50-over cricket is needed for balance
In years to come will cricket fans remember the 2009 one day series between India and Sri Lanka as the one which revived a flagging format of the game and saved it from an inevitable death?
Well, aside from the fact that the fifth and final game, thankfully a dead rubber, was abandoned thanks to a horrific pitch, it certainly proved a timely reminder of the virtues of 50 over game.
A score in excess of 300 was once considered almost unbeatable but in the post Twenty20 era it has become almost par for the course as side’s unlock the potential of relentless attacking on flat, true pitches. First inning’s totals of 414, 301, and 315, of which two were successfully chased down, followed a trend which has begun to take hold over the last couple of years.
The media, in this country in particular, has jumped at the chance to condemn 50 over matches to the dustbin of history since T20 arrived to provide a genuine alternative. The popular appeal of the 20 over format they argue, effectively makes the traditional ODI obsolete.
The proliferation of 50 over matches during the 90’s and the last decade went a long way towards numbing their attractiveness for the supporter. The introduction of fielding restrictions which led to ‘pinch hitters’ - attacking opening batsmen such as Sanath Jayasuriya and Adam Gilchrist - pushed things forward but it brought with it the dreaded ‘middle overs,’ a mind-numbing state of impasse between the 16th and 40th over’s when batsmen steadily accumulate and bowlers accept being milked for five or six runs an over.
It reached its nadir during the 2007 World Cup in the West Indies where an absurdly bloated schedule and the premature ejection of Pakistan and India at the group stage to produce a monumentally dull tournament.
But India and Sri Lanka have proven in this series that T20 and 50 over matches can co-exist and that the older brother can learn from its rebellious younger sibling.
To start with, both sides attacked the middle over’s with panache. The field might be spread but the bowling is generally less threatening and with the fear that a score of less than 300 could be chased down easily there is less time for gentle accumulation. Teams regularly bludgeoning 400 might be harsh on the bowler’s but it makes for some great viewing.
Keeping 50 over matches is also important from a balance perspective. Everyone involved with cricket, even those responsible, know that too much international cricket takes place; it is one of the biggest concerns within the game. Lose 50 over games and all of a sudden we are left with a void which administrators would probably fill with a great deal more T20 matches and that would bring us back to square one.