is being fulfilled.

On one blindingly obvious level this should mean dispensing with all restrictions on the number of overs per bowler, always a distortion too far for this observer. Even more telling would be two innings per team.

It is hard not to suspect that, sooner or later, three formats will become two, so why not do what all struggling businesses do and opt for a merger?

A 30- or 40-over affair, with each team entitled to two separate 15- or 20-over innings, would placate those for whom the ten-over slog is a cartoon too far, while giving newcomers a feel for the intricacies, variations, tactics and strategies that make the five-day play the planet's finest anachronism, not to mention a potent antidote to all this fast-food, instant-gratification codswallop.

Granted, such contests might consume more time than a T20 match, but the enhanced number of gaps to sneak in adverts should in no way dismay the broadcasters, the tails that so efficiently wag the dog. Nor would it preclude single-innings fixtures.

Ultimately the number of overs is less relevant than the principle. Doubling the number of innings might not necessarily double the fun, but it could certainly go a long way towards convincing the coming generations that, as with life itself, playing and watching cricket is not about quick fixes and emotional extremes. It is about treating those twin impostors with equanimity, savouring the subtlety and variety, defying time's stormtroopers - and grabbing those second chances.

Rob Steen is a sportswriter and senior lecturer in sports journalism at the University of Brighton

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Tony on April 17, 2013, 6:06 GMT

    Forzaps: "Scrap ODIs. Create a world test league thats played over 1-2 years" And a lot of people say 5 days is too long . . . . . (sorry, couldn't resist that)

  • Dummy4 on April 16, 2013, 4:29 GMT

    I humbly disagree. There are people who want to watch a match in 3-4 hours, like most other major sports. A single t20 innings does that. No need to change this format. 50 over match is going to die out, IMO, since it has no obvious advantages over either tests or t20

  • Simon on April 16, 2013, 3:19 GMT

    So prevalent now in the instant world is the knee jerk change because 'powers that be' have to be seen to be doing something in the face of 'overwhelming argument'. Apparently the quality of the 'argument' is no longer relevant. Are we seeing an irreversible move away from Test patronage to instant T20 gratification requiring massive structural changes, or are we seeing a short term (5 of 150 years of cricket history) fascination with a new toy? Will the improvement in quality of players from all nations improve the Test product and have spectators return? We may never know if we keep knee jerking .

  • Tony on April 16, 2013, 3:06 GMT

    Dark Harlequin and Romanticstud have good ideas, but perhaps they are over-complicating the situation. Instead of 2 x 15 over innings, how about 15 x 2 over innings, on the basis that if 2 is better than 1, 15 is very considerably better than 2? This would also maximise the potential of the whole exercise from a sponsor's point of view, since there will be 14 opportunities for extended advertising breaks, and it will be possible for more frequent re-assessment of strategies. And, to add an additional element, there will be an option to trade players (other than those actually batting at the time) between the 2 sides during any of the innings breaks.

  • Axel on April 16, 2013, 0:00 GMT

    @Spandan Biswal - so T20 displays the 'most diverse skill set' does it? Strange observations there but cricinfo seem to agree and as for #KK47 it may be impossible for YOU to absorb complexity over a period of time but do not assume to speak on behalf of others. You ask how many countries has Test cricket spread to? Since when is cricket's central philosophy supposed to be expansion and change? Why not play baseball? Seriously. You seem to think the aim of cricket should be to sell itself to the mainstream and become like the fast paced world. Cricket has always been an island in the mad storm of the world and something timeless and different. As for Rob Steen, can't you see that 3 need not become 2 and T20 need not clash with Tests if you would simply advocate for a split full-time. T20 is similar to a fat child demanding that an ancient yoga master needs to adapt, expand and meditate to music and cheer girls as he is not exciting for TV!!! Go away from the temple and build your own.

  • Steve on April 15, 2013, 19:33 GMT

    Totally agree. This is how I'd do it for T20; 20 overs a side BUT an innings break after the batting side loses 5 wickets or if 10 overs have been bowled--whichever comes first. However it's done, both ODIs and T20s need two innings for entertaining ebb and flow rather than the boring accumulate-and-chase model.

  • Dummy4 on April 15, 2013, 18:55 GMT

    Why change something that is not broken? I am a fan of test cricket for alost forty years and will always love it; but there is a place for T20. This is the first year I am watching the IPL and I love it. Yes, we can call it T20 Bashball if we want; but it has it place. Sadly, it might cause the demise of test cricket. But you have to give the consumer waht they want, and they want T20.

  • Dummy4 on April 15, 2013, 18:02 GMT

    "Attention Spans are not what they were" - that wil change soon when people realize we are getting no where. Then test cricket will also make a huge comeback.

  • grace on April 15, 2013, 13:18 GMT

    15 overs per team. 2 innings per team. 10 min. break between innings. A perfect evening game. With little more tactics on the plate than a T20 slogging show.

  • Owen on April 15, 2013, 12:12 GMT

    How about another idea; the first team batting gets 5 overs, with bowlers allowed 1 over each. Then the next batting team gets 10 overs, with bowlers allowed 3 overs each, and 1 over can be split between 2 different bowlers. Then the first batting team gets 8 overs, the second batting team gets another 10 overs, then a third batting team comprised of the best batsmen from both teams gets 14 overs with bowlers allowed an unlimited number of 5-ball overs. The first team would then get their remaining 7 overs and would be allowed to bat for a draw, depending on the duckworth-lewis score set by the third batting team.