Rest in peace, 50-over cricket?

Today’s match, the final of the World Twenty20, was a real cracker; a low-scoring thriller decided in the final over. A fitting finale (if not tribute) to the tournament, some are saying. And I dread to think of India’s reaction to it all. “The greatest day in Indian cricket history!” will be a penned as a headline, somewhere, on a newspaper, website, blog or city wall shortly I’m sure.

But hang on a minute. Is this tournament a viable replacement, as many advocate it should be, to 50-over cricket, a format that has been in place for 45 years? Are we not shortening the games for shortening’s sake?

One-dayers began as 65 overs. Then they were reduced to 60; cut to 50; snipped to 40; bolstered to 45 before levelling off at 50. Until the ECB, panicking at a decline in gate receipts, thought they’d try something new and they cut the whole thing in half again.

Twenty20 appears to have re-energised an ageing format (and game), and so it has. But how long before this too becomes stale and we watch hour-long Ten10 games?

My hunch is that we’re a few years away from Twenty20 becoming the dominant one-day format, but I’m sure it’ll happen. It’s fun, it’s new and different but it’s still one-day cricket and, thus, it sucks rather a lot. As long as they leave Tests well alone; in fact I think Inzamam-ul-Haq wants them extended to six days! Much, much more like it.

Your thoughts please.

No more wickets, lads!

Despite the poor weather, our village team managed to get in a game of Twenty20 last night on a surprisingly true pitch. We were playing a team that we routinely thump. They are evidently enthusiastic scholars of the game, who take an age doing everything in a proper fashion, save for all those vital moments when they actually have to bowl a ball, hit a ball or field a ball, when natural ability lets them down.

But those facets of the game within their control are done to perfection. For example, the scorebook is a sacred text, where each wide, no ball and wicket is lovingly recorded. Every detail is scrutinised at length. The batsmen revel in the pomp and ceremony of taking a guard. The bowlers proclaim loudly that they are moving round the wicket after their third successive wide, re-marking their run-up as though everything is going to plan. There are long discussions in the middle with the new batsman, discussions between overs, even discussions between deliveries; and solemn sermons before, during and after fielding about the need to walk in, attack the ball and back up. In conclusion, they take it extremely seriously, but can’t play for toffee. Most village teams have a player or two like that – they happen to have a glut of them.

Needless to state, with this attitude (arrogance or complacency, take your pick), we were skittled out for 75. They did have a few better bowlers than usual, but given all but one of us was bowled, you can see what kind of shots we played. They then came into bat and their new boys quickly slapped us about to reach 55 for 2 with about eight overs left, at which point it was announced that we had previously miscalculated and the scorebook should have read 77. No great difference to the likely result, but a welcome gesture all the same.

The run rate slowed down, but they still reached 73 with 15 balls left and six wickets in hand. Five to win, four to tie. There was no way we could possibly win from here. Or so we thought. There then followed one of the most bizarre passages of cricket I think I’ve ever witnessed. As I mentioned, we’ve played them a few times, so we know their players fairly well. The two at the crease couldn’t hit a church door with a banjo. The next men in were pretty handy, or at least better, so as long as we kept the ball outside the off stump, where it was in no danger of bowling them out or rapping their pads (their umpires would have given them LBW in a flash!), we still had a chance. Of course, you should never purposefully drop any catches or muff a run out opportunity, although I guess that is down to each cricketer’s individual morality.

“No wickets, lads!” was the cry round the field, as we all crept in to save the single. Dot ball followed dot ball, interrupted by yet another mid-pitch pow-wow by the batsmen, although heaven only knows what they were conspiring. Neither could put bat on ball! In the end, they managed just three runs from the last two and a half overs and we won by a single run. Had the scorebook not been checked, we would have lost by a run.

It was heart-breaking. We didn’t deserve to win and I almost wish we hadn’t, because it surely would have meant more to those two batsmen to have taken their team home, than it did for us to win. You can add ‘patronising’ to my arrogance and complacency, if you like, but that’s how it felt. They hadn’t simply snatched defeat from the jaws of victory – they had stuck two hands down her throat and yanked it from her belly.

Butcher on lead; Ramprakash on vocals

If you haven’t seen it, you’ve not missed out a great deal. But it’s a bit of a laugh anyway. Here are Mark Butcher and Mark Ramprakash in Surrey’s Twenty20 promo video.

Via Nathan Ross on Youtube

Four more runs to go

For those who haven’t heard, Surrey made a world record 496 in 50 overs at the Oval the other day. Of the six Browncap batsmen who took to the crease, none of them managed a strike rate lower than 100, with James Benning smashing 152 off a gluttonous 134 balls at 113.43, while Rikki Clarke thumped a palindromic 82 from 28. Ali Brown, the real star of the show, made 174 from 97. Whilst I am normally loathe to put so many figures in such little space, words don’t quite adequately describe such feats.

The world record has now been broken twice in twelve months, after Sri Lanka punished the Netherlands to the tune of 443 last July. All of the top eight one-day scores have been recorded since 2002. In joint tenth, Somerset’s 413 in 1990 took 10 overs longer than India’s equal score against Bermuda just over a month ago. In fact, the closer you look at the list, the more obvious the increase in scores over time seems. This latest World Cup, furnished as it was with slow, unpredictabe wickets, has not really demonstrated the trend. However, it is inescapable that the five hundred barrier, unthinkable as little as ten years ago, is now a mere boundary beyond our reach.

Is this the result of Twenty20? Maybe the annual encouragement to hit over the top has led to the translation of flamboyance to the other formats. Or maybe it has more to do with television and ECB officials pushing in the ropes to push up the interest in a format of the game that has suddenly started to feel a bit long? Of one thing we can be sure – there aren’t going to be many bowlers in favour of cutting them any shorter.

