If World Cup 2011 was considered to be the litmus test for the 50 over format of cricket, it has certainly passed the test with flying colours. At least for some time now, the raging debate over the format's redundancy seems to have taken a back seat. Yes, India's participation till the end and the eventual victory had a huge role to play in its success, although it would be unfair to overlook the other factors which worked in the format's favour. And it may also be worth to have a closer look at the areas in which the format needs to reinvent itself to continue thriving in the age where people are hard-pressed for time, and a game of cricket lasting seven long hours may be just too much to endure. While it is easier to gloat in the glory, it's only wise to understand the demands of the time and change accordingly. And let's not forget T20 is breathing down its neck all the time.
Here're a look at few positives that emerged from the World Cup 2011 and a few suggestions with regards to the improvement and improvisation for the future.
It wouldn't be fair to say that batting power-play is perhaps the best thing that happened to 50 overs cricket in recent times. While it was meant to be a boon for batsmen and a nail in the bowlers' coffin, it worked in the exact opposite manner. Bowlers had a field day, while the batsmen were found wanting, both with the regards to their approach and mindset. Ever wondered what is it about the batting power-play which made it ever so interesting? The reason of its success is that it ensured an enticing dual between the best bowlers and the best batsmen. Since the batting team chose to take the power-play, the batsmen in the middle felt obliged to go after the bowling, only soon to realise that it isn't that easy to score ten-an-over against the best bowlers in the opposition. Is there a message hidden in this realisation?
While batting power-plays changed the course of the match in a dramatic fashion, it was rather surprising to see that none of the fielding sides realized and used their bowling power-play judiciously. Most teams took the bowling power-play immediately after the completion of the first mandatory power-play of ten overs. While the reason behind that decision is obviously to give one enough time to pull back things in case the opposition goes berserk by maximizing the field restrictions. But isn't it worth taking a punt and using the bowling power-play to put the opposition under pressure with your best bowlers operating? After all there's no difference between the batting power-play and the bowling power-play with regards to the field restrictions.
It may not be a bad idea to introduce a rule which would allow using the bowling power-play only after the 20th over and finish the batting power-play before the 45th over. The middle muddle of a 50 over match is the most boring and predictable phase and this innovation would take care of that.
Contest between the bat and ball
The real reason behind 50 overs cricket becoming popular was that it was a compressed version of Test cricket. You could see all the ingredients of a Test match in one day and also get a result by the end of it. In Test cricket, bowlers always plot and plan a dismissal, which in turn makes for interesting viewing. It would be boring if bowlers go on a defensive and wait for the batsmen to commit mistakes. Unfortunately, that is the trend becoming rampant in 50 overs cricket, and in fact marring its essential spirit too. At least 10 out of 50 overs are bowled by bowlers who are neither equipped nor inclined to take wickets-the so called part-time bowlers. Their tribe is happy to give away easy singles as long as boundaries are dried up and taking wickets is the last thing on their mind. Batsmen, on the other end, are also happy to play at their 70% and accumulate runs. While it works for both the teams, it makes for boring and dull cricket. The best contest is when the best bowlers are testing the batsmen and every mistake results in losing a wicket. Wouldn't it be wise to increase the quota of overs from 10 to 12 overs every bowler so that the frontline bowlers take care of 50 overs amongst themselves.
If this World Cup is anything to go by, it is established that we don’t need 300+ scores to make an interesting game. In fact, most exciting matches in the tournament weren't the high-scoring games but evenly contested matches. The matches played on tracks in which there was something in it for the bowlers resulted in an absorbing contest. Chasing 260 on a turning pitch is far more exciting than chasing 350 on a flat track. We need an equal participation of batsmen and bowlers in a game of cricket and an even wicket provides just that. In order to compete with the growing popularity of T20 cricket, 50 over cricket seems to be forgetting its innate nature and become an extended version of T20 cricket. The organizers believed that if you dish out a lot of sixes and fours, the crowd is going to love it, for that's the core of T20 cricket. But that is certainly a misplaced notion, for if the crowd needs just 6s and 4s they would rather see a T20 game which finishes in 3 hours instead of for those taxing 7 hours.
50 over format is alive and kicking at the moment, but in today's fast changing world, it won't take long for the interest to die down. Hence it's important to build on this euphoria and give the audience an improved version of the same format. It's better to change when the tide is in your favour, for it's not always easy to come up with goods when the odds are stacked heavily against you.