How to revitalise one day internationals

While too much sport may never be enough (mangling the legendary Roy and HG quote), Cricket Australia are pushing it with one day internationals.

From late September 2016 until the conclusion of the NZ leg of the Chappell-Hadlee series, Australia will have played seventeen ODIs: one against Ireland (a warm up game in Benoni), five about South Africa, six against New Zealand (home and away) and five against Pakistan. Compare that to six Tests (against South African and Pakistan) and the upcoming three T20s against Sri Lanka.

Aside from the 5-0 humiliation in South Africa, Australia have won seven from 10 (leading New Zealand 3-1 with one washout and beating Pakistan 4-1).

While that’s fine for Aussie fans, does anyone really care?

The Test summer had a lot of character. Australia were beaten heavily in Perth and Hobart, had a morale-boosting day-night win in Adelaide and beat Pakistan in Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney. After the Hobart belting, Australia found success with Peter Handscomb and Matt Renshaw (despite the absurd criticism against him), David Warner blazed in Melbourne and Sydney, and Nathan Lyon and Mickey Edwards became cult heroes (Lyon through the niceness of his garyness and Edwards through his lovely hair) and Brisbane hosted its first day-nighter. Pakistan – being Pakistan – were unpredictable but entertaining. They nearly pulled off a miracle in Brisbane, threw away a certain draw in Melbourne and were overwhelmed in Sydney. South Africa deserve credit for winning despite no Dale Steyn or AB De Villiers.

As for the one dayers, are they going to be remembered as fondly?  I doubt it. Pakistan’s win in Melbourne was the only time Australia were challenged in eight ODIs at home. The more exciting Big Bash walked all over the ODIs, with over a million fans attending BBL06 overall and Channel Ten doing a marvellous job.

So what’s the problem with one day cricket?

After forty-odd years, it’s become boring and stale.

Sure, the last World Cup was fantastic, but outside of big events, does anyone care?

Cricket Australia’s treatment of domestic cricket is a big clue; the Matodor Cup has been compressed into a one-month tournament in October. This summer’s competition started on AFL and NRL Grand Final weekend. It’s a far cry from the days when Nine would telecast the old Mercantile Mutual Cup (which aligned with the Shield season) on Saturdays and Sundays. The Matador Cup games are shovelled onto GEM and forgotten about.

With an ignored domestic comp and frequent “who cares” contests, one day cricket will slowly fade away. Some might say this is a good thing, as Test cricket and Twenty20 can coexist (how good was it to watch a Test match during the day and a Big Bash game a few hours later?), but there are ways to save it.

Nominate bowlers for extra overs: this was tried in the domestic competition a few years back, but it could be brought back. Before the toss, one bowler is nominated to bowl a maximum 20 overs. This could change the at times robotic ODI tactics. Is a game petering out in the middle overs? Give your nominated bowler (usually the best bowler or the one most suited to the conditions) a few overs to shake things up. With plenty of overs up their sleeve, captains can use their bowler in short spells when needed. During multi-game bilateral series or tri/quad series’, the nominated bowler would rotate every game; say Mitchell Starc bowls 20 overs at the WACA, its Josh Hazlewood’s turn in Melbourne. It may make teams think about when they rest players. This would eliminate the need for the dreaded “fifth bowler”, usually a batsman who bowls military mediums or flat, defensive off-breaks to eat up the overs without any real danger of taking wickets.

Employ a mercy rule: One of the worst things about one day cricket is the inevitability of it all. Say Australia scores 350 batting first, then reduces Pakistan to four for not many. The game is virtually over. While this happens in Tests and T20s, Tests go long enough for teams to recover from a bad start and one-sided T20 innings are over quicker than most blockbuster movies. What if there was a mercy rule? If the chasing team’s required run rate is in double figures or they have less than five wickets left by the 40th over, call the game off. With so much cricket nowadays, I’m sure the players would appreciate finishing an hour or so earlier. More time to celebrate the win/commiserate the loss, get a good night’s sleep and prepare for the next game. With most ODIs finishing fairly late, a mercy rule would give families more time to get home or – for single fans or big groups – more time to kick on after the game. While it may inconvenience broadcasters, think of what Channel Nine could do with the extra airtime? (on second thought, best to change the channel).

Batting substitutions: If a bowler can be removed from the attack when bowling badly, why not batsmen? If a team is chasing a big target and one of their batsmen can’t hit the boundary, the captain can substitute him for a more suitable batsmen. This could introduce some interesting tactics. If a captain wants to use a late-order hitter in the final 10 overs, he could forcibly retire an existing batsman for the hitter, without risking a wicket (which is precious in the later overs). The substitution wouldn’t be permanent, as the earlier batsman can come back if the big hitter gets out. This rule would need to be capped (say two subs a game) to stop some captains exploiting it though.

Have more games with associate nations: Arguably the best games of the 2015 World Cup involved the “minnow”associate teams. Ireland chased 300 against the West Indies, Scotland gave New Zealand a hell of a scare, Zimbabwe beat UAE in a high-scoring game, Sri Lanka were pushed hard by Afghanistan, then Afghanistan beat Scotland by one wicket, and everybody remembers Bermuda’s Dwayne Leverock and that catch.

 Rather then snooze through another Australian walkover, wouldn’t it be better to watch these developing nations play each other? Even games between minnows and the elite teams would carry a curiosity value, at least for a little while.  Of course, this would never happen, as there’s more money in another plodding seven game series between Australia and India. The ICC’s decision to limit the 2019 World Cup to 10 teams is horribly short-sighted, ignoring what made the 2015 version work.

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