It’s almost inevitable now that once we get past debating who should and shouldn’t be on the selectors’ radar, discussion turns to everything that’s wrong with the longest version of the shortest formats of cricket.
Scanning the comments under my piece last week on building an ODI innings and the cricket tab more broadly over the weekend, has turned up some genuinely good ideas that could all – both individually and collectively – have an impact on reinvigorating the 50-over format.
Of course, the argument will be there that exceptional TV ratings mean people quite like one-day cricket exactly as it is, thank you very much.
The evening session for Sunday’s third ODI had a national average of nearly two million viewers and peaked at almost 2.8 million. The Big Bash League has been enjoying average TV audiences of more than a million viewers each game, yet the ODIs have topped them from the outset.
And the figures are very good, of that there is no question. But that’s not to say the product itself couldn’t be better.
So, in no particular order, let the ideas dump commence.
Unpave the roads
The former batsman in me loves the idea of batting on the proverbial highway of a pitch, but even I have to concede the wickets for the first three ODIs were a bit much.
And the scores reflect this. India has batted first in every game, and has posted 309, 308, and then 295 in Melbourne on Sunday – 17-912 to date. In reply, Australia has made 15-915 to win all three matches.
Eight players across the series have topped 100 runs already, with Rohit Sharma north of 300, and Virat Kohli, Steven Smith and George Bailey all beyond 200 runs for the series. In contrast, no Australian bowler has more than five wickets for the series, and no Indian bowler has more than three.
We know it’s all about entertainment, and there were even disturbing concessions from bowlers over the weekend that going for a run-a-ball is now acceptable, but come on, surely some kind assistance for the bowlers would make games better?
The Adelaide Test was the brilliant spectacle it was because of the wicket as much as the match being played under lights. A bit more grass on an ODI pitch would have the same effect, and greatly increase the chances of teams being bowled out. Batsmen already get the benefit of new balls at each end, the ball moving around a bit early on wouldn’t be a bad thing at all.
Less is more: Part 1
‘Meaningless ODIs’ is about as common a phrase around the one-day game these days as ‘we’ll have a bat, thanks’ and it’s certainly a widely held view that we would care about ODIs more if they actually counted for something other than broadcast and advertising revenue.
The World Cup was a fabulous event because it ticked all the boxes: the cricket was great, the crowds were amazing, and the games meant something.
Even being a World Cup year, I was rather astounded to see that there were 146 ODIs played in 2015. That means another 98 ODIs were played outside the World Cup! And yes, the associate nations are included in that 146, with Afghanistan (17 matches), Ireland (15) and Scotland (10) featuring heavily. Even Hong Kong squeezed a couple in.
Who played the most? New Zealand, actually, with 32 ODIs in 2015, followed by Zimbabwe (31), Pakistan (27), England (26) and Sri Lanka (25). Australia played a comparatively miserly 19, though nine of those were during the World Cup (and one of them was abandoned without a ball bowled).
146 ODIs is a lot, but it’s not unusual. Since the start of 2013, 411 ODIs have been played in total. The 2015 figure is only just over one-third of that total and therefore very normal.
One of the reasons the BBL is so popular is because it’s only on for seven weeks of the year. ODIs feel like they’re dime-a-dozen because they’re on all the time. I love one-day cricket, but not an ODI every three days.
Less is more: Part 2
Remember when 40 overs was going to be the future of one-day cricket? It was quickly knocked on the head by those renowned party poopers at the ICC, who muttered something about future World Cups being locked-in at 50 overs and broadcast deals and some such.
The ECB even consolidated their domestic one-day comp and the old Sunday League into one 40-over competition for the 2010 season. But then they caved and went back to 50 overs in 2014.
But now that we’re past the World Cup, why not? Why not look at getting rid of those mundane middle overs? Why not have the games start a little later and finish a bit earlier? It would still allow TV to have a second session in prime time, but mum and dad would also get the kids into a bed a bit earlier.
And one-day cricket hasn’t always been 50 overs, remember.
I’ve said it once, I’ll say it again.
Outside a quadrennial T20 World Cup, just leave the 20-over format to the domestic and franchise leagues. It would make the T20 World Cup all the more special (who won the last three anyway?), and would also add crowd demand to ODIs, being the only way to see the national team in the coloured gear each year.
You know it makes sense.
Why do we need fielding and bowling restrictions in limited-overs cricket anymore? If we’re worried about unimaginative captains putting nine blokes on the fence, there’s still plenty of room on the field to make a run-a-ball, isn’t there. And batsmen and women are still welcome to take on the boundary.
Why not encourage smart captaincy? Why not make teams think about bowling plans uninhibited by ‘having’ to have so many fielders inside the circle? Why even have a circle? Why aren’t more bouncers allowed? Why not encourage close in fielders and actually allow the bowler to bang a few in? Why not test batspeople against uncomfortable deliveries, instead of allowing them the freedom of a full swing at five in every six balls bowled?
If a bowler has 4-20 after his ten overs, why not let him keep going? Why force teams into finding ten overs out of a couple of part-timers? Batsmen can batter the ball for the full quota, so why do we restrict bowlers?
Why restrict anything?
Toss the toss
The toss is in the crosshairs at the moment in Tests, but why not in ODIs, too?
Think about it. If the idea of allowing the visiting side the choice of whether to bowl or bat first in a Test will force more equally prepared pitches, then of course the same has to apply in the limited-overs game.
If fact, in light of what we’ve seen over the first three days in this series, getting rid of the toss in one-days might be even more important.
The moral to all this is that ODIs don’t need massive changes. But a few tweaks here and there could make a big difference. What else is out there?