Is cricket all about just runs and more runs, fours and sixes galore? Is the game all about just huge totals with batsmen making merry at the expense of hapless bowlers? Whatever happened to the essence of the sport – a keen contest between bat and ball?
What’s been going on in the India – Australia ODI series is not exactly cricket. It may be entertainment for the spectators and the worldwide TV audience but in the ultimate analysis even they will soon get bored of seeing every other ball being clouted into the stratosphere.
MS Dhoni struck the right note when he said after Wednesday’s match at Nagpur that such monotonous run scoring could hurt the one day game. "I don’t know whether it is good in the long run to see for seven hours only fours and sixes."
A lot is being made of the new rule changes that came into effect about a year ago that allow only four fielders outside the 30 yard circle in non-powerplay overs. Dhoni has spoken about the rule changes needing a review while Suresh Raina has touched upon how they are harsh on the bowlers and how there is tremendous pressure on them.
I am not saying this is not a factor in the high scores that one has seen in the ongoing series – three totals exceeding 300 and four others exceeding 350. But too much should not be made of this. Two other factors – poor bowling standards and flat tracks – are the bigger causes for the run feasts.
The pitches for the series have all been perfect batting beauties and the dice is loaded against the bowlers. They have to be at their best in maintaining line and length almost all the time or they will get clobbered.
Unfortunately the bowling in the five matches so far has been woefully short of international standard. India’s strength has traditionally been their batting and even after the retirement of several stalwarts, they have been able to maintain the lofty standards thanks to the younger brigade led by Virat Kohli.
But following the retirements of Javagal Srinath and Anil Kumble and with Zaheer Khan and Harbhajan Singh currently out of favour, the new bowlers have been unable to restrict the cascade of runs. Ishant Sharma’s infamous 48th over at Mohali wherein he conceded 30 runs sums it all up in more ways than one. The rule changes had nothing to do with this – it was just very poor bowling.
It must be said however that the failure of the Aussie bowlers to curb the Indian batsmen has come as a surprise. Granted that the Indian line-up is star studded but to allow it to successfully chase 350 plus scores twice within three matches also sums up the paucity of the bowling with perhaps Mitchell Johnson being the lone exception. Here again ultimately it boils down to the fact that the bowling is bereft of ideas.
That the new rules need not play a major role for batsmen to dominate so thoroughly was underlined in another match even as the Nagpur game was going on. The South Africa – Pakistan ODI at Sharjah provided a complete contrast with the former defending a total of 183 and winning by one run. As compared to the four hundreds notched up at Nagpur, there were just two half centuries in the Sharjah game.
And the economy rate of all the bowlers – two conceded under three an over – was in sharp contrast to the Nagpur figures which had many bowlers conceding more than seven or eight an over. Not only did the surface at Sharjah help the bowlers, there was also some top class stuff displayed by Saeed Ajmal, Wayne Parnell, Morne Morkel and Lonwabo Tsotsobe.
It is fine to talk about that great match at Johannesburg in 2006 when 872 runs were scored and South Africa chased down Australia’s 434 winning by one wicket with one ball to spare. It will remain unique in its own way and deserves to be. But again it was a match that was frightfully dominated by batsmen. Under the circumstances another game involving the same two teams is probably remembered with more warmth and affection.
This was the World Cup semifinal at Birmingham in 1999. It was an exciting game all through with twists and turns galore and the two best teams in the competition displaying cricket of a high standard. It had the closest of all finishes – a tie – with both teams being all out for 213.
As Wisden put it succinctly "it was not merely the match of the tournament, it must have been the best one day international of the 1483 played so far." As the totals indicate, batsmen and bowlers had a fair share of the spoils and that provided the decisive argument in the match enjoying the lofty status accorded to it.