By Kanishkaa Balachandran
High-scoring matches are good for batsmen, not bowlers. Rules have to be tweaked yet again to give bowlers an equal chance or else one-dayers will go stale.
Take a look at the following scenarios:
Game 1: England post 350 for 7. India are in trouble at 63 for 4. Centuries by Virat Kohli and Kedar Jadhav help India pull off a miracle. The target is achieved with more than an over to spare.
Game 2: India raise the bar by scoring 381. England very nearly chase it down, making 366, and lose the series
Game 3: England post 320. India stumble, recover, fall at the final hurdle and end up losing by five runs.
Game 4: Australia score 371. How could you lose from there? Apparently, you can. South Africa chase it down with four balls to spare. It’s also the second-highest chase in one-day international history.
Four games from the recent past, the first three from the one-day international series between India and England that concluded on Sunday. You could call them all thrillers. The fans got their money’s worth, there were sixes galore and there were no dull moments. Who says one-day cricket is dying?
Yet, something didn’t feel right. Without taking any credit away from the individual performers in these games, the trend of high scores reflects poorly on the state of the one-day game. The India-England one-day series was a batsman’s series. So too was the series in which South Africa chased down that total against Australia. What of the poor, hapless bowlers? If Twenty20 cricket isn’t bad enough for these poor chaps, imagine the torture of being bludgeoned, reverse-swept, and driven to dust over the course of four hours in an innings.
It’s true that India produces some of the best batting pitches in the world, but the trend of 350-plus scores being chased has happened in other countries too. In 2015, in London, New Zealand scored 398 and yet never felt safe. England’s target was reset to 376 in 46 overs and they fell short by just 13 runs. In the same series, in Nottingham, New Zealand scored 349 and England knocked it off in just 44 overs and lost only three wickets.
If you thought England made that look ridiculously easy, consider this scenario: in 2013 in Jaipur, India chased down Australia’s 359 in under 44 overs with the loss of just one wicket! Yes, a nine-wicket win. For bowlers, it’s like stepping into the ring without gloves. The nightmare for the Australian bowlers didn’t end with that game. In the same series, Australia posted 350, only for India to win by six wickets in the final over.
That India-Australia one-day series of 2013 was simply nauseating from the game’s point of view. The fans didn’t mind though, watching the bowlers get butchered. The average score for the team batting first was an insane 332. The teams scored a total of 3596 runs in six games. The saving grace was a washed out one-dayer in Cuttack, else the mark would have passed 4000. There were 107 sixes, 345 fours and 9 hundreds, including a double-hundred.
This series was played before the latest tweak to the one-day rules regarding field restrictions. Back then, only a maximum of four fielders were allowed near the boundary. But in 2015, following the World Cup, the ICC, in an effort to give bowlers some leeway, decided to ease the restrictions, scrapped the batting Powerplay (which only allowed three fielders outside the 30-yard circle) and allowed five fielders by the boundary for the last ten overs.
These amended rules didn’t make a big difference to the bowlers, as we have seen in some of the above examples. It continues to be a batsman’s game. The use of two new balls in an innings also negates the effectiveness of the bowlers, particularly the spinners. An older ball is better for the spinners and helps fast bowlers aiming to get some reverse swing. So long as the ball remains new, it makes it easier for batsmen to hit. The other big factor is the thickness of the bats used these days. With no regulations in place as far as thickness is concerned, batsmen are able to hit sixes with little effort. Heck, even miscued shots can carry over the rope. Who would want to be a bowler in these circumstances?
Usually, the pitch is made the scapegoat in these high-scoring games. On many occasions, this has been justified. A pitch that leaves nothing for the bowlers is bound to produce a one-sided game. But batting pitches are only part of the problem. Captains ideally should be allowed the freedom of posting more than five fielders at the boundary. The ICC should also revert to using a single ball per innings instead of two. The issue of bat size and thickness has been discussed by the game’s rule-makers, but implementing it is another matter. Players now appear physically stronger than batsmen from the 90s, with a few exceptions of course. Strongly built players like Dhoni and David Warner shouldn’t have a problem hitting big with thinner bats.
What would be unpalatable to the ICC is another set of rule changes, if there haven’t been enough already. Certain rule changes were brought about because fans tended to switch off during the middle overs in an innings when batsmen prefer to build slowly, taking singles. But if fans crave action at all times, then they are better off watching Twenty20s.
Captains nowadays can no longer take a 350-plus score for granted. Which is good in some ways, as it sets up an enthralling chase. But in due course, the sight of batsmen butchering bowlers will get stale and the od debate about one-dayers going extinct will resurface. Tweak the rules again before it’s too late.
Do these 350-plus games excite me? Quite the opposite.
(The featured picture at the top shows Virat Kohli ad Kedar Jadhav making hundreds in Pune. India chased 350 to beat England/Photo AP)