Mark Waugh takes the long handle to Twenty20

Junior calls it ‘junk food‘. Can’t say that I disagree with him really.

From a purely cricket perspective, I have to wonder why either man would base a competition on Twenty20? It’s entertaining, yes, and the novelty of it might even attract a few new fans to the game for a while. It’s also attractive for many because a game is over in three hours. But it isn’t cricket.

Twenty20′s like junk food. It’s a quick fix and while it might taste good there is no substance to it. The more people see of it, the more they’ll see through it.

It’s like rugby sevens. The players don’t take it too seriously and don’t lose too much sleep if they lose.

Twenty20 is the same – it’s hit and giggle.

Australia v England, Twenty20, Sydney

It’s the hit-and-giggle of the winter season. I can’t imagine for a second England will win it, even with this new bloke Michael Vaughan in the side. In fact, especially with him in the side. Still, it’s always good for a giggle – even if Ricky Ponting refuses to enjoy it, or see the fun side. It’s a game, Ricky…

I think it starts at 8am tomorrow so, if you’re up and interested, post your thoughts here.

Essex finally win a Twenty20 competition

Essex look almost certain to win the Pro40 this year, and as they cruised to victory in the Twenty20 Floodlit Cup yesterday, it was easy to see why. Derbyshire did well to contain the Eagles to a total below 200 after Irani and Pettini made 60 in just under six overs. However, the game dawdled to an end when Phantoms wickets fell to insufficient cost to challenge their target.

Whilst the result was predictable, I had forgotten how much I liked visiting Derbyshire. The former Race Course Ground is some 11,000 seats light of my usual haunt, and its team are often viewed as the minnows of county cricket, but the friendliness found from fan to steward to player gives the place a strong community feel. A Test ground might have a superior square, year of tradition or impressive facilities. But you can’t tell me there is anything purer than watching a game from a chair you’ve had to pull from a stack and place at the boundary yourself.

What has Twenty20 done to D/L?

Another day, another Pro40. Today, though, saw a late season glimpse of Twenty20 batting, after Sky’s televised game from Trent Bridge faced several interruptions. After high winds, lightning and finally an evening drizzle, Warwickshire saw their required total reduced to 124, with some 70 runs to get from just 10.5 overs. Once upon a time, a team would have balked at the sight of a required rate above 6 an over, and the visitors tried their best to suggest this hadn’t changed with the loss of two wickets in as many balls.

These days, however, such recalculations place a strike-rate savvy batting side at an advantage. Whilst I would much rather see a game play on, and wouldn’t know where to start if asked to algebra my way to a better system, Duckworth/Lewis calculations often seem a few runs light on games of significantly reduced length. Nottinghamshire, having rebuilt their innings in their last few overs to place themselves at a competitive total, will feel a little hard done by.

What this result does do is ensure that Nick Knight has played his last domestic one-day game. Having announced his retirement at the end of this season, this final win places Warwickshire safe from relegation. A pity, then, that he lost his wicket for a mere 9 runs, from an ill-advised prod outside off stump.

Same old England…

England and limited overs games don’t seem to be a good mix. I wouldn’t like to take anything away from Pakistan, who played the unfamiliar format extremely well, especially when put in the context of what has happened off the field in the last week. However, anyone who has ever so much as glanced in the direction of a Twenty20 match could tell you that 144 after electing to bat is not enough.

I don’t like to appear jaded, though, so instead of listing what went wrong, I’m going to pick up a couple of positives. After several months of shuffling various opening partners around the ever-present Trescothick, Bell’s promotion to number two seemed one of the more convincing attempts to find two styles that compliment each other. Before Bell misjudged a late cut to Younis Khan in a wide slip, the England innings had looked to be fairly secure. Good to see Trescothick find a bit of form. The only other batting of positive note belonged to Michael Yardy, who did well to provide some impetus in the last over.

In the bowling department, it was nice to see my concerns over introducing Stuart Broad to the big stage too quickly seem to have been unfounded. With confirmation that Harmison is going to miss the entire one day series, he is certain to be given another outing tomorrow. Yardy, too, might also make the mark after contributing well to what was a generally good fielding performance by England.

Oh, and, after losing a tooth in the domestic finals at Trent Bridge, I’m glad Chris Read has decided to wear a helmet when standing up to the stumps. But I’m not sure that counts…

Eng v Pak, Twenty20 – who to pick?

In the last week, with the ongoing ‘Ovalgate’ saga, the big media questions on the one-day series have not been the usual deliberations over selection. Now that it seems that there will definitely be a series, with both sides confident that Pakistan will be competing, the next couple of days may bring a resumption of normal service.

There are certainly some potential headaches for David Graveney and company when it comes down to converting their 16-man squad to an 11-man side. It seems unlikely that Ed Joyce will interrupt the ongoing battle for an Ashes place. But with both Collingwood and Pietersen set to come into the team that lost to Sri Lanka at Headingley, it seems likely that one of the batsmen will have to make way rather than reduce the bowling attack. Jamie Dalrymple will retain his place as Fletcher’s favoured spinning all-rounder, and Chris Read must be looking forward to proving he is the best English ‘keeper in the shortest form of the game.

It is well documented that England’s recent one-day problems lie on a foundation of wayward pace bowling. The inclusion of six pace options, with only Harmison and Mahmood retained, suggests that the selectors are trying to meet this head on. But who to pick? Broad and Gough are certainly popular choices in the media, with impressive Twenty20 pedigree. Who do you think should be on Monday’s team sheet?