It's been said so much it's now no more than a cliche: the limited-overs version, particularly, is a batsman's game. Field restrictions, bouncer restrictions, Powerplays, heavier bats you have seen the laments time and time again, and yet ODI cricket only inclines more towards the batsmen every year.
I remember being wowed when Robin Smith powered England to 363 in an ODI against Pakistan, then the highest-ever ODI score. 55 overs of mayhem, I remember thinking. Who'll ever get close? But in an ODI 14 years later, Australia soared past 400 runs for the first time, only to watch that record tumble some three hours later as South Africa chased it down. A few years on, the World Cup has seen a team post 400+ scores twice in a row. Can 500 be far away?
Yet what puts all this in perspective for me is this: those two consecutive 400+ scores produced two consecutive 200+ run victories. In other words - two no-contests. For a fan of the myriad charms this game can offer, these batting spectacles -- despite their raining fours and sixes -- are joyless beyond belief.
Which is why I almost never watch ODIs -- not a confession lightly made during a World Cup. And T20s? Forget them.
But which is also why the first match I did watch during this World Cup was the Australia-New Zealand encounter on February 28. Given the strength of both sides' bowling attacks, I had an inkling -- or call it a hope -- that this one would be decided not by the McCullums, Warners, Smiths and Richardsons on both sides -- but by the Boults, Starcs, Johnsons and Southees. And that was an enticing enough prospect to make me tune in.
I mention only the pace bowlers from both teams not because I mean any disrespect to the cerebral spinner Daniel Vettori , nor to plenty of other expert spinners who graced this game. Nor do I mean to suggest I haven't greatly enjoyed the befuddled looks on the faces of such stalwarts as Mike Gatting and Andrew Strauss, as Shane Warne specials made them look like me at the crease, rather than the accomplished stars they were.
But I do mean to suggest that for me, the most exciting sight in cricket, forever, is the fast bowler who crashes through a fine batsman's defence and wrecks those carefully-arranged stumps. Wasim Akram once did it to Damien Martyn. Allan Donald, to Sachin Tendulkar. Javagal Srinath, to Greg Blewett. There are days when I can't tear myself away from digging up, on YouTube, video after video of bowler foxing batsman like this.
And that's what I hoped to see, in this World Cup match and I wasn't disappointed.
The match was like an extended highlights reel of high-quality pace and swing bowling, batsman after batsman knocked over in a parade of what was, for me, pure delight.
Tim Southee kicked off proceedings with a classic: Aaron Finch's stumps cartwheeling behind him. Later he was too quick and straight for David Warner, left in that awkward bent-over state that screams "lbw!". Trent Boult then took over, his left-arm screamers bursting through Glenn Maxwell and Mitchell Marsh. Two catches brought him two more wickets. And then his final wicket was a beauty: Mitchell Starc, whose middle-stump was pegged back.
Australia rolled over for 151! What joy for fans grown weary of the usual ODI diet of ungainly bashes for six. But incredibly, there was more to come. For now Australia brought their own highlights reel to the party, via Starc's left-arm screamers that scattered stumps like birdseed. Ross Taylor was the first to go, the ball taking an inside edge and crashing into the stumps. Grant Elliott followed a ball later, his middle- and off-stumps torn apart by a snorter he probably didn't even see. Another delivery bent Luke Ronchi backward like a limbo dancer, skimming his gloves to offer a simple catch behind. And Starc's last two, as if in riposte to how Boult took him out, were clean-as-a-whistle. And off consecutive balls: Adam Milne and Southee left totally clueless about what had struck them.
Starc's six wickets nearly took Australia to an improbable victory. But as it turned out, Boult's five wickets was the match-winning performance. But in the end it was one of those matches where it really didn't matter who won: the exquisite fast bowling on display from Boult, Southee and Starc -- the nail-biting contest they managed, in concert, to produce -- was all I cared about.
And I hope they made something of a case for righting the incline in the game towards batting. Give me a bowler-dominated game, every time. But if not, at least give me an even balance between the bat and ball.
For you see, I have a boundless appetite for those clean excisions, those dance-about stumps. I'm hoping you do, too.