Over the past few years the phrase “death of 50 over cricket” has become common amongst journalists and television pundits all because of the rise of the Twenty20 format.
Market research has shown the facts and hard numbers that spells out popularity for T20s grossly overrides that of one-day matches. However if this year’s World Cup can teach us anything so far, it is that there are aspects of the game that T20 cannot convey.
There are two main reasons I feel the one-day format needs to be maintained, albeit potentially with some minor adjustments to allow it to be more economically viable.
The first is purely because it offers a different game to T20; different skill sets are required and the pace of the game is both changeable and controllable. The second reason is because I feel it is a key part of player development.
If we continue to favor the short format of the game I believe will we see a massive decline in the number of players willing and able to play test games. If all we are left with is T20, then we are not left with any true cricket at all.
My reasoning behind wanting to keep a long format one day game is that there is a huge difference between the fast paced 20 over, and often slower, more tactical test match. As such, cricket has found that it is creating two distinct fan bases for each format of the game.
If the ultimate aim is to make money, which judging by England’s current playing schedule seems to be the onlyaim, then the two groups of supporters could be merged at every game and every format would be a sell-out.
Technically the 50 over game should be the perfect opportunity to bridge this gap; a format long enough that teams must build batting partnerships and centuries are expected from a winning side, yet remains within a time scale where a winner can be established by the end of that day.
However, the format has come under constant fire since the surge of 20twenty. Many criticize it for being too long, although the introduction of power-play overs has encouraged more aggressive play which works in the audiences favor.
Personally I see power-play periods as a good idea, however, they are often poorly implemented by the teams playing; by trying not to disrupt partnerships and risk a wicket, power-plays are often left to the last available set of overs.
I have lost count of the number of times James Anderson has been playing in a power-play, unable to hit the ball over the circle or scramble a single with the field so close in.
None the less the format creates situations that T20 does not. For one thing, from a good innings, James Anderson wouldn’t be seen to bat in a T20; although understandably using that as a selling point for one-dayers probably won’t get you far.
Ultimately though a one-day match should produce a game; in T20 there is no time for a team to recover if wickets fall and one-sided matches can easily develop.
Whereas with 50 overs to play in, a team can try to rebuild a partnership after a wicket, or mount a fielding fight-back against a positive batsman to help create more of a contest.
For a real advertisement of the game, look at England’s current campaign in this year’s ODI World Cup. Five games and five tense, nail biting finishes.
Against the Netherlands Ryan ten Doeschate provided the fire-power innings whilst a relatively strong English batting performance followed by a truly class Kevin O’Brien made the Ireland match a must-see.
Clearly these games carried extra excitement due to the “man vs. boy” nature of the teams however this did not apply to the extraordinary tie with India in which two world class teams produced an exceptional game of cricket.
So overall, I feel the game has enough entertainment value in it to remain a legitimate format.
The other reason I feel the format must remain is purely to keep cricket closer to its routes. In my mind test cricket is the most pure and most enjoyable form of the game, however it is in decline. With the introduction of lucrative T20 tournaments such as the IPL, Champions trophy and even the Australian domestic Big Bash now contracting players for a decent earning there is less incentive for younger players to try to reach test standard.
Eoin Morgan is a rare example of a player moving from the shortest to the longest format of the game and many of the experts believe he will remain a rare example.
There is already evidence of players focusing on the big hitting T20 and struggling in the longer form. Craig Kieswetter appeared a revelation for England in last year’s T20 World Cup and he was immediately placed into the 50 over game where he failed to construct an innings.
The worry remains that as younger players try to break into county sides they will focus on big hitting and expansive shots to make a name without learning the basics of creating an innings and working for a century.
To use another Somerset example (apologies for the bias) Jos Buttler produced some fantastic displays of power hitting during the last county season although he appeared to struggle more in the CC. Now he is only 20 years old, and hopefully his test-game will improve with time. However if he chose to, with the structure of cricket as it is, he could easily decide to work as a short format specialist.
With various franchises and foreign domestic competitions inviting overseas players the option will look very tempting to many players which can only harm the future of test cricket.
I’m not trying to over-criticize T20, for it has done a lot to improve the game. As well as attracting new fan bases it has also begun a revolution in the style of cricket played. Eoin Morgan has baffled captains with his ability to hit the ball in any area and now inventive shots are almost expected of players.
Moreover some of the world’s greatest players are realizing that whilst their bodies cannot cope with the rigors of test cricket there are still opportunities to continue in the sport. Shaun Tait has had an injury plagued career, and Brett Lee is still continuing as a fast bowler aged 34 both because they are able to specialize in the shortened game.
The point is that each format is brilliant in its own way, but T20 is rising to such a point that it is becoming a threat to the traditional forms of cricket. In order to ensure a future for test cricket we need to continue correct player development as well as build and maintain the fan base.
So what’s the answer? No-one watches county championship matches, a reasonable crowd will watch one day internationals and the T20s will be packed. One day domestic games in the UK have already taken action by shortening from 50 to 40 overs in an attempt to reduce the lull between power-plays although it’s a matter of conflict whether this has had a particular impact on spectators.
Australia is trying to lead the way; after being the first to introduce fielding restrictions and powerplays, they are now toying with the idea of a spilt-innings game. This idea involves a 20 over innings followed by a 25 over innings with no powerplays but fielding restrictions in place.
Personally it sounds like a glorified T20 match that will do nothing to introduce fans to a longer format game other than the game physically lasting longer than 3 hours. Interestingly the players hate it with 78% of the ACA (Australian Cricketers Association) rejecting the idea when the plans were first released and many are now calling to move to 40 overs like the English and South African domestic leagues play.
Overall it seems like the powers that be just need to work harder with what they already have. The format is crucial to cricket’s overall progression and on paper the concept should work. If crowds aren’t coming in then the publicity of matches and prices of tickets should be an area to investigate and not just the length of the match.