Remembering how to play one-day

Ben Pobjie Columnist

By Ben Pobjie, Ben Pobjie is a Roar Expert

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    It is times like these when the temptation arises to draw a discreet veil over the very existence of the 50-over version of cricket.

    It’s already well established that the in-between format is the game’s least fashionable: just as sprinters become superstars and marathon runners inspire awe while the 800m fails to arouse any reaction in anyone, so does the ODI sit frumpily between the epic battlefield of the Test match and the all-ages rave of T20.

    In a nutshell, ODIs are easy to ignore, and with Australia at one of its lowest ebbs in the format, it’s tempting to do just that. It would be such a relief to declare that the world has moved on from the outdated and obsolete 50-over game, and the Australian team has done the same, concentrating on building capacity in the important versions, so that defeat in this series means less than nothing. Just a way to pass an idle few afternoons, for our beloved national side, focused as they are on the big issues.

    But how can we, as Australians, take this approach in good conscience? Fifty-over cricket is an inseparable part of the Australian cricketing character. There was a time when the shorter form seemed to be a sloughing off of the dead skin of tradition, but now it’s undeniable that, for Australian cricket fans, ODIs carry a proud tradition of their own that none of us can renounce if we are to stay true to the noble history of our nation.

    It’s the proud history that makes a trough like the one Steve Smith’s team is currently experiencing so galling – if, in the wake of the Warne-McGrath-Gilchrist era, the experience of watching the Test team lose came as a shock to the system, an inept Australian one-day side feels like some kind of violation of divine law.

    After all, are we not the nation that has five World Cups to its credit, where no other has more than two? Are we not the nation that ushered in the pyjama game in the first place with World Series Cricket? Are we not the nation that brought the world Dean Jones and Adam Gilchrist and Michael Bevan and Andrew Symonds and Anthony Stuart?

    The one-day game courses through the veins of our cricketing corpus, and it would be a crying shame if Australia’s cricketing self-image lost that part forever entwined with the ODI.

    But we seem at risk of that happening, and from observation of the first three disastrous matches of the current series, the only explanation available seems to be this: Australia has forgotten how to play one-day cricket.

    (AAP Image/Tracey Nearmy)

    It’s not necessarily difficult to understand. Steve Smith was, after all, consumed body and soul by the desire to regain the Ashes. He committed himself unstintingly to the task of not only winning the Test series, but placing himself at the vanguard. He bent the series to his will, by bending himself to the needs of Test cricket. One way or another, all of his charges did: Dave Warner was disciplined and circumspect; Pat Cummins was hostile; Mitch Marsh displayed a maturity few thought within his character.

    But what if Smith, and his loyal band, gave themselves so utterly to the Ashes cause, that the rhythms and instincts of the shorter game have been pushed to an inaccessible recess of the psyche? Watching the Australians at work in those first three games has been to observe a group of men puzzled by the job in front of them and bewildered by how swiftly and how easily their opponents have breezed by them.

    The England team have played like men liberated; Australia has looked like an ageing gunfighter trying to remember which side the holster’s on.

    Certain selections may not have helped. Cameron White has carried out his primary function – that of putting Glenn Maxwell in his place – beautifully. The secondary function of actually playing cricket? Not so well. The absence of spin options in the team has hurt.

    But even those who have an undeniable claim on their places in the team have been struggling to make sense of the format that delivers neither urns nor IPL contracts. Warner is a lost boy waiting for muscle memory to kick in. Cummins bowled with fire and vigour and completely forgot that the death overs are a different game, allowing Jos Buttler to smear him over the SCG turf. Mitchell Starc has picked up wickets but also served up delicious treats to batsmen’s hitting zones.

    And Smith himself… where the Test batsman was all certainty and steely resolve, the same man in yellow and green is drowning in hesitation and choking on the endless self-admonitions every time another shot fails unerringly to find a gap. He is driven by the urge to dominate, but here he has been dominated, and England’s 50-over attack is a lock he can’t find a key to.

    The situation is not terminal. A loss in a domestic five-match series is not calamity. The only prize of lasting importance that the one-day format offers is the World Cup, and there is plenty of time for Australia to regain its lost senses by then.

    That process must start with the recognition of the game they are playing. It’s not a Test match. It’s not the BBL. It’s a 50-over one-day international, and it’s a game at whose pinnacle Australia belongs.

    Ben Pobjie
    Ben Pobjie

    Ben Pobjie is a writer & comedian writing 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 watching Wallabies, Swans, baggy greens, and Storms.

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    The Crowd Says (12)

    • January 22nd 2018 @ 8:34am
      Geoff Schaefer said | January 22nd 2018 @ 8:34am | ! Report

      It seems to me that one day cricket was developed like many sports to appeal to a predomiantly younger audience who were either time poor or not interested in a game played over five days, with a result still not guaranteed. T20 has become the next phase of that development. I suspect the average cricket fan doesn’t really care about 50 over cricket and probably the players as well. I would also suspect that most young cricketers either aspire to play test cricket for Australia or T20 where the cash is. We have been inundated this season with too much cricket and the crowds are reflecting that. It served its purpose, let it die a natural death. As Richie Benaud used to say, sometimes less is more…

      • January 22nd 2018 @ 9:30am
        Paul said | January 22nd 2018 @ 9:30am | ! Report

        Geoff, the game that will die a death is T20. This is not a game but a gimmick and as is the case with all gimmicks, it has a limited shelf life. People are switching off, both on TV and at the grounds and the standard of play has declined noticeably in recent seasons. The cash will move on as people switch off

        CA has made a conscious decision to put ODIs on a back burner within Australia by hosting a frantic tournament early in the season that does nothing to either promote the game or develop specialist ODI skills.

