More t20 – still “good cricket”?

I have enjoyed watching the Indian Premier League, this spring. Some of the matches I have seen so far have been one-sided, but there is always something going on, and some of the techniques on display are spectacular.

Watching the master classes from the Little Master really demonstrates the benefits of a sound, bascially orthodox approach to batting, even in the shortest form of the game. With not a hint of a slog, Sachin scores as fast as most, and more reliably than almost anyone. A great example to young players.

I have been less convinced by some of the seam bowling I have seen. Slower balls, changes of line and length, variations a-plenty [including wides, full tosses…] – I wonder if the game-plan might benefit from a (slightly) more conservative approach?

Watching the slow bowlers, several of whom have been very successful in this year’s IPL, you do get to appreciate the subtleties of the spinners art. Yes, they vary their pace and bowl their wrong-uns, top spinners, doosras and sliders, but all within a tightly controlled range.

Lots to enjoy, and lots of lessons to learn.

Ball tampering – is it really a crime?

The recent third test between South Africa and England ended in a thrilling draw (for England fans). Another last wicket stand saw England “win the draw”, again.

But during the game, accusations of ball tampering were raised (through the media, not to the match authorities). As the Laws of the Game stand, ball tampering is just about the most serious crime a cricketer can commit on the field of the play.

It has to be stopped, but first it has to be proven.

Duncan Fletcher, in an article in the Guardian, has suggested employing the third umpire to look out for misdemeanours.

That makes a lot of sense.

But only if we continue to see ball doctoring as a crime. Is it really such a bad thing, if ball preparation allows great (and not so great) bowlers to redress the imbalance between bat and ball? To allow the bowlers to remain competitive for the duration of the match, not only when they have a shiny new ball in their hands?

In the same way that Murali was first condemned (still is, unfairly, in some quarters) for achieving something that no-one else could (i.e. for being too good), then ultimately accepted as the master bowler he is, should we encourage innovation in swing and seam bowling?

And if that needs some preparation of the ball, why not?

Why not allow the bowlers a better grip on the ball?

I have written previously about the possibilities of spin-swerve, at pace, as demonstrated by baseball pitchers. I wonder how batsmen would react to a Shane Warne-like ball-of-the-century delivered at brisk medium pace, and faster?

It’s possible, as shown by baseball pitchers. But of course, they are allowed to use their resin bag, to improve their grip on the ball.

So why not allow bowlers to do the same?

OK – one reason why not – a really skillful spinner, with a resin-enhanced grip, might make batting a much harder proposition (not such a bad thing, from this bowler’s perspective), and seriously cut short the time needed to complete a match.

But how often is the final day of a Test match as enthralling as in the current SA v England series? And if you could fit a full Test match into just 4 days, then why not? In most countries, Test match grounds are rarely full on the final (5th) day. So there would perhaps be no real loss of (gate) revenue involved, especially if the first four days of a game can guarantee more action, and bring in larger crowds.

Would the television channels still pay as much for a series of 4 day Tests? If the viewing figures were good (and the improved “product” should help to achieve that), then why not?

So – why not give bowlers the chance to work on the ball?

England Win the Draw!

Yet another last ditch stand sees England save the third Test at Newlands – “England wins the draw”, as it says on the BBC ball-by-ball text commentary.

So is this “good cricket”, or proof that 5-day cricket needs a major overhaul? How can you play for 5 whole days, then celebrate the fact that you haven’t lost?

I guess this is something that you either get, or you don’t. To me, this game highlights everything that makes the game worth watching (or playing).

Two teams going flat out to win, up to the point when that aim is unattainable for one of them, then doing everything within the Laws to save the game. The match has context within the series, the series context with the Test rankings. So it matters that Graham Onions played out the last over from Morne Morkel. To the players, to the fans.

(OK – in the wider scheme of things, does this really matter? Not when compared to famine, world peace, global warming. But a lot more than who wins this year’s X Factor…IMO)

There’s a place for twenty20, but the time game is still the real thing. The League I play in has just introduced limited over matches (50/50) for the 1st XI competitions. The lower XIs can’t play overs, because the match rules are so complicated that you need independent umpires to work out the result! That says everything, I think.

Yes, for the time game (5 days, or Saturday afternoon) to work, you need the players and (especially) captains to adopt a positive approach to the game. If one (or both) sides set out with the idea of not losing, you’ll get a waste of time.

But there’s no need for that attitude. Except in a gross mis-match (which can happen, even in Test cricket), both teams should have a chance to win. A captain with a weaker team will have to work harder, and think harder, but that’s the real joy of the game. It’s not (shouldn’t be) just a case of letting off the big guns, and counting the overs.

The best book on captaincy, and a title that really should be compulsory reading for all captains at Club level, is Eric Rose’s “How to Win at Cricket”. It’s about being brave enough to risk losing a match. About not setting out to steamroll a weaker team (this is really for the Club game, especially in “friendly” matches) but still setting out to get a positive result.

Can legislators force sides to play positively? Possibly, in the professional game, where field placings are mandated and slow over rates penalised. How long until Test sides get fined for slow scoring?

In the Club game, it’s going to be much harder. And I for one don’t think that limited overs necessarily makes for good cricket.