February 10, 2015

Let's recapture the spirit of '92

One-day cricket was at its freshest and most unpredictable 23 years ago
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Picturesque Hagley Oval will host the opening game of this World Cup © Getty Images

Twenty-three years on, the Cup comes back down under. What have we learnt since that moment when Imran Khan lifted the trophy on behalf of his cornered tigers? How has the tournament, and the one-day game itself, changed since that time, when coloured uniforms and white balls took centre stage in such an event for the first time?

The colourful pyjama look took 15 years to finally embrace the Packer formula of day-night cricket, which began in 1977-78. When it did, in 1992, along with an exciting format of everyone playing each other, including the reintroduction of South Africa, the event couldn't have been better laid out.

All nine teams played a part in conditions that resembled a potpourri of everything the world offered: slow subcontinental-type pitches in Auckland and Wellington, English conditions in Christchurch and Hamilton, a classic New Zealand seamer in chilly Dunedin, a bit of the Windies in Melbourne, a touch of South Africa in Perth and Brisbane. Each team had a taste of home, and of each other.

At the halfway stage, the eventual winner was on death row, backed into a corner. That Pakistan fought back from nowhere and triumphed due to their greater talent is partly testimony to how well the event was set up.

On February 14, the latest version will start on a fresh new ground in Christchurch and a drop-in pitch in Melbourne. From there, almost every ground or pitch in New Zealand will resemble nothing to what was prepared in 1992. Wellington, Dunedin and Christchurch have moved real estate. Auckland has a completely new look as a rehashed rugby ground, with a pitch positioned so that a straight hit is less than 45 metres away from the fence. Only Hamilton and Napier have retained a similar feel to last time, except today, the pitches are batting paradises: where once 230 was likely to emerge triumphant, now 330 is par.

In Australia, the Gabba and Adelaide Oval have been completely rebuilt, and the others have all had notable makeovers beyond the boundary to accommodate large followings for winter sports. It's a natural evolution - part of professional sport leaving its amateur days behind.

Who would be a bowler in this form of the game, especially a spinner, now that two new balls are needed because of the inability to manufacture a white ball that can last?

This first month will be a celebration of everyone's styles, cultures and attitudes, if not the tense, tight affair from the outset that marked 1992.

Afghanistan are the latest arrival to the Cup stage. They have earned a chance to shine from a meagre standing even 10 years previously. Ireland have grown up and may even go a step further in their development by knocking out one of the underperforming heavyweights.

Scotland and Zimbabwe will compete in their way: honest and simple, reckless and flamboyant, respectfully. By March 18, we will have 14 reduced to eight, and then it's a free for all. We can speculate, even predict for fun - as I have done already - but the fact that round-robin play will be fairly predictable (three tough games and three much easier ones), with the odd surprise, turns the playoffs into a luck-on-the-day scenario.

Pakistan having to win their last six matches on the trot to win in 1992 is an example of how momentum can be vital. In this present-day format, momentum and edge can be easily lost when a quarter-final spot is almost guaranteed.

In 1992, New Zealand faced a unique dilemma when we faced Pakistan in the final round-robin match in Christchurch. We had already qualified for the semi-finals, but if we beat Pakistan and secured eight wins out of eight, we would have travelled to Sydney to face Australia, instead of playing in Auckland, retaining home advantage.

This was an agreement made between the organisers - the trade-off being that New Zealand hosted the opening game. This was the greatest flaw in the co-host concept, and one that put New Zealand in a difficult situation as we contemplated what to do. Naturally, in the end, we declared to the fans that we would play our best team and give it our all. We got smashed, and Pakistan picked up their momentum, while we took a hit. Three days later Pakistan kept theirs going as we limped out in a tight, dramatic encounter at Eden Park.

Some teams will qualify for the quarters by winning their first four games, so what then? Trying to influence who you will play in the playoffs is fraught with danger. Do you keep pushing, or do you try to protect key players from injury? Only God knows who will be ripe, and who will be ready, for sudden death, come March 18.

Since that famous Pakistani win, enlarged, dynamic modern bats (which I don't have a problem with) versus vastly reduced boundaries (which I have a huge problem with) have turned the one day-game on its head. Double-hundreds and 30-ball tons are expected now. Also, field restrictions have unnecessarily changed for the worse. Actually, they are cruel.

Who would be a bowler in this form of the game, especially a spinner, now that two new balls are needed because of the inability to manufacture a white ball that can last? Only the best, the genuine specialist bowlers, will be able to compete, given the unfair advantage that batsmen so enjoy these days. The days of the part-timer are gone - the batsman who bowls a little, putting extreme pressure on team balance. Wouldn't it make more sense to offer one bowler per team a chance to bowl 12 overs?

Rangana Herath, Imran Tahir, Daniel Vettori, Shahid Afridi, and R Ashwin carry the hopes of an important art that could be in for a hiding over the next wee while. If that's the case, let's hope the lawmakers can find a true balance for the future of the ODI and get rid of these false solutions that have crept in over time.

