October 1, 2007

Fifty more reasons to embrace change

The 50-over game falls comprehensively between two stools, and is becoming fast irrelevant

Paul Collingwood: leader of a sinking ship, in a sinking format of the game © Getty Images

England is the country where Twenty20 cricket originated, and if today's apology of a performance in Dambulla is anything to go by, they have already decided that there's no point in expending any energy on the longer version of the shorter game. Their hopeless 119-run drubbing in the first ODI against Sri Lanka provided yet more grist to the mill of those, like myself, who believe that 50-over cricket has run its long and not-incredibly-distinguished course.

Aside from your average Formula One Grand Prix, there can be no sport in which the winners and losers of any given contest are so blatantly telegraphed so far from the chequered flag. And yet, even when Lewis Hamilton is cruising at top speed, there is always the threat of a last-lap blow-out to keep the contest on artificial tenterhooks. At 132 for 6 in the 30th over, however, chasing a dim-and-distant 270, it's time to avert the gaze - even though there may still be enough time remaining in the contest to complete 50 laps at Spa Francochamps.

For the record, England are also useless at 20-over cricket, so this is not a partisan rant. They mustered a solitary victory in the recent tournament in South Africa (and that, let's not forget, came against Zimbabwe). They were routed by Australia and India, and blew promising positions in two of their key games against New Zealand and South Africa. Their ineptitude, or that of any of their fellow international no-hopers, is not the issue in this argument. It's all about the interest engendered by the contests.

The ICC World Twenty20 was not a flawless tournament - its very speed was dizzying, especially with three matches a day in the group stages, and the surfeit of slogging on display brought a number of critics out in a po-faced rash. Not since the days of WG Grace has the phrase: "It's not cricket!" been uttered with such pomposity (although this time, in a neat historical twist, the chief nay-sayers were Australians rather than establishment Englishmen).

But there's no denying the spectacle provided in that heady fortnight. Most of the games were thrilling to watch; two in particular being the final and Australia's shocking loss to Zimbabwe. But best of all was the speed of the no-contests - in particular Kenya's two pitiful efforts against New Zealand and Sri Lanka. Against New Zealand, the match was as good as over after 11 balls when Kenya slumped to 1 for 4. Twenty-four overs later, it was over. Done and dusted inside two hours, much like a 9-0 scoreline in football. Now that's entertainment, regardless of the one-sidedness.

The debate will continue to rage about the merit of Twenty20 cricket. Yes, it may well be cricket from ADHD-sufferers, but why should that be a criticism? That was exactly what 50- (or 60-) over cricket was designed for in the 1960s and 1970s, in the days when Test and county cricket was so stultifyingly slow that any change was for the better.

These days Tests are doing just fine - in terms of sporting spectacles, the 2005 Ashes has not been bettered since the start of the millennium. It's the 50-over game that has to change. We can never again be subjected to a World Cup as appalling as the Caribbean campaign earlier this year. The 2003 tournament was scarcely any better and the sporting public will simply not allow a third installment. Besides, conventional ODIs have no redeeming features that cannot be better expressed in either Tests or Twenty20 cricket.

Take, for instance, the best match of recent months - Ravi Bopara and Stuart Broad's epic run-chase at Old Trafford in August. The only reason that game was such a cliffhanger is that England had already bowled India out for 212 and so, at 114 for 7 when the pair came together, they needed to bat at less than five runs an over to win. In other words, they had landed themselves a Test-match scenario, in which they could play every ball on its merits, put a price on their wickets, and crank up the tension with every run or dot-ball they accrued.

The 50-over game falls comprehensively between two stools. It's neither one thing nor the other, it rewards no-one but the very, very best - ie the unassailable Australians, who have not lost a single World Cup fixture in eight years - and it virtually eliminates the upset by doing away with, first the get-out clause of the draw (Test cricket's single most wonderful feature), and secondly by stringing each game out over far, far too long. If FA Cup fixtures lasted six-and-a-half hours like your average ODI, there's no way that Hereford Utd would ever have held on against Newcastle, or Bournemouth against Man U. Class always wins out in the end. But where on earth is the fun in that?

The bottom line is that 50-over cricket is boring (I mean, truly boring, even to those who love the sport, not "bo-oring" in the way that non-believers and toddlers dismiss it). Sadly - regardless of how good, bad or indifferent the participating teams happen to be - that has been the case for years.

Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Anjula on October 4, 2007, 23:16 GMT

    IMHO, the more Twenty-20 will be sought to invade cricket, the more it will tarnish the true spirit of the game. As many has commented, T20 is starting to resemble Baseball. I have a feeling that the pursuit of T20 is to tap into the American market - who are more familiar with Baseball. At the end of the day its all about money. In 10 years time we may see an amalgamation of Baseball and Cricket. I would hate to see such a day.

  • Noorudin on October 3, 2007, 18:38 GMT

    Mr. Miller 20-20 cricket is a by-product of the 50 over game, while it may entertain us now would you please tell us 8-10 years down the line when the current international bowlers will all be gone, WHO will line up to bowl to get hammered all around in 20-20?What motivation will the upcoming young cricketers have to take up bowling in the 20-20 format?And where did you get this notion that the 2003 WC was as appalling as the 2007 WC?Seems that any World Cup where english don't perform well is appalling to you!Australians have put a benchmark for others to follow and a standard to emulate so instead rather than cringe from their achievements and jumping on the 20-20 bandwagon to escape the truth...learn from them.And can you believe a cricket match reduced to 5-5 over affair or worse a bowlout to decide a result!!!!Mr.Miller Buy a lottery or a lotto ticket!

