April 5, 2015

Gimmicks don't win you ODIs, wickets do

As long as ODIs are governed by stifling regulations, only imaginative captaincy can keep the format from being hopelessly dull
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Aggressive captains know looking for wickets throughout an innings will bear fruit © ICC

Are limiting regulations the reason many captains are conservative in their ODI approach, or are there too many unimaginative skippers who are relieved to be bound by stifling playing conditions?

It's no coincidence that the three best sides in the World Cup - Australia, New Zealand and India - were captained aggressively. Michael Clarke, Brendon McCullum and MS Dhoni all took the attitude: "Damn the regulations, taking wickets is what winning captaincy is all about."

Instead of being looked upon as purely a cricketing contest, too often ODIs are viewed as a game of containment. Well, I've never seen a better way to contain batsmen than by dismissal. I don't recall a single run made while a player was sitting in the pavilion, unless you count pencil cricket during a rain delay.

It's impossible to stifle the best batsmen, as witnessed by some of the extraordinary feats of AB de Villiers, the string of centuries amassed by Kumar Sangakkara, and the two history-making double-hundreds by Chris Gayle and Martin Guptill. When it's their day, players of that calibre will still regularly reach the boundary and clear it, no matter where the fieldsmen are placed, so the only hope is to try to dismiss them before the mayhem commences.

There were numerous complaints about ODIs being boring, especially in the middle overs. Consequently, a host of stringent playing conditions and gimmicks, like Powerplays and Supersubs, were introduced. None of these were designed to stretch the captain's imagination, and the batting Powerplay is a perfect example of how it dulls the initiative. The bulk of the batting Powerplays are taken at the compulsory stage, which is either a case of taking the easy way out or thoughtlessness, or a combination of both.

With the dominance of bat over ball increasing every day - in part due to a superior weapon - it has now become fashionable to retain wickets in order to launch a prolonged onslaught in the last 15 overs, which are now treated as an elongated Powerplay.

What really makes the middle overs of an ODI boring is when the fielding captain is happy to "just" concede six runs an over and the batting side gratefully accepts the gifts on offer. If there is little risk in batting, because of deep and meaningless fields, only a desperate or impetuous batsman is going to gift his wicket by holing out in the deep.

Too many fielding captains are happy to concede six runs an over during the middle overs © AFP

How many times is it remarked upon that when captains are forced to bring fielders inside the circle by the regulations, a wicket is gained because a batsman holes out trying to loft a ball through the infield?

Cricket, like most sports is a game where winning trends are often copied. It's to be hoped that the enterprising captaincy of Clarke, McCullum and Dhoni is replicated by other skippers.

I sympathise with captains having to deal with batsmen armed with lethal weapons that often make third man a more likely catching option than third slip. Nevertheless, Clarke, McCullum and Dhoni showed that when backed by good bowling, the search for wickets throughout an innings can be fruitful.

Apart from introducing encouraging regulations - like reducing the field restrictions and having more flexible over allowances for bowlers - the way to improve captaincy is via proactive selection. If selectors both choose and encourage aggressive captains and sack those who show little initiative, it will send a strong message to prospective skippers. For maximum success, this policy needs to be implemented from the bottom up (club, first-class, international) rather than top down.

A well-played ODI should be exciting for the crowd and fulfilling for the players. The format will remain a viable product as long as the regulations and the captains encourage a spirited contest between bat and ball and there are an increasing number of teams of roughly equal ability.

Former Australia captain Ian Chappell is now a cricket commentator for Channel 9, and a columnist

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on April 10, 2015, 8:12 GMT

    true very well said it should be a eq ual contest bet ween bat and ball;

  • Philip on April 9, 2015, 6:04 GMT

    The OD WC was much more T20-orientated than any such event before. Yes, Chappelli is right. The format needs aggressive captaincy. However, there is no reason why a whole heap of un-aggressive rules can't be dumped or tweaked to allow for some aggressive ones. Let real bowlers bowl more than ten overs each. Let captains have more say where fielders go. Getting rid of powerplays would be a start. Make them put a slip or two in or a slip and legslip or a slip and bat-pad etc. Don't leave that up to the captains. That would force the bowlers into an attacking line. I want to see genuine wicket-taking bowling. I want to see genuine wicket-keepers. And I want to see close catchers in the game. If, as a result of that, fewer games will last 100 overs, then who cares? Quality over quantity, please!

