Here lies one-day cricket, dead at 32. It is survived by an ageless parent, Test, and a rebellious adolescent sibling, T20.
That, at least, is the received version of what the cricket family is staring at, as we contemplate, not without a certain hollow enthusiasm cooked up by the marketing mavens, the ICC Champions Trophy.
Full disclosure seems pertinent at this point: If I never have to endure another sludge of the "middle overs" that smear almost every inning of every ODI an unmentionable shade of dirty brown, it will be too soon by half.
But this is not about me. It’s about a product that reached its sell-by-date several years ago and is slowly succumbing to mildew on the shelf. Bin it.
Do we? No. Instead, we contemplate fiddling with the packaging. Even sensible people like Sachin Tendulkar, who has suggested splitting ODI innings in two and alternating the batting teams, get snared by this fuzzy logic. Or we implore cricket’s consumers to support the ailing brand as if it was something that deserved our undying loyalty. Last time I looked, we weren’t Labradors.
Right. Now that that’s out of my system, let’s get back to reality.
The problem with holding our noses, while we dump one-day cricket is that too many people in too many countries pay good money to watch it. Don’t ask me why, as the Afrikaaners say, "Dis maar net ’n feit soos ’n koei." Which loses much in translation, "It’s simply just a fact like a cow.”
Proponents of the one-day game have always held up the number of runs a typical match delivers as the format’s irresistible attraction. But some of us aren’t that interested in seeing a river of runs flow unchecked on a pitch of easy virtue.
Actually, the converse is true. One-day games that stick in the memory almost invariably involve batsmen struggling to stay alive against dominant bowlers on sporting surfaces. The odd run glut does capture the imagination, but not nearly firmly enough. Besides, too many of those runs are the product of nerveless nurdling through the graveyard shift.
Tuesday’s Champions Trophy opener between South Africa and Sri Lanka was a case in point. Before rain put paid to proceedings, 525 runs were scored in 87.5 overs.
These included a bristling century by Tillakaratne Dilshan, and attractive half-centuries by Kumar Sangakkara, Mahela Jayawardene, and Graeme Smith. Of them, only Sangakkara scored at slower than a run a ball. Together, the feisty four hit 38 fours and three sixes.
But this reporter will remember not much of all that. Rather, it’s the sight of South Africa’s previously bullish batsmen floundering like fish in molasses in their first encounter with the unfathomable Ajantha Mendis, who had figures of 3/10 during his fourth over and had a catch dropped in his fifth, that will linger.
Now there’s a thought: Why don’t we play one-day cricket on lively pitches and dispense with the regulations that make batsmen bulletproof in the face of even the most hostile bowlers?
Perhaps then we won’t have to endure an unmourned death.
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