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

The Cricket Paper - - ODI SERIES -

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

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