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Two angst-ridden themes dominate the press today: the future of ODIs, ditto of the West Indies.

Much of the criticism of the one-day format centers around the
middle overs where, experts agree, the game slips into stasis. Matthew
Hayden has a contrary viewpoint:

But that’s where your main skill sets get shown:
containment, ability to be able to play spin, fitness levels, mental
stamina, all elements of the one-day game. And then you can time your
run-in with the power play as well. If you do break it up, it will make
the game even longer because there will be intervals. It is worth
considering but there are bigger fish to fry. It’s time for a
consolidation of the cricketing calendar.

Certainly, if you want batsmen to dominate the game then break it
down, split the game up. But we have already got Twenty20 cricket. What
I want to see in a 50-over game are the nuances of those middle overs.
Granted, they can be painfully slow and, granted, in a 50-over game you
can be on the end of a shellacking and you have to grind out the last
few overs, but in any sport you get a bad day at the office.

If, however, you want to see the skill sets of cricketers tested you
need to leave the game alone and let them go about their business. It’s
not about moving with the times – we’ve got Twenty20 cricket, of which
I am a major advocate. It’s key that we have the three formats of the
game and I’m certainly not sure that tinkering round with it is the way
forward.

Interesting deviation from the norm of current opinion, but I have a
question for Haydos: in the days of high-decibel television coverage,
does the average fan even care for the nuances the Aussie great holds
dear?

As a mind experiment, try following a one day game only through the
commentary, without looking at the visuals: you’ll find a remarkable
degree of somnolence in those middle overs.

True, there is skill involved in consolidation. True, it is an
interesting battle of wits — the fielding side wants to run through
the overs of the lesser bowlers without incurring too much damage and,
at the same time, rotate in the better bowlers often enough to try and
take wickets and hamper the big push at the end. Against that, the
batting side wants to maintain a 5+ per over run rate with a minimum of
risk, creating a springboard from which to leap towards the huge total
in the death overs.

But does any of that permeate the commentary? No. Bored mike-smiths
talk of neckties [vide Arun Lal, yesterday], while keeping half an eye
out for an edge that goes to the boundary so they can scream about what
a fantastic shot it was [Again, Arun Lal yesterday, though he is by no
means top of a list that includes the likes of Tony Greig and Jeremy
Coney to name just two serial offenders].

Television coverage, which in the early years did much to make the
sport exciting, has in more recent times done even more to take the fun
out of it — and that is an area no one is looking at. Contrast Haydos’
impassioned defense of the middle overs with the take of a much-awarded sports writer:

The game has been rumbled. The players have worked it
out. As a result, now that 50 overs is the standard format for a
one-day international, we have a period between the end of the
fifteenth over and the start of the 41st in which the batters tip and
tap their way on in nudged and nurdled singles that the fielding side
are perfectly happy to concede. Meanwhile, the bowlers send down
slowed-down seamers or speeded-up spinners, aimed to prevent boundaries
and there, by definition, to permit singles.

It’s become a convention, a sort of non-aggression pact, a Christmas
truce that lasts for 25 overs. You score at 4.2 an over in this period
and try to restrict the opposition to 3.7. You don’t score too fast and
we won’t bowl too nastily. As a result, on Saturday England scored 95
runs during the truce period….

As a result of Barnes’s Law, 50-over cricket is now a busted flush.
It is a game that has been totally worked out, to the extent that, like
billiards, it has become nearly unplayable and all but unwatchable.
Well-meaning tinkering — fielding restrictions, the bowling power-play,
the batting power-play, the super-sub — fail to disguise the fact that
50-over cricket is obsolete. The players have become too clever, too
competent, too conniving.

If that is how a star sports-writer sees the middle overs –
unwatchable, obsolete, conniving, a truce where nothing happens –  how
then do you expect the fans to catch fire?

On the other — the subject of West Indies cricket — two stories
that, in the run up to Champions’, is worth your while. Peter Simmons laments
that the game the islands dominated for so long has now turned that
same team into an international laughing stock. And Peter Roebuck is
even harsher:

Everyone is sick and tired of the West Indians. South
Africa ought to withdraw its invitation to take part in the Champion’s
Trophy. Let Ireland come instead — at least they want to play. West
Indies have been treating cricket badly for years. It’s high time the
favour was returned.

Posted in Cricket.

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