September 12, 2013

Time 50-over cricket is nurtured and sustained

All cricket's skills are on view in the 50-overs game. If the format is to retain its importance, it must be in the spotlight

Despite the comfortable margin of victory for Australia at Old Trafford on Sunday, it was a good weekend for 50-over cricket. Indeed, it has been a good northern hemisphere summer.

The Champions Trophy, once the game's white elephant, was both absorbing and, at times, electrifying. The best team, India, won it and the next best team, England, lost the final, of their own volition. Basking in the reflected sunshine, the ICC members are reconsidering their decision to can the tournament. The players are its biggest fans, preferring a shorter, elite event to the more laboriously structured World Cup. The English spectators appreciated the natural rhythms of cricket that remain within the 50-over distance, and the Asian immigrant supporters gave the grounds an enthusiastic and edgy atmosphere.

In Manchester on Sunday, Australia played with great skill, albeit against half an England side. Michael Clarke scored at a run a ball without much risk, while George Bailey applied his strengths to the pitch and the opponent. Neither used T20 methods, opting instead for the time-honoured principles of straight bats and hard running between the wickets before hitting clean boundaries when set.

Then Mitchell Johnson bowled really fast, searching for wickets instead of economy. He has become a good bet for the first Ashes Test of the winter in Brisbane and a shoo-in for Perth, where he has run through England and South Africa previously. Close examination can reveal the work he has done with Dennis Lillee on his run-up, point of delivery and follow-through - a fair bit then! But the best bit was his speed, as Jonathan Trott will testify after he fenced to the wicketkeeper.

Fifty-over cricket asks more questions than T20. Rumours of its death are exaggerated. The T20 game dictates to the players, who have found thrilling ways to take advantage of the limited exposure time, but there is less need for batsmen to preserve their wickets or for bowlers to look to capture them. It means the cricket has fewer dimensions. This is a fact, not a criticism, and is evidence in the case for retaining cricket's coat of many colours.

In contrast, the 40-over game, which is still played by the counties in England, is betwixt and between - neither modern nor retro. Invented as a Sunday afternoon frolic in the late 1960s, at a time when much of the cricket, televised in black and white, truly did appear colourless, it was first taken around the land by the International Cavaliers, who were the Harlem Globetrotters of their genre. The TCCB immediately saw its worth and used it to revitalise the ailing county game, selling television rights to the BBC and filling grounds for the four-hour period between Sunday lunch and high tea. It was the T20 of its day, altering technique and changing methods, while still bringing a simplicity and speed to the game that attracted a new audience.

Forty-five years on much of that attraction has gone, beaten to a pulp by the T20 phenomenon. Saturday's Yorkshire Bank 40 semi-final was attended by just 4500 people. The Ageas Bowl echoed in its disapproval despite Hampshire's consistently impressive one-day performances these past few years. More people came to the second semi-final at Trent Bridge but Somerset barely put up a fight. The competition has the feeling of a financial necessity rather than a cricketing opportunity. The quicker the counties return to 50 overs, the better.

Much as T20 tickles many a fancy, it cannot showcase all the riches of the greatest game, and for that alone, a species comprising a minimum of 50 overs per side must not become endangered

Last week, the ECB announced the international schedule for next year and the retro in it is worth applauding. For the first time this millennium, the 50-over game will help launch the summer. If it is to retain self-importance, it must be in the spotlight. Fifty overs per side is the perfect introduction after a winter and pretty much certain to sell out because of it.

Preceded by a lone T20 in mid-May, there will then be five ODIs against Sri Lanka, followed by two Test matches. Though only two Tests in any series is not ideal, the early-season schedule provides a nice balance to the cricket with the caveat that as many as five one-day matches threatens overkill. After Sri Lanka come India, who will engage in a full five-Test series before playing five one-day games and a T20. By the time those 50-over matches start, everyone will have had enough. Fifty-over cricket must precede Test matches and T20 if it is to win back the place it once held in the global affection. Fewer matches would mean a harder ticket, the corollary of which is greater demand, but with a World Cup on the horizon there are more one-dayers pending than is good for them or for the game at large.

Of all the full ICC members, it is England who are doing the most to preserve Test match cricket by promoting its value, playing a lot of it, and performing well. Sky Television has dedicated a whole channel - Sky Ashes - to its name this summer and saturated the viewer with insight, analysis and entertainment that has begun at 10am and finished at 11 at night after two highlight shows of varying style, comment and content. Hats of to an organisation that continues to support both the commercial and inherent interests of British sport.

As I write, the England top order is batting with great difficulty in the third 50-over match of five against Australia. In the damp, cold conditions, the ball has moved a little off the seam. The history of the game boasts few more naturally gifted batsmen than Kevin Pietersen and the upper end of international cricket is his stage. But he can't take a trick against the Aussies right now. Johnson is bowling at some lick and Clarke has set attacking fields. After selling Michael Carberry short with a bad call for a single, Pietersen has spliced a pull shot into the hands of square leg. Though Joe Root came to the wicket, Trott took most of Johnson and had to ride his luck. Clarke continued to attack and every ball held the audience captive.

