One-day evolution remoulding the game, 1974

Cricket's strongest wind of change

Gordon Ross

NO DECADE, in the whole history of the game of cricket, has produced so much fundamental change as that which began in 1963 with the introduction of a sponsored one-day competition. The evolution and development of one-day cricket has completely remoulded the shape of the game, in some of its aspects unrecognisable from traditional pursuits. Necessity, however, is the mother of invention. In the post-war boom year of 1947 - that vintage summer - 2,200,910 paying customers passed through the gates to watch first-class County Championship cricket. By 1961, this figure had been drastically reduced to 969,382, and was to continue falling to as low as 719,661 by 1963.

The general idea of a Cup competition in cricket was not entirely new; it just happened to be a subject which had been shelved for ninety years, because in January 1873, M. C. C. had passed the following resolution:

'With a view to promote county cricket, and to bring counties into contact which might not otherwise have an opportunity of competing with each other, and to establish a series of first-class matches on a neutral ground, the Committee propose to offer a silver cup for competition. The matches will be arranged by lot, and the ties drawn by the Committee of the M. C. C., as soon as possible after the acceptances are received. The winner of the final tie for three years successively shall hold the cup in perpetuity. The name of the winning county, with the date of the match, shall be engraved on the cup at the cost of the M. C. C.'

These good intentions met with total failure. Only six counties were among the original contenders, and after Kent had beaten Sussex in the first match at Lord's, the remainder of the field withdrew, and the competition disintegrated.

Ninety years afterwards a Cup competition did get underway, with the basic difference that it would be contested over one day, and would, therefore, not be categorised as first-class cricket. In addition, cricket was prepared to enter into a marriage with commerce in the form of sponsorship. The new competition was called: 'The First-Class Counties Knock-out competition for The Gillette Cup.' In its second year of operating it became simply 'The Gillette Cup'. This marked the beginning of an era when cricket turned the corner from declining gates and multifarious financial problems, to happier times of buoyant balance sheets. In 1969 the John Player Sunday League competition was introduced, and in 1972, yet another one-day competition - The Benson and Hedges Cup - appeared for the first time, this being part-League, part-Knock-out, on the basis of regional League tables producing eight Counties who then meet on the knock-out principle.

The surgeons who had attended an ailing patient in 1962 had effected a miraculous cure of the financial disease, but in doing so they radically changed the appearance of the patient. In a letter to the Secretary of M. C. C., dated August 29, 1962, Mr. H. C. L. Garnett, then Managing Director of Gillette, wrote: 'Clearly you are embarking on a major experiment of vital importance not only to the immediate finances but also to the whole future form of first-class cricket. It will call for a new approach to the game by players, public and press alike.' These were, indeed, prophetic words.

In making an assessment of the change in character of the game, it would seem sensible to draw a line of demarcation between the Sunday afternoon 40-over game, and the 55 and 60 overs of the other two competitions. The choice of 40 overs is not by design, but by necessity, in order to comply with the Lord's Day Observance Society's laws (whatever we may think of them) which precludes a start being made until two o'clock, but 40 overs is just not enough for a serious cricket match between first-class players, yet these games draw huge crowds. Old Trafford had attracted bigger Sunday gates than for those of a Saturday of a Test match. The reasons are not too hard to find. Sunday afternoon is a time when people have the time to watch, and since an uninterested wife and child would not be prepared to sit out six hours of a County game with a score of 220 for six at the end of the day, four hours on a Sunday afternoon, with some frolics thrown in, is a different kettle of fish. So this type of cricket has become a family occasion; it is certainly not a connoisseur's day.

On this basis you would expect large crowds just as a Festival of Popular Music would considerably exceed a Mozart concert in attendance though the aesthetic qualities of the two types of performance would differ immeasurably in the mind's eye of a genuine musician. There are very few players who really enjoy this type of cricket (some of them loathe it) but the financial carrot being dangled for success is appetising enough to make them enter into the spirit of the thing, to the total enjoyment of the onlookers, who are out for an afternoon's entertainment - and frequently get it to their absolute satisfaction.