  • Nathan on October 3, 2007, 3:51 GMT

    If we're going to embrace a game where the best side quite often won't win, and where luck is a greater factor in the outcome than skill, why don't we just toss a coin and leave the contest at that? And the comment that this article is not based on england's form in the ODI arena is very dubious at best. The comment '50-over cricket is boring (I mean, truly boring, even to those who love the sport, ' is just plain wrong. Some cricket lovers have a concentration span exceeding 2 hours. I cannot believe the author would have the audacity to speak for all others who love the sport. And now even the 2003 World Cup was almost as 'appalling' as the 2007 version? Give me a break! I am sure that we would not be reading comments like this from this writer were england not hopelessly uncompetitive at the game.

  • Justin on October 2, 2007, 23:20 GMT

    Jeez, I'd have to agree this is just another misguided piece of angry English journalism. Please quit mentioning the ashes in 2005 - that sort of series is just as rare as the 800+ run bonanza between Australian and SA. There are a heck of a lot of lop-sided test series (read 2006 ashes) and my goodness there were some boring 20/20 matches that you could walk away from within 5-10 overs of an innings. Where's the spectacle in that? I agree whole heartedly that 7 ODI series should be reduced and formats like the VB and Natwest series are stale, but they should be reduced in length, not replaced. The 2 test series should be made 3, the 4 test series be made 5...whatever, just get rid of this 20/20 garbage and leave it for the amatuers where it belongs. I liken the English love affair with 20/20 to their love affair with football - it is a game which gives the worse team a chance. That is the difference between AU and ENG and why we hate football-we think the best man to win.

  • Faraaz on October 2, 2007, 22:15 GMT

    If ODI cricket is "neither one thing nor the other", then you must realize that getting rid of it will create two extreme forms of the game. On one hand you have a 5 day match and on the other you have a 3 hour match. This would be fine except young cricketers will have no way of proving themselves on an international level that shows they would be suitable for the test team. And to just attempt to throw new cricketers right into test cricket with only T20 cricket as their sole international experience would be ridiculous. There would be no transition from one to the other and as Pakistan and India have shown that T20 creates some bad habits that hurt them in the tests and ODI's respectively.

    ODI's, while not always nail-biters, are still fun to watch and provide some sort of story and intrigue into the game. Getting rid of ODI's will create a huge divide in terms of cricketing skill and will significantly reduce the quality of tests, leaving only a smattering of unsatisfying T20s.

  • Tamil on October 2, 2007, 19:30 GMT

    100% agree. I have been following cricket for a very long time and interesting ODI games are far and few.. Atleast as far as I have seen. The current Australian dominance has made things even worse. One would say no one asked other teams not to try and be like Australia. Well they have been trying for a decade but no one has come anywhere near. The viewing public is turning away from the ODI. So I think economies will take its natural course and ODI will be done away with unless ofcourse there is a change. I saw one very interesting suggestion by Buchanan - 2 innings in 50 overs.

  • gochikol on October 2, 2007, 15:04 GMT

    fundamentally maybe its time the one day internationals need some sort of changes to infuse more interest in them. This is critical due to the instant success and excitement that was created by 20-20 World cup. Maybe its time to trim the one day international as a 40 overs event, with potentially 16 over of power play, 10 over at the start and one slot 3 overs has to be a power play only after say the 20th over ...and maybe evolve from there on

  • Siddhartha on October 2, 2007, 14:44 GMT

    Hi Andrew,

    I beg to differ on the points that you have presented. It is true that after such a successful T20 WC, and all the hysteria surrounding the Indian victory, I did find the 1st ODI between India and Australia to be crawling at a snail's pace, but the 2nd one day today has removed my doubts. The way Australia came back after the initial hiccup was quite amazing, and one that can only be observed in a 50 over ODI game.20-20 hardly offers any time to breathe and batsmen can go about smashing bowlers, becuase they know that even if they get out trying to play a shot that is not on, someone else would come and continue in the same vein, and that I feel is not cricket. Cricket is all about temperament, and level headed play according to the situation that a team is in, which T20 surely doesn't allow.It is fine as long as it is played once in a while to pull in new people, but an overdose of it will surely take away the the 'real' cricket away from all the genuine cricket lovers.

  • panduk on October 2, 2007, 14:09 GMT

    few years on what can we expect miller to say ."surely 6side matches r better than 20-20"simply coz england can't shine even in 20-20s.they may succeed in chilly english conditions,but asia is specially too hot to handle,but anyway english crcketeres should be commended 4 their brave display except last hour of 1st odi amidst hot n humid conditions .i wish they'll put up better display future without negative frame of mind like, miller

  • Lohit on October 2, 2007, 14:01 GMT

    I totally agree with Mr. Miller. 50 overs cricket has run its course and to continue playing it to generate revenue is foolish. 20 overs cricket will definitely be able to generate enough revenue to keep the sport in good health plus it will attract bigger market than 50 overs cricket. I watch Test cricket and Twenty20s with totally different mindset. 50 overs cricket is neither here nor there as the writer correctly says. I lost interest in 50 overs cricket after the 2003 world cup even without being exposed to Twenty20s.

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