Sunday Tribune

Powerplays, extra players – spice up the game

- STUART HESS

IT WASN’T so much a slap in the face of 45/50 over cricket, more a kick in the teeth – and a hard one at that.

As changes in cricket continue apace, the next step will arrive in the form of the newly formulated MTN Domestic Championsh­ips, which starts on Wednesday with a clash at the Wanderers between the Highveld Lions and the Cape Cobras. The two sides are ageold South African cricketing enemies, but their rivalry will have a whole new chapter written, one where 12 players will make up a team.

All this change was inevitable. The longer form of cricket’s short format is no longer attractive, certainly not the domestic competitio­ns and definitely not the run-of-themill league or round robin matches that decide the semifinal participan­ts.

Call it a sign of the times or whatever, but Cricket South Africa like its counterpar­t the English Cricket Board felt the need to spice things up a bit, though unlike the ECB, who only reduced their premier oneday tournament to a 40 over competitio­n, Cricket SA made some radical changes to the MTN Domestic Championsh­ips.

The changes announced at the beginning of the month, were according to the CSA’s chief executive Gerald Majola, “part of CSA’s vision of giving fans the excitement and action they want without losing any of the basic skills that are an integral part of the game.”

Actually the 20-over format had shown up its 45-over cousin. Where once nudging those singles and twos between the 20th and 40th overs was a skill, now it’s just a cop out, a lack of adventure and a waste of time.

Seduced by the endless boundary hitting seen in the 20 over format it would appear the creators of the new 40-over version want to see a kind of extended 40-over boundary belting conquest, think a six hour ‘bat-a-thon’ à la the ‘438’ game. There’ll be 20 overs of Powerplays, that will be used solely at the discretion of the batting team.

For the connoisseu­r it’s a gross violation of the game’s true skill, for the fast food lov- ing crowd of the early 21st century it’s just what they want. But how much longer can the game – especially the one-day version – continue to get shorter before it dies completely?

Cricket administra­tors, particular­ly those at the Internatio­nal Cricket Council, are fond of talking about how fortunate the sport is to have three formats, but the latest moves by its domestic affiliates, such as CSA and the ECB, show increasing­ly that one of those formats is losing its value.

There were some good individual displays during the IC Champions Trophy and occasional­ly some highly skilled play from the likes of Shane Watson, Ricky Ponting, Daniel Vettori, Shane Bond and Grant Elliot, but what was lacking was innovation.

The 50 over game hasn’t had enough creativity for years and has become far too formulaic, hence the need for the extension of the powerplay period. Lately though even that has become predictabl­e with teams using the bowling powerplay from overs 10-15 and the batting one late in the innings after the 40th over.

As part of the stipulatio­ns for the MTN Domestic Championsh­ip the batting powerplays – two of them – have to be completed by the 35th over of the innings, an attempt on the organisers’ part to perhaps force teams to think a bit more.

Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of the changes though is the extra player. Only 11 may play at a time, but in the inter- val between innings sides may nominate their extra player to replace a teammate depending on their needs. This kind of thing was tried recently – in 2005 – with the use of a substitute, but it never caught on, whether it will now will depends on the impact the extra player has in this season’s competitio­n.

The changes will undoubtedl­y capture interest initially – and certainly the ICC will be keeping a close eye on what impact they have.

Ultimately though, the new format will be judged on its entertainm­ent value; if it falters, it will be another kick in the teeth for the longer limited overs game, and the death knell for the format will ring even louder.

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