A plan to fix the one-day format
THE one-day international can be an entertaining form of the game and deserves as much attention as Test cricket in an attempt to preserve the format.
In their haste to cash in on the Twenty20 phenomenon, cricket administrators have inadvertently harmed the 50-over game.
The common fan complaint about ODIs is: "The middle overs are boring."
This is the result of too many restrictions that lead to some unimaginative captaincy and fans who witness the frenetic nature of T20s and then compare it with the elongated version of the limited overs game.
There has been much talk about putting "more context" into both the Test and ODI games. I'm all for fewer matches and more context but I'd go further than just adding meaning to ODIs.
The Champions Trophy is the perfect vehicle to rehabilitate the ODI and in the process, help strengthen the World Cup's status as the elite limited overs event.
The Champions Trophy could be held every two years and this would be at the expense of the many meaningless ODIs that are played purely to fill the coffers and gaps in the schedule. The cricket world could be split into regions and the qualifying matches then played in each of those areas to capitalise on the tribal instincts of fans and the natural rivalries in the game.
In order to strengthen the competition some of the associate teams could be merged to provide a decent challenge to the stronger nations.
Combined teams (not including the major cricket countries) from North America, Europe, Africa and parts of Asia could be quite competitive and by playing regularly against strong opposition their overall standard would improve.
Once the quarter-final stage is reached, the tournament would then revert to a global rather than regional event and only the strongest teams would compete for the trophy.
This would mean the ODI is then shown in its best light rather than, as has happened in the past, showcasing the enormous gap between the haves and the have nots in world cricket.
This should help in the globalisation process and also have the side effect of improving the competitiveness of the World Cup.
However, purely putting context into ODIs isn't going to have much effect if the actual game isn't strengthened. This means fewer restrictions, hopefully leading to more imagination in the style of cricket played.
The middle overs of the ODI game are often tedious because the fielding captain is happy to concede a run a ball and the batting side is overjoyed to accept such a magnanimous offering. This period of play is as exciting as watching two boxers prance around the ring without throwing a punch in anger.
The game of cricket is at its best when the contest between bat and ball is heightened. This generally occurs when the pitch provides some encouragement to bowlers and the captains of both sides display some imagination.
To encourage captains to think more aggressively, the better bowlers should be allowed to operate for longer spells. If five bowlers had to complete half the 50 overs, then a couple of the better bowlers on the day could be extended past the current ten-over limit. Theoretically, if better bowlers are allowed extra overs, then the captain will be more aggressive with his field placings.
Rather than employing the different field restrictions that currently apply and virtually dictate the captain's tactics, I'd incentivise wicket-taking. A bonus points system could apply for taking wickets and hopefully this, along with using better bowlers more often, would result in increased imagination in the captaincy.
In order to further even up the contest between bat and ball, the full boundaries should be reintroduced at all grounds. Cricket grounds are for players to perform on, they are not areas to be littered with amplifiers, advertising hoardings and rocket launchers for fireworks.
If a bowler induces a mis-hit he's entitled to have the ball remain in the field of play and then the outcome is dependant on the field placement and the player clinging to the catch.
By making the game - not just the batting - more attacking, it could lead to a different approach to selection and the way players hone their skills. Anything which encourages young bowlers to seek more pace or swing, or spin the ball harder, has to be good for the game. Medium-fast bowlers banging the ball in short of a length in order to contain batsmen isn't conducive to an exciting contest between bat and ball.
The ODI was in trouble once it was deemed a batsman's game - the pitches became flatter and the tactics veered more towards containment.
Cricket, in any form, should be a contest between bat and ball and when it's not, it becomes a mundane statistical exercise.