South Africa v Sri Lanka, 2nd ODI, East London January 14, 2012

Sluggish match a return to old-school ODI cricket

A lifeless low-scoring match in East London did nothing to dispel the criticisms of 50-over cricket

Keen to time-travel back to the late 1980s? Come to East London. Everything from bad hair to mozzarella music exists here in all the glory it did more than 20 years ago. On Saturday, also present was the 1980s ODI, the one that has always cowered in the shadow of Test cricket and then faced the guillotine when its spunkier cousin, Twenty20, came along.

The old-school ODI still exists, and when it makes an appearance the argument that 50-over cricket is outdated surfaces with it. If the 2011 World Cup added years to ODI cricket's life, the match in East London confirmed why it is still an endangered species, one that probably does not deserve protection. Mediocrity seldom does.

Sri Lanka rolled back the years to an era before Sanath Jayasuriya and Romesh Kaluwitharana revolutionised the first 15 overs. They ground out 37 runs from the first 15, a return Jayasuriya and Kaluwitharana would have sniggered at. Sri Lanka's innings had all the makings of an old-school classic: a slow start, and a rebuilding process in which one batsman pushed through and had contributions from a sprinkling of pinch-hitters surrounding him. Dinesh Chandimal's 92 was built on nothing but hard work, an oddity in the modern game, where flash and flair are the main ingredients.

South Africa's bowlers were accurate without being deathly. At times, they were too short, but usually they were saved by committed fielding. AB de Villiers showed some creativity in managing his attack but even that did not draw too many flutters from a determined Sri Lankan batting line-up.

To their credit, South Africa wound the clock forward a little with the bat. They reached the Jayasuriya-minimum of 75 in the first 15 overs and they did not lose a wicket getting there. Steady contributions from the top order set the stage for de Villiers to take the match to its foregone conclusion. When he couldn't, JP Duminy was there to do it. His contribution was vital but quiet, except for his big six off Rangana Herath, which briefly brought to life a slumbering match.

Sri Lanka's bowlers were better than they were in the first ODI, but still not good enough. The visitors lost interest as early as the 10th over, by which time they had tried five different bowlers and seen South Africa respond with ease. Their lack of motivation was compounded by their poor fielding, and their breakthroughs came too late, when South Africa only had formalities to complete. South Africa's batsmen, who were careful on a slow pitch, played with a sense of routine and obligation, not passion.

If the last four paragraphs almost put you to sleep, then you will have a sense of what the match as a whole was like. That is not to say that games with average scores are always dry and cannot captivate; some of one-day cricket's best contests have come from low-scoring matches (think of South Africa against India at the Wanderers last year) and some of the highest-scoring ones have turned into one-sided, punching bag stuff.

It is simply that this one lacked spark. It could have been different if the chase was tense and the contest absorbing. Any notion that the action was gripping evaporated when the crowd broke out into a fight on the grass banks. When police dragged away one of the perpetrators, the applause was louder than it had been for any of South Africa's three half-centurions. There were even louder gasps when the lights went out and one of the pylons was set on fire. International cricket only comes to East London every few years but the 12,000-odd people at Buffalo Park were there for their own party. The cricket was merely a side show.

The numbers eventually said five runs were needed off 10 balls, which tells a deceiving story about how compelling the match really was. Without being sub-standard, it was unengaging, tiring and lacked the "wow" factor.

Like most things, there will be times when cricket, in all its forms, fails to capture attention. The problem with ODI cricket is that it takes almost eight hours to do that. In instances where those eight hours feel like a lifetime, one-day cricket can't shake off the impression of being unnecessary. If played in a series without any real context, such as this one, it searches for relevance.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Nick on January 16, 2012, 22:11 GMT

    Greatbatch you say? What about the days of using Craig McDermott as a pinch hitter early in the innings? Surely that was before Greatbatch.

  • Philip on January 15, 2012, 21:10 GMT

    Wow factor? Dilshan for sure has lost that. What seemed to be his hallmark seems to have faded like a quasar. Dying stars is what comes to mind when you think of the Sri Lankan batsmen. Sangakkara, prodding most of the time and not being his usual self. Even his test strike rate was a zillion times more than what it was in this ODI. Another nail in the coffin for Sri Lanka as they begin their begging bowl act to perform to the BCCI for funding. With politic interference being the norm in SL cricket ( Another politician now the head), we will not be able to see the former Under 21 Captain Angelo Mathews taking over. Sad state. Philip Gnana, Surrey

  • Dummy4 on January 15, 2012, 16:22 GMT

    i disagree. I thought the SA fielding was excellent. De Villiers energy a breath of fresh air, and Amla's innings full of special shots. Agreed it was a clinical attritonal win by SA, but the crowd seemed to be loving it. Methinks, like Kallis, you need a break.

  • Dummy4 on January 15, 2012, 12:08 GMT

    I think you have your time line a bit out... Greatbatch was the one that started the early overs slog. Followed by Astle, then joined by Jayasuria and Kalu. Why does everyone forget about him?

  • Dummy4 on January 15, 2012, 10:56 GMT

    As ever, Fidose brillianly sums up what happens

  • Brad on January 15, 2012, 10:14 GMT

    Don't any matches played in a series without context lack relevance? Also, for a 12000 crowd, the cheers when Jacques Kallis and AB de Villiers walked out to the crease were huge! The game was boring, but one boring match shouldn't make people grab their anti-ODI boards. You also speak about the 1200-odd people at Buffalo Park being there for their own party. You do realise that this is what most people go to T20 matches for, too, right? They want to see a few sixes, drink some beer, and socialise.

    I am not saying the match was exciting; I was there and it was dead boring. It just annoys me that people choose to insult ODI cricket because of one dull match.

  • Dummy4 on January 15, 2012, 9:46 GMT

    Drop ODI's - play more test cricket, and give T20's 2 innings so it resembles cricket a bit more.

  • Nick on January 15, 2012, 6:43 GMT

    I agree that providing context is part of the solution. But context never used to be a problem. ODIs should not be scrapped, but the format must evolve.

    Perhaps you can have divisions where each team plays each other on a home and away basis over the year, with a finals and relegation system.

    The real problem with ODIs is that they always come on the back of a test series. By the time the ODIs come around, people have seen far too much cricket involving the same teams. Then there are the T20s to look forward to - same teams of course. The teams are probably sick of playing each other - which makes for less entertaining games.

    Each series needs more teams - bilateral series are part of the problem. There is no reason you cannot fly some different teams over for a quick ODI series.

    Imagine a month of soccer where Manchester Utd plays Chelsea for 8 consecutive matches. Soccer fans would not put up with it, nor should we.

  • Zafar on January 15, 2012, 6:36 GMT

    Hey Firdose, I read somewhere that you are linked to football.. That's why you painted a grim picture of this match.. For you and all the proponents of your views here, imagine if Duminy hadn't made 66... Yes, 66 is a big score

  • Zafar on January 15, 2012, 6:31 GMT

    Slow at the start, come on Firdose; you can't compare that to Jayasuriya and Kaluwitharna... SIMPLY because they were two down at the start.. can't figure out how Dilshan finds the same reason when his excellency was first to go

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