  • shahid on April 8, 2015, 20:06 GMT

    Everyone including commentators shower their applause when players pull off the so called 'inventive shots' like reverse sweeps and switch hits. To be frank, they look pretty ugly and ungainly and should be banned altogether and if they have to be endured they should be allowed half points/runs only. Similarly streaky boundaries to third man fine leg should only count as two runs. The game is too much in favour of batsman. Another rule which needs to change is catching the ball inside the rope at all cost. What does it matter if a fielder in a valiant effort to catch the ball goes over the rope or touch the rope. Just imagine how exciting it would be if the fielder goes out of the boundary to catch a ball and dismiss batsman. Similarly if ball does not touch rope it should not be four runs as currently balls which are stopped by fielders after a marathon effort are given as fours if their shoe lace is touching the boundary rope. Please think about these proposals.

  • Jackie on April 8, 2015, 12:49 GMT

    Spirited captaincy is all very well. I think you'll find they require a really good bowling attack to carry out their intentions. Those with weaker bowling attacks will still be stroking their chins how to set fields.

  • James on April 8, 2015, 11:23 GMT

    Every regulation made at board meetings is the stealing and hoarding of action that could be taking place on the field for the delectation of the public eye. Decisions that can be made by the captain should be made by the captain and not captains of industry whose unappealing headquarters the public are not inclined to visit. The ODIs of the present day remind one of the board game Monopoly, especially the 'board' part, as in board of officials, though Monopoly allows more discretion to its players. Just as boards have been proved no good at coaching (with its 'brand of cricket') they are very bad at captaincy (the placing of fields, especially). Particularly invidious is their making rules and hiding. Why don't they at least change the field placings according to how the game is going by standing up and waving from a VIP box and perhaps they could in extremis run out on to the field in their suits and ties and change things around.

  • Peter on April 7, 2015, 12:25 GMT

    Another thought-provoking and impartial article from one of the top cricket writers in the world today. Nice one Ian

  • Cricinfouser on April 7, 2015, 12:16 GMT

    Its time something in cricket is done to the bowlers benefit. Bowlers should gain a reduction of 1 or 2 runs for every wicket taken. This would balance out the wides and no-balls and make close finishes more fun as when a batsmen gets out the score will be increased by the reduction in runs credited for the wicket.

  • Arpito on April 7, 2015, 10:39 GMT

    Cricket is currently deeply handicapped by the lack or standardisation. Every sport has set parameters and cricket must follow suit. There must be encouragement in the sport for every role, not just that of a batsman.

  • Rattus on April 7, 2015, 9:08 GMT

    Whatever the regulations for the next world cup, the ICC need to acknowledge a trade-off between two ideals - (1) more close matches VS (2) less boring middle overs. Under the "old" rules, both captains "agreed" to accept 3/140 from overs 11-40. These middle overs were "boring" yes but both teams were playing to an "agreed" formula so more games were close. The "new" rules with 4 men out were intended to see more (exciting) boundaries in the middle overs, but have actually seen the two WC finalists succeed by seeing the need to take (exciting) wickets in overs 1-35 to limit the carnage at the end. This leads to possible low scores if wickets are taken, but possible massive scores if they are not. So does the ICC prefer games to follow a (boring) formula and come down to more close finishes, or force captains to play (exciting) risk/reward cricket leading to more very low and more very high scores, but less close games?

  • disco on April 7, 2015, 9:03 GMT

    Australia has shown that if you have a top quality bowling attack, in fact, not just in name, then you can and will win against any team of power hitters. Others sides just need to get better. If you make it easier for bowlers then Australia will pull further ahead.

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