One-day cricket like you’ve seen it before

Imagine Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal going head-to-head for a big prize in a new format of the game. Whoever wins the toss can choose to serve first, or receive – but then they must have all their serves together. 300 serves with one point at stake for each one. Then, the other guy gets his 300 serves. What a ripper! What a great idea. Not.

Yet that’s exactly what one-day cricket does. It’s an absolute mystery that people have watched it for this long. There was nothing better, apart from Test cricket, of course, but now that T20 has presented itself as a far better option than watching for seven and a half hours in the hope of seeing a close finish having had no more than a hunch who was winning for the majority of the time you were there.

One-day cricket, by the way, is the only sport in the world – team or individual –  where the audience has no idea of who is ahead for most of the match. Even in downhill skiing, which is ostensibly one person against the clock, there are split times shown on giant screens at various points of the course, and on television, comparing the skier on the course with those who have been before. You always know who is winning.

Some of the greatest brains in the game have failed to arrest the decline in popularity of one-day cricket, both internationally and domestically. There have been flirtations and dabbling with playing conditions, some of which have been very good and some just plain stupid (substitutes). But did the ICC’s Cricket Committee really slap each other on the back and say “that’ll get the crowds flooding back” when they introduced the batting power-play?

Now, however, there is a new format for Unions and Boards to consider, and it is so good – and simple – that it ranks amongst the invention of the wheel in cricketing terms. It was created by a man who most certainly does not rank amongst the greatest brains in cricket – perhaps that is why it is so successful. Richard Wood is a South African actuary who took a completely dispassionate view of the game and looked at it as only ‘numbers men’ can. There was no outdated, emotive rubbish to consider about what you ‘can’ and ‘can’t’ do during an innings or bowling spell.

So here it is, in a nutshell, using a 50-over match as the example (although the format fits 40-over matches just as easily. Team ‘A’ bats its first 10 overs and then team ‘B’ bats its first 10 overs. The teams then ‘change’ roles so that team ‘B’ bats its overs from 11-20 (effectively just carrying on and batting a 20-over section.) Team ‘A’ then bats its overs 11-20 and then 21-30 (another 20-over stint). Team ‘B’ then bats 21-30 followed by 31-40. Team ‘A’ then bats 31-40 followed by 41-50. Team ’B’ finishes the match by batting the final 10 overs, 41-50. So there would a total of five changeovers per match.

The match then becomes a genuine ‘race’ played in similar conditions for both teams. Two substitute fielders are permitted at the beginning and end of each change-over to allow the not out batsmen pad up or unpad and, of course, they may be used to keep wicket if required.

Each 10-over section of the innings thus becomes a standalone head-to-head with a bonus point at stake for whichever team ‘wins’ that section. And with teams able to keep an eye of their opponents’ progress throughout the match, and pace themselves accordingly, the likelihood of a close finish increases dramatically. Bonus points may be structured in such a way as to become significant in even a short bilateral series (10 points for a win and five bonus points available) although they would be more likely to play a meaningful role in a league situation. It certainly takes care of the ‘dead overs’ in the middle of the innings which have become such a problem.

Duckworth/Lewis would be left unemployed because a ‘comparative score’ would be constantly available and there would be many fewer washouts – especially of the most frustrating kind when one team bats all of their 50 overs only for the elements to wipe out the second innings.

Wood has presented his concept to CSA, the ECB and, most recently, the MCC International Cricket Committee which is chaired by Tony Lewis and comprises some of the most formidable names of the contemporary era – Steve Waugh, Shaun Pollock, Rahul Dravid, Martin Crowe, Andy Flower, Mike Gatting, Michael Atherton and Barry Richards amongst them. They loved it. So much so that they have arranged two trial matches at Radlett Cricket Club, north of London, between MCC Universities and MCC Young Cricketers on September 6th and 7th.

If successful the concept could spread very quickly. Cricket Australia chief executive, James Sutherland, is a huge fan and has already thrown his support behind trials in his country.

Just when you thought it was finally safe to stay away from the ODI forever, it may soon be time to think again.

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