The 55 and 60 over games can, and do, strike a chord of very serious cricket and are, therefore, a fair reflection of the changing character of the game; they reflect, most of all, the total and utter determination to win, in the minds of the spectators as well as the players. Gone are the days when a supporter of Kent would be enthralled by a century by Hammond or a magnificent piece of fast bowling by Larwood, if it meant Kent being knocked out of the Cup. To the lover of the game who cherishes his cricket for cricket's sake, the thought of expressing elation at the dismissal of Hammond for a duck would be sacrilege. But as a famous Yorkshireman once said: 'We are not in this game for fun'. This is an age of great partisanship.

Almost everybody these days supports a cause with unstinting enthusiasm, whether it is Arsenal, Lancashire, the Welsh language, or Women's Lib. It is 'Our Team', and this was borne out when Sussex came to Lord's to contest the first Gillette Cup Final in 1963. They brought with them some supporters who had never seen cricket before; they came to support 'Our County'; they might have come just the same if it had been any one of half a dozen sports. This was a Cup Final; it was cricket's Wembley, and a great occasion. This first Final produced banners, probably for the first time at a cricket match, and rosettes, too. So the emphasis is totally committed to winning; there is no such thing in Cup cricket as an honourable draw. There is no honour, as in the Olympic idiom, in taking part; the honour is in winning. This contrasts markedly with a remark by a pre-war International cricketer who said 'We were poised to win the County Championship once or twice, but then the amateurs came in during August purely to enjoy their cricket, not necessarily to win Championships.'

In attempting a survey of the game's changing face, techniques, and strategies, each facet of the game - batting, bowling, fielding and captaincy, must be taken individually, and looked at, piece by piece.

The pros and cons as to whether a surfeit of one-day cricket has enhanced the arts of batsmanship are discussed often, and the answer lies probably in the position in the batting order of the player concerned. The opening batsmen, who have time to build an innings, seem to think that one-day cricket has been to their advantage. Glenn Turner, Worcestershire's opening bat, who scored a thousand runs before the end of May for the 1973 New Zealanders, has admitted that one-day cricket has helped him considerably, because, as he says, 'You have to get on with it, and you find you are playing shots which you didn't realise you had'. Turner's own admission is surely borne out by his play, which has blossomed out of the solid orthodoxy which once characterised it. Now his cricket flows.

A similar view to this was expressed by Dennis Amiss, who accounted for a loss of batting form, by reason of batting in the middle of the order in one-day cricket and never getting the chance to play himself in; as soon as he was promoted to open the innings he found he was a natural cricketer again, being able to build upon a sensible start and take runs when they were there to be taken, instead of being compelled to try and take them when they were not.

Keith Fletcher, on the other hand, does not believe that one-day cricket has affected batsmen as much as it has done bowlers, particularly young bowlers, and he cites the case of Ray East who, say Fletcher, was certainly but back in his development by one-day cricket, but has proved himself a good enough bowler, in time, to be able to get back on course. Some young spin bowlers may not have had the skill or the temperament to have weathered this setback at a crucial time in their career.

Spin bowlers have had the roughest time of all the competitors in one-day cricket. The leg-spinner, becoming a rare bird anyway in any sort of competitive cricket, has found one-day cricket to be the crowning iniquity; it has virtually made him unemployable; gone, for the elder statesmen, is the sheer delight of watching a great craftsman at work, with spin and flight and guile, trundling away, over after over, laying the bait, and waiting for the moment to strike; sometimes, wickets had to be bought, but in one-day cricket, it is a different story. The leg-spinner is an expensive luxury. In the first season of the Gillette Cup any type of spinner seemed to be taboo, but the ensuing years have proved that a good spinner is just as able to contain a batsman as any other variety, provided he is of the orthodox kind who can drop on a length and line quickly, without giving the batsman unnecessary runs whilst he is adjusting himself.

