Cricket’s turned a corner with its latest format involving 20 overs a side and skimpy cheerleaders. While opinions are divided about whether its the saving grace or the death knell for the game, its generally accepted that its likely to have a permanent impact.
The timeline of development of the game over time could be divided into 3 phases:
Phase I – Need for results
The accidental format played to compensate for a test match lost to rain as a way to kill time turned out to be quite an entertainer and addressed a few of the downsides of test match cricket.
- Five days – 15 sessions – 30 hours of cricket
- Preponderance of draws making the game look less competitive than it was
- Emphasis on individual records than team results
Phase II – Packer, floodlit cricket and the tube
It took a while for the limited overs version to emerge from the shadow of real ‘test-match’ cricket. Games were still played in the template of tests with the result of most games being an after-thought. It took a businessman to take giant strides to unlock the potential of the game and make some key developments.
- Tournaments involving more than 2 countries making results more significant
- Coloured clothing and white balls, even for teams from the subcontinent (pardon the weak pun) made games more viewable for television since video cameras, in those days, weren’t good enough to track the red ball
Phase III – Handcuff the bowler
Even the instant version of the game suffered from the drawback of being about twice as long as that most yawn-inducing of sports called baseball. To compensate for the lull periods, a 30-yard circle was drawn, field restrictions were introduced and anything shaving leg-stump was deemed to be a wide.
Recent modifications have added 5 more overs of merry hitting albeit in 3 installments to total 20 overs
But, in spite of all those changes, 100 overs of cricket means periods of consolidation and the price of an entire day for those at the ground.
This format is pretty much 50-50 cricket, with the 20-40 over stages of each innings carved out. Hence, the biggest positive, for viewers, is the duration that’s comparable to a bollywood flick (75 mins/innings + 10 min changeover)
However, in its current format, it suffers from the same ills of predictability, though at a more frenetic pace. Going by past record, the game will have keep getting shortened to eliminate every shot that is not aimed at clearing the boundary.
The problem (that applies to all limited-over formats)
The bowler has been reduced to a non-entity barring the odd burst and fielding captains have nothing to do but damage-control. Every rule and development in the game is heavily loaded in favour of the batsmen, right from the power plays to the bats that clear the boundary even off thick edges, not to mention the rock hard flat pitches.
Make it an actual contest between bat and ball and not just between 2 batting line-ups. While any measure to curtail batsmen would be as daft as what has been done to bowlers, they could be made to actually earn their runs.
- Eliminate the french cut : Is there a more frustrating sight than to see a bowler do everything right to beat the batsman only to find the ball take the edge (inside or outside) and run away to the boundary? Sure, it was fun when the batsman was Utthappa and the bowler was Anderson, but it does not make sense to penalize the bowler for beating the bat! The area between fine leg and thirdman should be a ‘No run’ zone. This won’t eliminate too many actual shots, maybe a few dinky reverse sweeps
- Scoring zones decided by the fielding captain : Certain areas in the field could be deemed to offer bonus runs for 5 over periods. This would mean the fielding captain would look at his bowlers and decide where would it be most difficult for a batsman to hit it? e.g The area between deep extra cover and long off could be the zone for a 5-over period and the batsman could get 1.5 times the runs for every boundary hit through there (so no mistimed agricultural hoicks but actual middle of the bat shots)
- Rolling substitutions : Allow batsmen to be replaced if the batting captain feels he has a better batsman for a particular kind of bowler. This means, that both captains have the opportunity to pit their best against those of the opposition.
All said it will take more than just reducing the duration of the game to make it as viewable as most other sports.