Thursday, 28 October 2010

Australian T20

I had plans to go to the first List A level T20 of the Australian summer, but they were discarded in light of the weather forecast and the fact that I haven't quite shaken the flu that kept me in bed for nearly 5 days, not to mention my intended companions' plans, reactions to the weather, and our general views on getting home from Rooty Hill after 10 on a Wednesday night.

As it turned out, the cracking thunderstorm was gone hours before, and it was traffic that held up the start of Blacktown Olympic Park's introduction to big time cricket. Once Sri Lanka had made it west1, we hear that Jayawardene took the attack apart, rain interrupted the Blues innings, and they fell well short. While it was hardly the full strength team that provides half the players for Sunday's international, I think it's fair to say NSW would have expected a better result, last night, and as they started the second portion of their innings against Tasmania last week.

On the topic of full strength teams, it's worth noting that Test and ODI players are not available for the Big Bash at all, so for all the chatter, Michael Clarke really should be looking for an IPL opportunity if being the T20 captain and having the appropriate experience is at all important to him. Either CA leave him free to focus on other things, or he should be ready to go to whoever will have him.

But as we see in the news today, the Big Bash with its state teams and clashes with the international schedule is set to be short-lived. At first I had really trouble trying to see why this had popped up in the news today, asking myself what part of it we hadn't already heard.

An 8-team league is the plan, and while one report mentions second teams in Melbourne and Sydney, most stick with the old line that the last two locations are yet to be determined, allowing continued speculation about Geelong, Newcastle, Canberra, the Gold Coast, etc. The only development seems to be in the financing and ownership - my understanding of earlier reports was that CA would hold off on private ownership for a limited time, getting things going with (at least) 6 of the franchises in the hands of the state associations. The only change now seems to be that some associations would welcome investment and offers of some sort have been made. It might be sooner than expected, but I think that's where it was headed the whole time.

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Split interest?

The banana-benders are taking on the islanders today in the first match of the Ryobi One-Day Cup, playing a new format of day-long cricket. The idea seems to have been to give a boost to the flagging interested in the version of the game now apparently caught neither here nor there between Tests and Twenty20. A lot has been made of not knowing what to expect, but in my opinion, there's not a huge amount truly new, even apart from the fact that there had already been some split innings experiments in England.

When it was first announced with words like "two innings", a lot of people quickly thought of a game which was basically back-to-back T20s, a concept supported by several big names as capitalising on factors associated with the emergence of the short format. Of course, the convenience of a 3 hour game is lost (would double T20 be better or worse over two nights?), and the international nature of the IPL and the glitz/glamour/gimmicks associated with T20 worldwide do not rely on the format at all, but the high scoring rates are also said to be an attraction. High scoring comes from the higher pace of the game in general when squashing a whole innings into twenty overs changes the balance of risks facing the batsman, and also from decisions to encourage big hitting with smaller boundaries and other incentives. I appreciate the excitement of the former despite my preference for the traditional less hurried game, but am not really keen on the latter at all. There's nothing inappropriate about a fast-paced T20 match on the full MCG oval, or an unpredictable Kotla pitch which favours the bowlers.

Cricket Australia's new format doesn't reduce the value of a wicket quite so much – a team's innings still needs to be built over an (interrupted) 45 overs. Some of the rules, such as an extra bouncer per over, give more tools back to the bowlers, although favouring pace over spin. The separate balls from each end will probably be welcomed by batsmen as well, and while what the periods which are effectively powerplays (fixed at 5 overs at the start of each segment) come to five overs less than in current ODI rules, the restriction to four (rather than five) players in the outfield for the rest of the match could lead more attacking bowling and batting.

In any case, the most obvious change isn't to the relationship between bat and ball, but to the order of the game, trying to spread the interest out by letting both teams get 20 overs in before either has the chance to finish their innings. This means more insight into where things stand for both players and spectators, more interest for those who turn up only for the second half and more even conditions for the two teams, but there's more to it than that - the team in front at the main break gets something like “first innings points”. While you need to build for a full innings, your first segment counts for something in itself. If you're going to give points other than for simply win/loss/draw, I'd have to say this makes more sense than the stupid bonus points currently favoured by the ICC. It's new, but not quite unfamiliar to anyone used to two-innings competitions.

So there is a small way in which the innings is more than just split/interrupted, and there should be a bit more batting to cope with it too. I wonder whether the most significant change might be to the makeup of the teams. 12-player teams are old news in this competition, but bowlers are also allowed to bowl 12 overs each, more than a quarter of the number required all up. This might mean higher quality bowling, but the restriction was never there to restrict the bowlers so much as to ensure reasonably traditional team make-up. Now, a team can choose to play 8 batsmen (assuming the keeper is included as a batsman), all of whom won't need to bowl except as a back-up in unusual circumstances. If part-timers come into plan A at all, the tail is even further reduced. This isn't the place for a slow-scorer at the top of the order. (It also makes D/L more likely to be a bit weird.)

It will be interesting to see how it goes. That, I think, is the point. I'm not sure how much F50 cricket in general is dying, or how much CA want to use this format to revive it, but it is always struggling to keep interest in the domestic cup, and they might be quite happy to rely on novelty for a year or even two, whatever the long term plans are.