Lancashire are a clear case in point. They won the Gillette Cup in three successive years and were consistently using Hughes and Simmons in their attack. There has been a good deal of re-thinking in these last eleven years and it is still going on. Charles Barnett, that flamboyant opener for Gloucestershire and England, made some interesting observations on one-day cricket in 1973. He said: 'Since the introduction of one-day cricket there has been a lot written about the game becoming governed by negative short of a length bowling of fast and medium-paced bowlers. This year, I have noticed a big change. The slow bowlers are coming into their own, and the faster bowlers are aiming at the yorkers to get their wickets. In the Worcestershire v Leicestershire match, seven of the Worcester wickets were all from the ball pitched well up, plus one run-out. In the Leicester innings, again, seven of the wickets were from full-length balls. In a previous match, Worcestershire v Northamptonshire, Gifford hit the stumps five times, and at the Benson and Hedges Final, Leslie Ames was in distress every time the Kent bowlers dropped short of a length.'

This does, unquestionably, represent a very strong swing of the pendulum, to the enormous advantage of the game as a whole, because the eclipse of the spin bowler has given scope to a bowler of a different creed altogether -- the medium-pace variety, of moderate standing, but able to contain a batsman with the aid of a highly negative field, but certainly not good enough to get him out under normal conditions. This state of affairs has given a free rein to some sub-standard bowlers; the craftsman has brought out the drinks or patrolled the covers, as Robin Hobbs does in the Essex side. Since cricket was devised with the idea of bowlers getting batsmen out, any ploy to the contrary must be a cancer in the game's welfare. Persistent bowling down the leg-side is another cancer in one-day cricket (and all other forms of cricket, too), and I wish that umpires could be given an even stronger hand in dealing with it.

Perhaps most of all, one-day cricket has been dominated by the side in the field. Fielding itself has improved beyond all recognition; field placing has become both a Jekyll and a Hyde; the sound, constructive, cleverly conceived disposition of the eleven players in the field, on the one hand, and a mockery of a game of cricket, on the other. Fortunately, over the years, there have been very few total abuses of common sense and breaches of the spirit of the game in placing a field, though there have been cases, but certainly not enough to warrant any new legislation. One has come to accept the sight of a fast-bowler bowling with no slip or gully; mid-on and mid-off deep enough to concede a single, and sentries posted round the boundary in positions not necessarily listed in the text books. It is still not all beer and skittles for the fielding side, because the side batting, if allowed to push singles regularly, can strike a very worthwhile rate of runs per over.

Yet when the Gillette Cup was launched in South Africa, the need was felt to place restrictions on the fielding side, as follows: 'For the first eight overs of any innings the field setting shall include at least two fielders in the slip and/or gully positions, and with only two fielders further than thirty yards from the batsman taking strike. At no time thereafter during the innings shall there be more than five fielders further from the batsman taking strike than thirty yards, and not more than five fielders on the on-side, only two of whom may be behind the batting crease.'

I saw the Semi-Final at Newlands in 1973, and on the Monday evening afterwards took part in a thirty-five minute live radio programme with Ali Bacher, the South African captain, in the studio in Johannesburg, Andre Bruyns in Durban, and Gerald Innes and myself in Cape Town, and I expressed the view that cricket was a complicated enough game without prohibitions such as these, especially as ten years experience in England had proved these handcuffs to be totally unnecessary. Ali Bacher was inclined to agree, although as a batsman it was to his advantage.

For all the techniques and sophistication of one-day field placing, the great batsmen are still unfettered; the classical players, out of the top drawer, are as majestic as ever. In this context, I recall three innings in one-day cricket the likes of which I had rarely seen before. Boycott, scoring 146 on a pudding, coated with sawdust, in the Gillette Final against Surrey, Richards stroking a century off Lancashire at Bournemouth, and Clive Lloyd, thundering his way to a hundred against Warwickshire in another Final. Lancashire knew a thing or two about field-placing - they were old hands at it, but no one living could have placed a field for Richards on that day of bounteous sunshine at Bournemouth. It was almost as if Hammond had been reborn. Cardus once described Hammond as a sculpture of elegance and strength. On this day, Richards, too, was surely his equal, though perhaps not his master.