        Other nations aren’t taking this approach, only us, so CA are primarily to blame for the decline in ODI cricket across the board.

        • Roar Rookie

          January 22nd 2018 @ 10:08am
          Snert Underpant said | January 22nd 2018 @ 10:08am | ! Report

          Not so sure Paul. World Series Cricket was called a gimmick too. Most sports are looking at abbreviated forms of their games, even AFL which essentially hasn’t modified its game ever. I think that any game that takes a whole day to play is on the way out. Even traditional shorter games like soccer and rugby league are seeing dropping attendances. Going to a live event these days in the cities is getting more difficult and more expensive. Plus people have more recreational choices than ever before. I think most sports administrators have or will embrace the idea that it has to be able to be easily packaged for TV and hence advertising revenue, as evidenced with the AFL’s broadcasting rights deals. Unfortunately, with that seems to come this obsession with non stop action and constant noise, music, quizzes, games within games, rather than an appreciation for the game itself. I hope I’m wrong, but I don”t think I am…

        • Roar Guru

          January 22nd 2018 @ 12:26pm
          pformagg said | January 22nd 2018 @ 12:26pm | ! Report

          Yeah no. T20 is the biggest cricket market. It is only going to get bigger. ODI needs to drop to 3 Match events, and increase T20 games.

    • January 22nd 2018 @ 8:55am
      Basil said | January 22nd 2018 @ 8:55am | ! Report

      The irony is now the domestic 50 comp has been moved to a pre-season type circus to open up a window for an expanded BBL, we are now seeing the fruits of that neglect at International level.Yet, Australia is still rubbish at International T20’s. Lose, lose.

    • January 22nd 2018 @ 11:35am
      mark said | January 22nd 2018 @ 11:35am | ! Report

      800m is the second best event in any sport, in my opinion. I love 800m, so that makes 1 person!

      • January 22nd 2018 @ 1:29pm
        Gecko said | January 22nd 2018 @ 1:29pm | ! Report

        800m is great to watch, and has stood the test of time.

        • Roar Rookie

          January 22nd 2018 @ 6:00pm
          Mick Jeffrey said | January 22nd 2018 @ 6:00pm | ! Report

          I’m personally a 1500 man myself…..

          As for this game, the fact that nobody has played this format for a number of months is hurting us. With the last games played played in October who knows what the best side is?

          As for the skipper, a 5-0 series loss (which is on the cards) equates in my mind to missing the tri series finals. When that happened after 96/97 the careers in coloured clothing of captain Mark Taylor was basically ended (the only reason why he played another 5 ODIs was partially because Healy got suspended in South Africa, partially because the ACB as it was known then elected only to use the 17 man Ashes squad for the ODIs in England in 1997). When we missed the finals in 2002/2003 the career in colours of skipper Steve Waugh was ended. Both times in the lead ins to World Cups new skippers and teams were appointed and we won both times. Does this mean Steve Smith could be gone from the ODI team is England win 5-0 with a World Cup on the horizon?

          • January 22nd 2018 @ 8:14pm
            Paul said | January 22nd 2018 @ 8:14pm | ! Report

            good points about the skippers. Maybe Smith could do a Root and give up the captaincy to focus on his batting. I still think he’s one of our better ODI players, the last 10 innings not withstanding.

    • January 22nd 2018 @ 1:48pm
      Dianne Andrews said | January 22nd 2018 @ 1:48pm | ! Report

      Maybe I’m too old school. After the (mostly) well disciplined and well structured test matches, I’m finding these ODI’s very hard to watch. Don’t get the selectors choices, the logic of some of the skippers decisions and was very frustrated by the way most batsmen allowed the English bowlers to dominate. Their bowling was good, but not enough batsmen stood up to them. Your observation Ben about forgetting how to play this format is spot on, good read.

    • January 22nd 2018 @ 9:34pm
      Bee bee said | January 22nd 2018 @ 9:34pm | ! Report

      Maybe the 50 over game is on the nose but if we need motivation it’s simple. The next WC is in England and no Australian will stomach the possibility of the English spoiling our Pyjama party by winning the cup in front of their adorable bald singing fat drunk fans. No. Not happening.

    • Roar Pro

      January 23rd 2018 @ 3:23am
      Ashan D said | January 23rd 2018 @ 3:23am | ! Report

      They have set Maxi up for doom now. To be honest this T20 team does not promise much. I think they will be lucky to even come close to winning a game against the flying Kiwis and the Englishmen. After they fail, Maxwell will be made the scapegoat even if he does fire. Then the selectors (AKA Smith’s legion) will be able to get rid of Maxwell for good. I really feel for Maxi. He has been treated in the worst possible way by this inept bunch of has beens. We need a selection committee who feels the energy required to succeed in the limited overs games, not these old set who played in the 90s. If I were Maxi, I would just go across the Tasman to play for NZ or go over to England where he will be most welcome. I want him to play against Smith’s Australia and beat them to the dust. Just to see how Smith would react and flinch. Smith is an absolute gun batsman, but the worst possible man manager and the most inept international cricket captain I have ever seen. If they go on like this it wont be long before Australia become the laughing stock in World Cricket, if we already are not. – Gutted true Aussie cricket fan. I’m sure I share the view of most.

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