Find­ing the right bal­ance: Cricket has a way to go

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - SPORT -

Bal­ance is prob­a­bly the most im­por­tant word in sport. I can’t think of a sin­gle or­gan­ised phys­i­cal ac­tiv­ity where bal­ance doesn’t come into play – gain­ing it, hold­ing it or shift­ing it.

It’s also the key word in main­tain­ing a sport’s core ap­peal.

The most ex­tra­or­di­nary thing about these strange games we play and watch is how, over so many years, each of them has de­vel­oped an in­trin­si­cally clever weight­ing of con­flict­ing forces, whether it be at­tack against de­fence, strength ver­sus skill, size matched with speed, bat com­pet­ing with ball, server meet­ing re­turner, or the golfer against the course.

It’s the chal­lenge for rule mak­ers in all codes to main­tain these cru­cial bal­ances and to never chase the se­duc­tive chimera of the spec­tac­u­lar alone, as the cry goes up for more goals, runs, tries, home­runs, ral­lies or birdies.

If you make those achieve­ments com­mon­place, then, ul­ti­mately, we will place them among the com­mon and de­value the sport.

Rugby has the most dif­fi­cult task in this re­gard be­cause its recipe is so com­plex.

The scrum, for in­stance, is dan­ger­ous and te­dious, yet if you neuter it you end up with rugby league – a de­cent spec­ta­cle but es­sen­tially a one-size sport.

There’s also the break­down which in re­cent years has been off-bal­ance in both di­rec­tions – too much ad­van­tage for ei­ther ball car­ri­ers or de­fend­ers – and the mo­not­o­nous goal­kicks which can ruin the spec­ta­cle. But if you re­duce the num­ber of goal­able of­fences, tries de­cline equally be­cause de­fend­ers of­fend with­out fear of points pun­ish­ment.

Golf ’s bal­ance has been un­hinged by club and ball tech­nol­ogy ren­der­ing course lay­outs ob­so­lete.

Holes have been length­ened and tough­ened ev­ery­where to com­pen­sate but, while no one ex­pects Ernie & Tiger to use hick­ory shafts, the R&A and the USPGA have not held the line firmly enough against the equip­ment man­u­fac­tur­ers, es­pe­cially on those bloody broom­sticks which desta­bilise the es­sen­tial bal­ance of nerves and judge­ment which makes a great put­ter.

Cricket is the sport in most trou­ble with its bal­ance at the mo­ment. As Barry Richards be­moaned this past week, T20 is all about the bats­men and the bound­aries. It is a form of ath­letic en­ter­tain­ment but, with­out the core ten­sion and bal­ance be­tween bat and ball, is it re­ally cricket?

Maybe it’s WWE as com­pared to Olympic wrestling.

Foot­ball, gen­er­ally speak- ing, has done well to main­tain its his­tor­i­cal bal­ance, keep­ing goals as a cher­ished rar­ity, but, for me, base­ball is the sport that has done this best of all.

The ex­cel­lent Money­ball movie re­minded me how lit­tle that time- worn game has changed in spite of op­er­at­ing in the most com­mer­cialised econ­omy in the world – rules, uni­forms, di­a­monds, equip­ment, the rhythm of the sea­son and even some of the sta­dia re­main ba­si­cally the same as they have for eons.

The grainy footage from days of yore used in the movie fit­ted seam­lessly with the new mil­len­nium video and many of the old records still stand.

Base­ball has kept its bal­ance and main­tained its golden thread.

Its close cousin, cricket, should take note.

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