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Less Is More

Sorry I’ve been largely absent for the last week. I’ve had loads of work on, plus I’m in the middle of a rather complicated house move with buyers threatening to walk out and solicitors moving at Gavin Larsen pace.

Needless to say I’m rather stressed out. However, at least I’ve had a break from the somewhat monotonous treadmill of international cricket. The white ball games are coming thick and fast at the moment, and whilst I’m sure they’re great fun for those in attendance, I find myself completely unable to care about the results.

And this is coming from a die hard cricket fan who has devoted almost a decade of his life writing about the England team on this blog. If someone like me is fatigued to the point that they can’t even be bothered to check the score most of the time, I’m not sure who does give a rat’s arse?

I don’t want this to turn into an anti-white ball cricket rant because I actually really enjoy limited overs contests. I always have done. I was brought up on Sunday League cricket at New Road in the 1980s when the likes of Botham, Hick and Moody absolutely murdered most county attacks.

However, back in those days an imperious Hick lofted drive into the stands behind the bowler’s arm used to be special. The sound of leather on willow, and a dejected bowler sheepishly returning to his mark, provided captivating theatre. Sixes might only happen once or twice in an innings. And when they did it was really memorable and a definitive champagne moment.

Back then it was a real challenge to take on the bowling in this way. Bats weren’t nearly as effective so the risk: reward ratio was often in bowler’s favour. You had to time the ball beautifully or you’d be caught on the boundary.

That’s where players like Hick and Moody came into their own. Their timing was awesome plus they had the muscle to carry the ball over the ropes.

Tim Curtis, Worcestershire’s somewhat stodgy but often prolific opener, couldn’t hit a maximum to save his life unless it was a hook / pull and he used the pace of the ball to his advantage.

These days it’s a very different story of course. Even the most diminutive cricketers can mistime the ball and get away with it. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve seen a batsman swing through the line, not really connect properly, but the sheer volume of wood has helped the ball to clear the ropes (particularly if the ropes have been needlessly moved in a few yards). A bowler’s life just isn’t fair anymore.

Although I freely admit that players are fitter and stronger these days, and that they’ve spent a great deal of time developing their range-hitting skills, I can’t help thinking that bat technology has made the modern one-day game a bit one-sided and unfair. I’ve experienced this myself. I couldn’t hit the ball off the square with my old bat, but my new one lets me block the ball to the boundary with good timing. The difference is incredible.

One would’ve thought that cricket’s authorities would respond to this new technology in the same way that golf has adapted to power hitters and new drivers: by lengthening the courses. 500 yard par 4s are now relatively common in majors. However cricket’s governing bodies, in their wisdom, have decided to do the opposite. They’ve decided to make life even easier for big hitters by actually shortening the course (or rather the boundaries).

Although this response seems absolutely crazy, cricket’s administrators honestly believe that the more runs are scored in a day then the better that day has been. The more boundaries are scored, then the more people are entertained – or so the thinking goes.

Cricket’s governing bodies obviously believe that cricket fans (and sports fans in general) are dribbling idiots who only see value in ‘the spectacular’ or ‘the extraordinary’. And even their definition of ‘extraordinary’ is limited to bats bludgeoning balls (rather than fast bowlers destroying batting line-ups).

The problem, of course, is that 50 overs games with scores over 350, and T20s with scores over 180 or 200, are no longer ‘extraordinary’. They’re becoming somewhat mundane and really quite ordinary. What’s the appeal of all these sixes and fours if they’ve become as commonplace as a singles used to be?

When Aaron Finch made a century against England a couple of weeks ago, the crowd hardly applauded fours. There was just a ripple of appreciation. The natural conclusion is that boundaries don’t always excite like they used to. Either that or everyone’s hands were sore by the fifth over.

Boundaries also have less impact today because the ‘jeopardy factor’ has been removed – in other words, batsmen are no longer so afraid to lose their wicket. A team can afford to lose a wicket every two or three overs in T20 and not get bowled out. Obviously wickets are important because they often slow down the run-rate and can shift momentum, but batsmen can generally shoot from the hip without particularly worrying about the consequences of getting out. They’re more worried about scoring rates than wickets.

Once you give batsmen licence to plunder in a largely consequence free environment – and diminish the risk-taking element of batting – the experience becomes somewhat hollow. Bowlers also become cannon-fodder and they’re set up to fail. The decision to use two new balls in ODIs, which has taken reverse swing out of the game, further erodes their effectiveness.

Call me a traditionalist, or a stick-in-the-mud killjoy if you like, but I’ve always thought that the best cricket (by which I mean the most compelling and entertaining cricket) is when there’s a true contest between bat and ball. This balance is absolutely essential. People will eventually get tired of watching bat bully ball. The dynamic needs to shift in order to captivate. There’s no value whatsoever in creating a series of high-scoring affairs which basically mirror each other.

