Save the ODI from becoming an elongated T20 run-fest
Tim Wigmore believes that the essence of the 50-over game is being destroyed by the manic chase for huge totals
One-day international cricket has traditionally been a halfway house between cricket’s other two formats. It provides both power-hitting of the ilk rarely seen in Tests with slow-burning drama of the sort that T20 is not designed for.
But, increasingly, ODIs are resembling elongated T20 games. That’s particularly true in India, where the pitches are flat, the boundaries are often short, and conditions are designed squarely with runs, runs and more runs in mind. The start of the ODI series has proved as much, providing a thrilling exhibition of the best of modern-day hitting but little to give bowlers heart.
Even early wickets – especially when England take them – seem to make no difference at all.
England have only reached 350 ten times in their history. The first was against Pakistan in 1992 in a 55-over game, and the second against a ragtag Bangladesh in 2005. The other eight times have been since the 2015 World Cup, in just 33 completed innings.
Yet England can also feel the flipside of this revolution in the game. After two ODIs against India, they have already conceded the fourth most runs in any three-match series they have played in history, and with a full match to come.
How has ODI cricket got here? The curiosity, perhaps, is that it has taken so long. From 2002, the year before T20 cricket was launched, to 2012, the average run rate only increased from 4.94 to 5.05, actually a slower rate of increase than in the previous decade.
The rules were then tweaked, to make ODIs far more batting friendly. From October 2011, the ICC agreed that all ODIs should be played with two balls – one from each end – to stop the ball going soft and becoming harder to hit.
A year later, the ICC changed the fielding restrictions, reducing the number of men allowed outside the 30-yard circle.
If the rationale was to make ODIs appealing for the T20 generation, it has worked. After a timelag in which little changed, in October 2013 India hosted Australia for seven ODIs on flat pitches, with both sides often fielding weakened bowling attacks.
The series was pivotal in the development of ODI cricket. Both sides scored gluttonously, in a way that was unprecedented in ODI cricket. In 11 completed innings, the teams made nine scores of over 300 including three of over 350, while setting a ludicrous array of individual and team records.
The parameters of what was considered possible in ODI cricket changed, and there would be no going back. By 2015, the average run rate in ODI cricket had risen to 5.50 an over.
After huge scoring in the World Cup, the ICC resolved to give bowlers a little more of a chance by relaxing fielding restrictions; ICC chief executive David Richardson described them as on a “hiding to nothing”.
Batsmen are fitter, stronger and more athletic than ever. T20 cricket forces them to expand their repertoire of hitting, which they then bring into the ODI game. That will not change
But the changes have not put the genie back in the bottle. Batsmen are fitter, stronger and more athletic than ever. T20 cricket forces them to expand their repertoire of hitting, which they then bring into the ODI game. That will not change.
As conditions become more batsmenfriendly, it is shifting the game. On the wickets most conducive to batting, teams increasingly favour bowling first; both captains would have chosen to chase in the first two ODIs of the India-England series.
“It’s tough to estimate what you need,” Jos Buttler said after the first game. How are batsmen meant to deduce what is, say, a 380-run wicket, and what is merely a 350 one?
Bowlers know their place in this world. While predicting that average scores would continue to rise, because of pitches and conditions, Jake Ball, who went for 80 runs in his 10 overs yesterday, seemed resigned to as much.
“You’re in an entertainment industry and fans like to see the ball going for four and six, and that’s what’s happening,” he said. “All you can do is put the ball where you want to put it, and if he hits it for four or six you’ve got to hold your hand up and say, ‘good shot’.”
Ball’s attitude was refreshing, yet there is also a danger here. If ODIs are becoming merely elongated T20s, they will lose something of their essence, too. The ODI widely lauded as the best-ever was the 1999 World Cup semi-final, when Australia and South Africa both scored 213, with Shaun Pollock taking five wickets and Allan Donald and Shane Warne four each, a match with the feel of a one-day Test until the death overs.
The ODI is better with matches such as these alongside the batting feasts. A three-match series would have, say, one match in which teams score in excess of 350, one in which they score around 300, and one in which they would have to scrap to reach 250. To get there, boards would need to mandate that pitches offer much more to the bowlers – so that, while there would still be matches with gluttonous run-scoring, these would be balanced by games in which the bowlers were king.
Perhaps there could also be a tweak of the laws to make ODIs a little more bowler-friendly; Ball suggested allowing an extra fielder out of the circle.
Empowering bowlers a little would make ODIs a more fulfilling game. Bowlers would need to find not only ways to stymie the scoring in sumptuous batting conditions, but also to win matches on pitches offering them more assistance. Batsmen, meanwhile, would have to be more flexible – to be capable both of pyrotechnics from the first delivery and scoring a scrappy halfcentury in bowler-friendly conditions.
In totality, then, an ODI series would show more of what a player could do, and demand a greater array of skills and
more adaptability. It would be much more than a series of extended T20 matches.
ODIs are at their best when they provide a contest between bat and ball. So while run-fests like those between India and England are thrilling, if they become the norm they risk losing their appeal, and creating a game devoid of all variety. In the process ODIs would protect the thrill of the six, which is in danger of being devalued through oversupply. Sometimes you can have too much of a good thing.
Punished: Jake Ball
Run glut: The 2013 ODI series between India and Australia set several records
Centurion: Kedar Jadhav hits out for India as they chased down England’s 350 in the first ODI