The reason for this is clear. Examination of mind and technique is the fabric of the game. Such vignettes crystallise why 50-over cricket must be nurtured and sustained. All the skills are on view and the great utopia - that often clichéd balance between bat and ball - is set fair. Much as T20 tickles many a fancy, it cannot showcase all the riches of the greatest game, and for that alone, a species comprising a minimum of 50 overs per side must not become endangered.

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

  • kannan on September 17, 2013, 0:44 GMT

    @ Mark Nicholas, I agree with your view on most occasions. I think it should be about saving all three formats of the game so that cricket and the players prosper as a whole. This can be best achieved by standardizing. (Similar to a Davis Cup maybe )

    A Series should be 3 tests (2 points- Thus start), 3 T20 (1 point, played on Fridays) and 3 one dayers (1 point- played on sat/sun). (i.e. a series win would mean winning a test and another format)

    this would allow comparison between series, due rest period for player and certainty of all three formats.

  • o on September 15, 2013, 13:14 GMT

    The 2 new balls has really mad huge difference we are now seeing Test match style battles early on for a much more sustained amount of time. I love all 3 formats great to appreciate for many different reasons long live the ODI !

  • Android on September 15, 2013, 9:11 GMT

    take my word and to be honest I have made few great predictions, by 2020 there will only be test cricket and T20 cricket. by then atleast 20 nations will play T20 world cup

  • ESPN on September 15, 2013, 0:51 GMT

    I'd say England are a much better Test side than Aus, but when it comes to ODIs they're both at the same level.

  • Scott on September 14, 2013, 10:55 GMT

    @Nick Yates, no, I've not said that at all! Merely stating that it would be logical to play them that way. I've got no clue what the ECBs scheduling constraints are, so have no idea why they'd schedule any event the way they would. So, you're suggesting that I'm twisted when it's you twisting my comments? Weird! You do realise the last ODI series was played last year, so it wouldn't exactly have been back to back ODI series. Here's a question for you, do you think that Aus have a better chance of beating England in ODIs or tests?

  • ESPN on September 14, 2013, 1:21 GMT

    ScottStevo: So basically you're saying that the ECB have intentionally put the ODIs after the Tests through fear of being beaten in the ODIs by a team ranked 1 place higher. Do you realise that, with the double Ashes, if the current ODI series had been played first, we would have had 2 ODI series in a row (with the CT) followed by 10 Tests in a row. Maybe I should have added "twisted" to the bitter comment.

  • Dummy4 on September 13, 2013, 21:41 GMT

    As entertaining as it can be, the 50 over game does not show all cricket's skills - if it did, the likes of Bevan and Yuvraj would have translated that into the test arena. That will always be the truest examination of a players ability - technical, mental, physical - and anyone who says otherwise really doesn't understand the sport.

  • Scott on September 13, 2013, 13:04 GMT

    Bitter? I was merely pointing out that the ECB scheduling ODI games against teams ranked higher than themselves in ODI to play after the test series seemed a logical plan. Fine, both parties agree the scheduling, but I'm sure that the offer would be extended by the ECB. I've not said there's anything wrong with that, it may be due to numerous other reasons, weather, other events, etc.. But there's still logic in playing them after the test matches - and I pointed out that it was widely acknowledged that the T20 and ODI series in '05 were labelled as catalyst for the test series win. Clarke501 didn't appear to like that as he didn't like the idea that Aus are a better ODI team seeing as though Eng won the last series and were so marvellous in the CT...rankings prove otherwise. And I'm bitter????

  • Dummy4 on September 13, 2013, 12:38 GMT

    @ Mark Nicholas:

    I like your view - if only CA were able to follow it, then maybe we wouldn't have the scheduling debacle we have at present!!!

    I understand their rationale for playing the BBL when the kids can turn up too, but T20 is the format which MOST favours being played outside the school holidays (given it's short game-time)!!! My advice: Split the domestic series into qualifying and finals with qualification to start the seaso, then Int series & round off the season with the finals of the BBL, Ryobi Cup & Sheffield.. Eg: Start Oct with BBL & Ryobi Cup, then Start Sheffield Shield in Nov. Int season begins early-Dec with 5 ODIs, then 1st Test in Perth. Keep the Boxing Day MCG Test as 2nd with Syd #3 on Jan 2 & Bris as #4 mid-Jan. Finish with Oz day Test in Adelaide as #5 or Hobart as 6th Test in Feb when 2 teams tour during Oz season. Then play 3 Int T20 games. Mid-Feb finals in BBL Late-Feb finals in Ryobi Cup & Early March finals for Sheffield Shield, before overseas tour

  • ESPN on September 13, 2013, 10:54 GMT

    ScottStevo: A bit bitter mate?