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.


Kartikeya said...

The latest Cricket product.... well... good luck to them i guess.

Jonathan said...

Peter English seems to think CA really want to bring this in for ODIs, but I'm still not convinced.

And yes, Kartikeya, that pretty much sums it up, but at the same time, it's where any potential additions to the Australian WC team will be learning their one day cricket for the next season!

David Barry said...

Peter English seems to think CA really want to bring this in for ODIs, but I'm still not convinced.

What aren't you convinced about? That's been CA's stated aim since the start - they want to have Australia batting under lights in every home ODI. Even, apparently, if it means the openers usually only bat in the afternoon.

Jonathan said...

Perhaps it's not a good idewa to try to get inside the mind of CA, but I don't see this going through that quickly, or helping anyone in the long run. I would have thought they just feel they need to be doing something now.

Anonymous said...

It's a big change and very few seem to like it, but CA - in all their wisdom (?) - seem determined. I guess we can but watch and wait.