50-over cricket is better than Twenty20
Australia's batsman David Warner. AP Photo/ Eranga Jayawardena
The tri-series one-day final was brilliant. It was tense, exciting and close, with the emotions of the players demonstrating just how much they cared. Regardless of what anybody else thought, this was high-stakes cricket. It mattered.
It didn’t need to be high-scoring or full of brutal strokeplay – neither side managed to top five an over, and only one batsman passed 50. The score – 231 to 215 – could just as easily have been made in the 1980s, back before they had ramp shots.
However, the consensus among cricketing commentators is that 50-over cricket is on the way out – it’s apparently a tired, stale format bedevilled by lengthy mid-innings periods of dull single-tapping.
In recent times the showcase event, the World Cup, has subjected fans to an experience akin to fleeing a gulag across the Siberian tundra, with the tournament dragging out across days, weeks, months and possibly years.
Time ceases to have any meaning due to television networks’ insistence that you can only play one match per week and everyone has to have a turn at losing to Ireland.
The saggy old carcass of One Day International cricket simply cannot compare to the taut, sexy figure of Twenty20 that has come onto the world stage to wink seductively and take all our money. The hyper-abbreviated form of the game is the way of the future, bringing quick thrills to fans, massive paydays to players, and employment to dancers.
Fifty-over cricket, so it has been said, is already dead. It just doesn’t know it yet.
This may be true.
But nevertheless, I wish to offer a valiant, quixotic, last-gasp defence. Here are some reasons that 50-over cricket is better than Twenty20.
The Sri Lankan team has proven to be the masters of resurrecting themselves when all seems lost. In both the first and third finals they fought their way back from near-hopeless situations to come desperately close to claiming the prize.
This just doesn’t happen in Twenty20 cricket. If you’re chasing 200, and your batting falls apart early, it’s game over. With four wickets in hand, needing 100 off the last 10, you’re dead. But with four wickets in hand in a ODI, needing 200 off the last 30… well, there’s a glimmer of hope.
With the extra time afforded by the 50-over format, a batsman who finds himself coming in during the midst of a collapse can afford to take stock, get his eye in and nurdle the ball around for a bit while he comes to grips with the conditions.
Unlike those engaged in a forlorn hope in a T20, he does not have to keep swinging. This is why the Lankans keep rising from the dead – they have more options. And what’s more, it means the bowling team has to stay on its mettle and remain focused on keeping scoring down and trying to get batsmen out. It means they don’t have to simply bowl gun-barrels in the knowledge that the batsmen’s need to swipe will get them out sooner or later.
2. Variety of playing styles
Remember Michael Bevan? Remember how great he was? The way he used to bat in ODIs would be useless in T20s. No player in a T20 can afford to pace himself. You can’t block for five overs as you scientifically assess how you’ll pick the field apart when the time is ripe; in T20 the time is always ripe.
If Bevan had played T20 he would have had to reinvent himself into a from-the-first-ball swatter, because that’s what everyone has to be in T20. Yes it’s important to “keep the scoreboard ticking over”, but only in the sense that if you can’t hit a six, at least hit a four (and if you can’t hit a four, at least hit a three, etc. etc.)
Singles in T20 are never tactical, they’re just making the best of a bad situation. And just as ODIs cut down on the range of acceptable styles and strategies for a batsman compared to Tests, T20 pares it down even further, to slog or GTFO.
Bowling is the same. When batsmen are flailing wildly at everything, you don’t need as much skill. Good bowlers are actually essential in T20. But a good T20 bowler is one who can fire down yorker after yorker. There is little room for one who can bowl a perfect out-swinger, or spin it from a metre outside off-stump into middle-and-leg.
What’s more, a good T20 bowler is one who happily allows easy singles – getting taken for a run a ball in T20 is a victory. In ODIs bowlers have to strive a lot harder to stop the batsmen playing their shots.
Even worse is the fact that if a bowler is on fire, we only get four overs of him before his night is over. Makes you feel ripped off, right?
In the first final, David Warner hit 163. In the second, he hit 100, Michael Clarke hit 117, and Tillekeratne Dilshan hit 106.
When will you ever see three hundreds hit in a T20 game? Never, is when.
A century in T20 is rare indeed, and two in an innings is next door to impossible. And while, yes, it does mean that a T20 century is an exciting event, it also means the T20 fan misses out on the epic side of the game.
Two batsmen have now hit 200s in 50-over cricket. This won’t happen in T20. Ever. The combination of brilliance and endurance required for an innings such as Warner’s 163, in which he batted from first ball to last and fought not only the bowling but his own fatigue and aching body to do it, isn’t seen in T20.
The big, big knocks aren’t there. In lacking them, T20 is drained of a little of cricket’s romance.
This one’s pretty simple – the longer the game, the greater the worth of wickets and the bigger the risk being taken in going for your shots. That’s why Test innings like Warner’s recent Perth century, or Gilchrist’s 57-ball hundred in Perth, are so thrilling; it’s the daring of the hitting as much as the technical skill.
While exciting for the sheer skill and power involved, big hitting in T20s lacks that element. Everyone has to hit out, so there’s no courage involved in doing so.
But a player backing himself to clear the ropes, when he knows that if he gets out his team has been struck a cruel blow, that’s real drama.
5. Miked-up players
You can’t take a game seriously when the players are giving on-field interviews.
If a T20 match is important to a guy, why would he feel comfortable with breaking his concentration to have a chat with JB and Slats in the booth? Surely a player who is deadly serious about the game he’s in doesn’t want to be distracted by inane banter with commentator?
And if they’re not serious about it, why should we be? When Fatty Vautin chatted with the commentators in AB’s testimonial game, that was fun. When Shane Watson does it in a supposedly serious international, it’s just stupid.
6. ODIs are longer
This is known as “maths”.
100 overs > 40 overs.
And if you love cricket, why the hell wouldn’t you love more cricket?
Ben Pobjie is a writer and comedian writing weekly on The Age, New Matilda and The Roar, whose promising rugby career was tragically cut short the day he stopped playing rugby and had a pizza instead. The most he has ever cried was the day Balmain lost the 1989 grand final. Today he enjoys the frolics of Wallabies, Swans, baggy greens, and Storms. Ben is also the author of the books Surveying the Wreckage, Superchef, and his latest, The Book of Bloke, available from Momentum Books.
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