January 31, 2015

Different skills for different formats

ODI cricket brought better fielding and quicker scoring to the fore. T20 has taken that progression to the extreme

South Africa were arguably the best ODI team of the '90s © Getty Images

The major focus in one-day cricket when I started playing for Australia was about conserving wickets in the first 10-15 overs. The overriding strategy for the first 15 overs of a one-day game was similar to that in a Test match. The plan was to ensure there were wickets in hand for the last 15 overs to make a charge. I wouldn't call it reckless slogging but back then there wasn't much of an art to it or a strategy.

Dean Jones was one of the first players, a pioneer if you like, to grasp the differences between one-day cricket and Test cricket, in terms of his style and approach to the game. There was quite a lot of resistance to ODI cricket in the Australian set-up, be it within the team or among the selectors and administrators. I think Australia was one of the slower countries in adapting to the one-day game, and it probably showed in the length of time it took for us to become world-class in the format.

For many years - and it happened to me early on in my career - I was dropped from both the one-day team and the Test team based on my Test performances. The selectors were loath to pick good performers from domestic cricket for the one-day team if they weren't playing Test cricket. But in time, Australian cricket started to understand that there were players who put their hands up specifically for one-day cricket and Test cricket, or vice-versa.

The exact opposite of my situation, for instance, was someone like Justin Langer. He played a lot of Test cricket but not too many ODIs because it was felt that he scored too slowly. We were two players at the time who couldn't command a spot in both formats for different reasons. It took a while to come around to understanding that different skills were required for the two games.

The 1996 World Cup was a real eye-opener. Teams had experimented with the concept of a pinch-hitter every now and again with no real success. Sri Lanka took everyone by surprise in that World Cup by opening with Romesh Kaluwitharana and Sanath Jayasuriya. They gave themselves an advantage in that tournament because not many teams were prepared to do the same, nor had they picked the kind of players to perform the same role as the Sri Lankan openers. It was pretty much the start of the one-day revolution.

Australia really hadn't found a winning combination or a formula to play one-day cricket moving into the 1999 World Cup. There were several good performers but they were a little bit inconsistent.

The tag of the best one-day team in the late '90s best belonged to South Africa. They built on the Sri Lankans' concept, picked the right guys for the right roles and were very consistent. They were the benchmark because of the type of players they had, the number of allrounders in the playing XI, and how quickly their batsmen scored. They were the first truly great one-day team, given their performances over a number of years. For the Australian team going into the 1999 World Cup, there were a few world-class players but we hadn't achieved any consistency.

Thanks to T20, a good batsman's game is now based on attack © Getty Images

The other aspect of the game that one-day cricket placed a premium on was fielding standards. When I started playing professional cricket, everyone recognised fielding was important but didn't devote that much time to it. It wasn't until money started flowing into the game and players became more professional that they started to spend more than the standard 15 minutes on fielding. Coaches started to ask more of players. There were certain players who were good at batting or bowling but not good at fielding or fast between the wickets, and these things started to matter.

The bits-and-pieces player was a phenomenon more prevalent in the subcontinent than elsewhere. India and Sri Lanka used that kind of player quite effectively - a part-time bowler who could bowl ten overs, which allowed them to pick more batsmen in the game and fewer front-line bowlers. It became possible, as a result, to take more risks in the first ten overs and score more quickly. Solid allrounders such as Ian Harvey and Andrew Symonds were players who started playing important roles for Australia in one-day cricket after the 1999 World Cup.

In the modern era, T20 has impacted one-day cricket and Test cricket immensely. Young players have a completely different outlook now than in the '80s and the '90s. A good batsman's game was built on a solid defence, whereas now it is based on attack, even in the longer version. The dialogue between the player and the coach about what you are trying to achieve has changed. Coaches have to come at the task from a different angle in terms of understanding how a player operates and what it is they are trying to achieve. It has changed the dynamic of how batsmen approach playing the game.

I think ultimately T20 cricket will put both the older forms of the game under pressure. Ultimately people can only go and watch so much cricket, and clearly crowd numbers will be impacted in Test and one-day cricket because of T20. One-day cricket will also come under pressure because young players coming through will want to play T20 cricket. It is for cricket bodies to ensure the longer versions survive. There is a place for one-day cricket, because if people don't have the time for a five-day Test match but want to watch something more substantial than a T20, ODIs provide that window.

Michael Bevan played 232 ODIs and was part of two World Cup-winning Australia sides

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