Maybe by 2019, when the format will drop back to the top ten teams in the world, they will also reduce the number of overs and with it remove the contrived rules that are demeaning the hard work bowlers put into the sport. Forty overs with one ball, no extra Powerplays, field restrictions back to five out, all in an attempt to keep the game close to when it was at its best, 23 years ago, when cornered tigers were running amok and the balance between bat and ball was equal.

Martin Crowe, one of the leading batsmen of the late '80s and early '90s, played 77 Tests for New Zealand

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Jake on February 14, 2015, 0:59 GMT

    Love the fact that mc hates aus so much that he either writes stories about the spirit of the game to chastise them, or dismisses them as no chance and highlights the negatives. Which is why he has so many people loving his work. I really hope he gets to eat humble pie at the end of this tournament. In saying that, may the best and most composed team win.

  • amakan on February 12, 2015, 8:32 GMT

    Not reading past the title and what MC has written as I just will go with title and hope things go as in 1992 in spirit / result and Pakistan win.

  • Mark on February 12, 2015, 8:02 GMT

    In response to the post by CRICINFOMOBILE (Nov. 10), I believe that Mr. Crowe does not mention Murali the Sri Lankan spinner because it is irrelevant. Murali belonged to another era of conditions and a bowler like him playing today may also face the hiding that spinners like Herath, Taquir, Vettori etc. will face in this WC with smaller grounds/shortened boundaries, larger bats, two new balls and field restrictions. The balance has shifted in favor of the batsman and that is the message that Martin is sending out.

    However the note the useful comment by REGOFPICTION (Feb. 11) which offers another perspective ---that nonetheless does not fully contradict the points made by Martin. The results of this WC will certainly offer food for thought to those who set the rules of the game.

  • Hari on February 11, 2015, 22:48 GMT

    A simple tweak could make the 14 team tournament be very interesting. I don't know why organizers are not thinking. 14 teams split into 2 groups of 7. Top 4 team in each group qualifies for second round. Bottom 2 teams in each group will play each other for a wild card entry (A3 vs B4, A4 vs B3). Similarly top 2 teams will play each other (A1 vs B2, A2 vs B1) for 2 direct semis berth. The winners of bottom games and loser of topper game, plays for another game for 2 more semifinal berth.

    1) This will just add 2 more games, but makes the league stage like tiger fight. 2) Top teams will play almost with each other at least once. 3) More importantly a consistent team enters semifinal (and then knockout starts) 4) More nations participate, yet every match is meaningful and interesting.

  • Furqan on February 11, 2015, 13:31 GMT

    At one end people want to include associates more and at the other end it makes some people think that it gets boring. I dont knw about the problem of playing knockouts, when a team is good on that day means they have that quality in them, if you choke or stumble then you are failure on that given day. Format is same for all to play here. Everything counts with quality, consistency, absorbing pressure etc. Also odis havebeen tinkered too much. 40 overs idea is the way to go with one 10 overs p.p and one ball being used.

  • Dummy4 on February 11, 2015, 11:40 GMT

    Yes, I completely agree with you.Due to these batting friendly rules and conditions, the game has lost its flair.

  • nick on February 11, 2015, 4:51 GMT

    In baseball when the contest of ball was getting ahead of bat, they lowered the pitching mound. I think changing from 22 yards to 21.5 or 21 yards could even out the difference of bat and ball. That is about 18 inches on each side of the pitch or a bit less. The general idea is though to shorten the distance between batsman and bowler.

  • Reg on February 11, 2015, 4:04 GMT

    This talk about 31 ball "centuries "wrecking the game is rubbish. My guess is that there have been something over 3000 ODIs among the top 8 sides, but still only 9 centuries in 50 balls or less anywhere: 3 in the '90s, 2 in the uhohs & 4 this decade. Apart from there being more games, most of this acceleration, as Martin Crowe suggests, is probably attributable to the use of smaller grounds. Notably, Cricinfo's list of the fastest ODI tons reaches as far down as 125 balls, & STILL no sign of the MCG. However, part of the increasing use of small grounds relates to the continuing spread of game: 1 of the 9 was at Singapore & 1 at Nairobi (both 1996), and 2 were at Queenstown (both 2014), Similarly, one was vs Zimbabwe, one vs Bangladesh, & one vs England (snigger). Finally, don't forget that AB's 31 ball freak was at altitude. Until someone invents a gravity generator the idea must be to use as much of these small grounds as possible.

  • Bill on February 11, 2015, 4:02 GMT

    Why contrive to relive the past. Can't be done. Emulate the past. That's the main problem with ODI cricket. People trying to contrive something out of the game. Let it occur naturally and then compare. (Complain more likely) Having said that I love Martin Crowe as a cricketer and a writer. Always a step ahead of the curve.

  • Aamer on February 11, 2015, 1:39 GMT

    I don't know how would we be able to get the balance between ball and bat back. It is just too one sided.

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