Finding the right balance: Cricket has a way to go
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.