Nostalgia maybe a dangerous and unreliable mistress but that doesn't mean some things really weren't better in the past. One-day internationals for instance.
From 2000 the ECB
decided that the one-day international series should follow the
first Test series of the summer rather than precede it as
previously. In doing so they brought to an end those joyously
irreverent and irrelevant three match series sponsored by Texaco
which heralded the start of the international season. Irrelevant
but from the fan's perspective, not pointless. On the contrary
they gave you the chance to get your head around new fielding
regulations, your eyes around new TV graphics and and your
tongue around Sri
surnames. They were the appetite-whetters, the sneaky 11.30
sausage roll before the main lunch. By the time the Tests
arrived you were properly hungry.
Aside from giving England's fringe players a chance to press their Test claims - an opportunity seized this week with uncommon relish by Josh Buttler - they were also a low pressure start for the visiting teams, most
still contending with chilled fingers and frozen footwork. From
2000 all this changed and opponents were thrust into the frays
of cricket's most demanding format when pitches were still the
colour of a dollar bill. Objectively, the results have not been
pretty. In the 37 Tests played in the May-early June slot,
England won 26 and lost 2 with their last defeat being in 2006
(by contrast in high summer they won 29 and lost 16 of 59
Tests). There have been few good contests. You can point to the
quality of opposition - Zimbabwe (2), Bangladesh (2), New Zealand (3), West
Indies (3), Sri
Lanka (3) and
Pakistan (1) - but that doesn't change the point, in fact it
reinforces it. These matches were afterthoughts or in the case
of the opposition no thought or real respect at all.
Much is made of the legitimacy of home team pitch preparation,
but if you schedule a Test for mid-May you know what you are
likely to get - Headingley
in the 80's. I remember watching the Bangladesh openers shuffle
out in long sleeved sweaters with collars raised and wondering
why the selectors didn't give Jimmy Anderson and Steven Finn a
bit more time off and just bring back Steve Watkin and Neil Mallender. Aside
from giving Anderson the chance to get that average below 30 (an
increasingly desperate quest), it served little objective purpose.
So bravo ECB,
even if a two match series is not ideal this season's
international schedule is still the best from a cricketing
perspective for some time. Anderson and Broad versus Sangakkara and
Jayawardene in mid-June on a fair pitch should provide for a
terrific contest, every bit as good, if not as commercially
profitable, as the India series that follows.
Of course when I speak of a return to the days of the Texaco
Trophy, the similarities really start and finish with scheduling.
Back then coloured clothes, white balls and black sightscreens were
still something strictly antipodean, whilst Duckworth and Lewis were
just the solicitors down the road.
More importantly, you could write the playing conditions on the
back of a beer mat. Today you need an instruction manual and a
calculator, or an app. Back then captains' minds were focused
solely on field placing and bowling changes, there were no
power-plays or such like to worry about. But does this matter?
No, of course it doesn't, not if the product is better as a
result. But here is where my problem lies. It is palpably worse.
One-day cricket is like nature: the more you try to manipulate
it, the more it resists and mutates. I'm no free market
libertarian but forty odd years of regulation has proved only
one thing, it is not the answer. In particular the obsession
with the "problem overs" between 15 and 40, has never come close
to being solved. A better question was why it needed solving in
the first place.
In fact the problem has already been solved. You get rid of
them, because that is effectively what T20 is, one-day games
without the "boring bit". I'm not a fan of the format, but like
Test cricket it is an honest product. The ingredients are
written in big letters on the front of the package - if you
don't like it, don't buy it. One-day internationals are no
longer honest. They would have you believe they are the cool
kid's elder brother: same smile, better car. The problem is that
car is a Prius
and, even if they are wrong, people don't think a Prius is cool. So
what to do?
The answer is to stop trying to be cool and start being serious.
Once again to go forward we need to look back. Growing up the Natwest Trophy
was my favourite format. For one simple reason, I could go down
to Old Trafford
and watch an
entire game of proper cricket in one day. Even then, with long
school holidays, I didn't have time to go to an entire
Championship match but the Natwest was the next best
thing. Batsmen played themselves in, seamers bowled to more
than one slip, sweepers were optional. It was never formulaic
I'm not suggesting a revival of the format, but of it's spirit.
For example the 60 overs that encompassed a Natwest innings (the first
World Cup was actually 65 a side) is not only too long, for the
players in particular, but unnecessary. Test match scoring rates
have increased almost as much as over rates have fallen. 50
overs would be plenty. The 60 over competition also had minimal
fielding restrictions: 4 men inside the circle, a maximum of six
on the leg side. I would remove every single non Test match
playing condition bar one - leg side wides, but even these could
be granted a more liberal interpretation than we currently see.
By doing so creativity and original thinking would be encouraged
rather than stifled. In essence it could do for the mental side
of Test cricket what T20 has done for the physical.
We already see such creativity from captains like Michael Clarke
and MS Dhoni. Without
the shackles of the playing conditions, the possiblities are
endless. Undoubtedly the first few games would draw out some
anomalies as teams grapple with this new found freedom but so
what? Nine, ten fielders on the boundary? Maybe, but six twos
is still twelve an over. Eight on the leg side? Don't get your
I ask you, what would Shane Warne have come up with given such