After previously suggesting on The Roar that T20 cricket has hit its older brother – 50-over cricket – out of the ground and down the street, my thoughts aligned with plenty of other people that the recently concluded World Cup might be the last one ever staged.
Boy, was that wrong!
The World Cup hosted by India over the past six weeks has demonstrated that there’s life in the old ODI dog yet. What a tournament!
That said, 50-over cricket still needs to be differentiated from its younger brother. The longer white-ball game will lose its relevance if it’s little more than an extended version of the 20-over format.
This may be viewing the past through rose-tinted glasses, particularly given that “rose-tinted” would well describe the colour of the uniform worn by the West Indians during the WSC years when my first abiding love for the game was developed.
The best 50-over games are where the team batting first does well, in the prevailing conditions, to score between 220 and 270. And the team batting second, in similar conditions, is facing a daunting task to score between 4.5 and 5.5 runs per over to win the match, particularly as wickets begin to fall.
Think about it. Every time the ball bobbles through the infield is a cause for celebration. Somersaulting turns for a risky third run are heart-stopping. Boundaries are rare but well earned. Doesn’t that kind of limited over cricket nourish the soul more than seeing yet another six fly into the crowd; the best hit you’ve ever seen since the one two balls ago?
So how do we create these conditions and differentiate the “traditional” 50-over game from the T20 juggernaut?
Number one, create some kind of oversight which ensures that pitches have some life in them. It may not be possible, but it would be a welcome step forward.
Number two, amend the fielding restriction rules to mandate that there must be a least one fielder in the slips cordon for the entire 50 overs. No more nurdles down to third man when the ball is not there to hit. No more booming cover drives, safe in the knowledge that you won’t get caught in the slips if you edge it. Skilled, and inventive, batters will still thrive. But let’s mandate a higher level of risk.
Number three – and this is the one where you really need to pay attention – mandate that 50-over cricket is played with a pink ball! Yes, you read that right. Let’s render just one of the limited-overs formats the pink-ball game.
The pink ball traditionally moves more than the white ball, particularly under lights. It’s the ideal way to make 50-over matches more like Test cricket and to carve out its own unique space in the limited overs realm of the future.
Now, the one-day-cricket traditionalists may bleat that we can’t possibly do that because the 50-over game has always been played with a white ball. Think again ODI fuddy-duddies! The first three ODI World Cups were played in white clothing with a red ball. It wasn’t until Australia hosted the World Cup in 1992 – almost a full 15 years after the Packer revolution – that we first saw World Cup cricket in coloured clothing with a white ball.
If we can change once, we can change again.
As the recent World Cup has demonstrated, 50-over cricket still has its place, particularly when there’s some context to the contest. But let’s take some genuine steps to render that space unique.