The ongoing ICC Champions Trophy was promoted as the possible saviour of the One Day International format. A good, exciting tournament, said the pundits, would ensure that the format survived another day. Test cricket is as healthy as it could be, and T20's popularity hits new highs every 3 months (Cue the Champions League next month).
Most often, the ODI's most criticised quality is the fact that the so called 'middle overs' are boring. Not enough happens when the field is spread, TV viewers run their errands and make coffee or bath their children, to return near the end of the innings when the bigger shots come into prominence. So say many different critics.
Various solutions have been put forward. Sachin Tendulkar says the format should be split into 4 quarters of 25 overs each, ensuring that the conditions and pitch are shared and experienced in equal doses by opposing teams. Some prominent ex-players and administrators have called for the format to be scrapped completely, so that more T20 cricket can be pasted into the calendar.
As a Protea supporter who has had nothing to do since Graeme Smith was dismissed late on Sunday night against England, I have a few suggestions of my own, and will shortly be contacting the ICC to suggest them.
Powerplays : The first 10 overs, pretty standard. We currently have an additional bowling powerplay and a batting powerplay. 9 times out of 10, the bowling powerplay is taken by the fielding captain for overs 11-15. More often that not, the batting powerplay is taken some time between overs 42 and 50. Its all fairly predictable most of the time. It leaves us with the 'dead' period in between where batsmen pick off singles waiting for the next powerplay (or so say the critics). We could simply make all 50 overs a powerplay I guess. It may not conform to too many people's definition of a good contest but I can assure you it will be entertaining.
My recommendation on Powerplays is that they become cast in stone, and that Powerplays are enforced rather than taken.
Powerplay 1 - Overs 1-12 (12 overs)
Powerplay 2 - Overs 36 -45 (10 overs)
So I am effectively advocating for an extra 2 overs of powerplay cricket, which is hardly profound. But here's the catch : With wickets in hand, and assuming the batting team has some momentum - overs 46-50 will be equally explosive. If momentum is gained during the final powerplay, batters will hardly go back into their shells and start picking off singles again. Sub-Conscious powerplays we will call them.
"Oi, how many runs did England manage to add in the SCP ? I had to pop down the store for some milk?"
This leaves us with a 'dead' period in overs 13-35. It is during this 23 over period where the game can potentially put punters to sleep. However, with this writer's next suggestion that too can be avoided. All cricket fans have long watched as gangly number 11's strode to the crease to face the oppositions premier wicket taker, and we have all felt sorry for the batsman at one stage or another. Glen McGrath or Courtney Walsh padded up and striding to the crease were always a fantastic sight for whoever had the ball in their hand at the top of their run up because it was almost certain that they would routinely add another wicket to their figures for the day. Good bowlers have always had to potentially be ready to bat when their teams have needed them. But never have good top order batsmen been forced to bowl while specialist batsmen from the opposing team were making merry. Until now that is.
In ODI dreamland where my format is used, between powerplays 1 and 2 as outlined above, the opposing captain shall be forced to use a minimum of 10 different bowlers during overs 13-35. This effectively means that everyone bar the keeper needs to get through at least 1 over of 6 legitimate balls. Who can possibly suggest that Matthew Hayden bowling his gentle medium pace to Tendulkar in his prime would not have been entertaining? And that with a powerplay due shortly ? It can only add to the entertainment value.
By suggesting new powerplays and enforced use of non-specialist bowlers, everything here has been slanted the way of the batting side. Until now. Because the fielding captain will have potentially been forced to use approximately 5 below par bowlers, we need now to add an arrow to his depleted quiver. How about letting him choose 3 bowlers in his team to bowl a maximum of 12 overs, and not the standard 10 ?
Now you as the fielding captain have some sort of ace up your sleeve. 2 more overs from each of your top 3 bowlers could translate into 2 or 3 wickets for the fielding captain. Does the fielding captain use these overs in a powerplay ? Does he use them during the 'dead' overs ? Or does he use them during the SCP ? This is about as close as my bright idea will come to maintaining an even balance between bat and ball.
"An arguement against my proposed format would be around selection. Will selection policies change to suit only batsmen that can bowl well ? The answer to that is a simple 'No!'. Specialist bowlers are currently being picked knowing full well they may have to bat at some stage. They are picked for their ability to bowl. Specialist bowlers do sometimes go for 15-20 runs in a single over of ODI cricket. In a similar vein, specialist batsmen will still be picked for their ability to make runs with the bat, the fact that they may concede runs in their solitary over applies to both teams and as a result the playing fields are level for both teams. I could argue that with my format, not a single selection change to any of the teams that have completed ICC Champion's Trophy matches should or would have been changed at all. What I can guarantee is that the matches would have been more exciting"
The ODI is dead, long live the ODI !!!