The craft of field-placing in one-day cricket was developed largely by Dexter in the first few years of the Gillette Cup. He was swift to appreciate that innings were different in this type of game, and because anything less than a challenge was a bore to him, he was happy to have something to get his teeth into. In due course, the captains (and there were some) who were lukewarm to the idea of one-day cricket, gradually warmed to it, and seventeen cricket brains were pitted against each other, so that new methods developed, and some of the old ones were discarded. To begin with, many captains, on winning the toss, put their opponents in to bat, because they felt that they could pace their innings better when they knew just what their target was. This bubble was subsequently burst.

Only two captains have fielded on winning the toss in a Gillette Final, and both were shown the way home by their opponents. A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush, and on this basis, runs on the board are often better value than runs that have to be made. Despite this, one-day cricket has eliminated the enormous advantage which can be gained by a side winning the toss in a three-day game. The Gillette Cup Final is proof in this respect. The team batting first won the mach in 1963, 1965, 1967, 1969, 1971 and 1973; the team fielding first won in the even years - 1964, 1966, 1968, 1970 and 1972. The expression (so much a part of a cricketer's repertoire), 'This was a good toss to win,' has infinitely less meaning in one-day cricket, except largely psychological.

So much quality cricket has been played in the one-day game (Sunday afternoons, excepted, perhaps) that the administrators have been pressed to introduce legislation bringing it into the fold of first-class cricket, on the perfectly legitimate basis that a hundred scored in a Gillette Cup Final, for instance, is worth a good deal more than a hundred scored in a County Championship match which is drifting towards an inevitable drawn game. The fact that this has not happened is largely because the delegates of the Imperial Cricket Conference have widely differing views of one-day cricket, so it would seem we are no nearer one-day cricket being categorised as first-class than we were ten years ago. This, however, is largely a matter for the statisticians. A brilliant piece of cricket remains in the mind's eye of the onlooker whether it is classified one way or the other for posterity. Its intrinsic value stands unchallenged.

In the summer of 1973, England's Test cricket, especially against West Indies, drifted down to a pretty low ebb. In a diagnosis of the malady two reasons were predominant. The great influx of overseas players into county cricket, thus curbing the opportunities and aspirations of home-bred youngsters, and the excess of one-day cricket. Undoubtedly, there is an element of both of them in the final analysis, although, since every West Indies player in the Edgbaston and Lord's Tests was a member of our County teams, the second excuse holds little water as far as they are concerned. You could hardly blame one-day, three-day, or five-day cricket, for some of the shots which cost our players their wickets at Lord's. It was total disregard of elementary principles, in fact, the most basic of them all - getting behind the line of the ball. It had not the remotest connection with one-day cricket.

For all this, the one-day game does inevitably lack much of the character of cricket. The light and shade of three days, with changing weather conditions which enable the spin bowler to practise his craft without having to think about every run conceded. It enables the batsman to build an innings in his own time (this is what the young cricketer misses most of all) and it gives the captain the opportunity of playing a cat and mouse game over a period of time with varying conditions and new problems arising over three days. These are the things which the pursuit mourns, and on this note we could hardly do better than quote the greatest master-batsman of all time, Sir Donald Bradman, on this subject:

'Paradoxically the modern era has demanded one-day games because results are required. These matches have become popular but in fact they set up extraordinary anomalies. Batsmen are literally forced to try and make shots owing to the limitation of time or overs. This accounts for some very foolish and unorthodox play inimical to the best canons of batsmanship. If the public want one-day games they must be played and without doubt they do produce exciting finishes. They also demand more sprightly running between wickets and keener fielding, but I am yet to be convinced that their ersatz quality is in the best interests of cricket's most precious and lasting characteristics.'

© John Wisden & Co