So here’s some food for thought for Colin Graves, Tom Harrison, and all the other people who (mis)manage our wonderful sport. Which game was the best in England’s recent 5-0 series whitewash of Australia? Was it the one where England broke all those records on a Trent Bridge pitch that was tailor-made for carnage? No. Entertaining as it was to witness yet another wind-assisted world record, I much preferred the finale at OId Trafford.

The fifth game was the best because it offered a contrast and some real tension. The bowlers were generally on top, wickets fell, and a fascinating scenario developed in which Jos Buttler had to use all his skill, experience, mental strength, plus his mental agility, to see England over the line.

The big shots were selected carefully in this innings. And when the boundaries came they were little events in themselves rather than part of broader boundary binge. The game also oscillated intriguingly. At one point it looked like England might get bowled out for under a hundred. The fact that Buttler (with a great little innings from Rashid) had to dig in and improvise to secure victory created a really engrossing contest.

Sometimes fewer runs is better. Sometimes less is more. Would the football World Cup be better if every game ended 6-5? The scoring of a goal is the ultimate event in football. If ten of them happened every game then the ecstatic reaction of players and fans would soon become nothing more than a brief ‘hurray’ and a pat on the back.

FIFA might not be a bastion of competence but at least they’re not daft enough to mess with a winning formula. If cricket’s authorities ran football I imagine their first directive would be to cancel the off-side rule. And they’d ruin the sport in the process.

James Morgan

2018-07-10T12:05:06+00:00July 10th, 2018|Talking Points|23 Comments

23 Comments

  1. Gav July 10, 2018 at 12:26 pm - Reply

    tbh I just think it is the volume of international cricket being played that has no meaning. There are zero stakes to this t20 series, it is purely a money generator. Fair enough a t20 world cup with associates is good for the game, but players can develop their t20 skills in domestic competitions, it’s completely irrelevant at international level

  2. PRINCEOFPORUKPINE July 10, 2018 at 12:30 pm - Reply

    It’s always puzzled me that the boundary ropes are pulled in so much. At Trent Bridge for eg. there’s already a short hit to square leg so no need to pull in the rope by 20m at the longest end. I fear it may have something to do with the flame throwers…

    This summer has definitely been front loaded with white ball cricket, I’m so looking forward to the test series.

    T20 was always meant to be a ‘bash’ so if you watch it that’s what you have to expect.

    What is worth looking at England’s ODI 50 over scores in 2018:

    308/5
    274/6
    302/6
    196
    259
    284/8
    225/4
    234
    335
    229
    365
    218/7
    342/8
    481/6
    314/4
    208/9

    Looks like they fail to (or aren’t required to) score over 300 half the time, what are your thoughts on this James?

    • James Morgan July 10, 2018 at 2:19 pm - Reply

      It’s very difficult to tell without going into the individual games (and obviously I can’t remember them given the article above!). However it does show that the team succeed more often than not – but with the odd disaster thrown in. How many of those games were won or lost? I imagine we won most of them.

      • PRINCEOFPORKUPINE July 10, 2018 at 2:44 pm - Reply

        Won 12 / lost 4.

        (People seem to forget we beat Aus (incl. Smith & Warner) 4-1 in January!!)

        One thing I don’t miss about the old ODI games is the lull from 21-39 where numbers 3+4 would kick the ball about at 3 an over hoping to keep wickets in hand for the final 10

        Constant runs (and thus wickets) do keep the spectator in the game for the full 50 overs.

  3. Russ July 10, 2018 at 12:35 pm - Reply

    Well said James. Cricket, to me, is interesting because it is a game of calculated risks. A bat could try and hit every ball for six, but it isn’t the best strategy in the long-run. If the risk of getting out lessens, we see more runs, but the fundamental interest – how risky was the shot, did the gamble succeed – is unchanged, and therefore there is no actual change in the level of excitement. Indeed, if it lessens so much that a bat doesn’t have to take actual risks to score quickly, then the excitement is reduced. Perhaps we are seeing that a bit.

  4. PRINCEOFPORKUPINE July 10, 2018 at 12:35 pm - Reply

    To conclude my ham-fisted analysis, the above scores give an average of 285 runs per innings. Only 10 or so more than Peter Moores’ famed average…

  5. AB July 10, 2018 at 12:41 pm - Reply

    I’m looking forward to the ODI series like a punch in the teeth.

    12 (!) white ball games in a row. Its like the ECB are actively trying to kill off all interest in cricket amongst the British public.

  6. Marc Evans July 10, 2018 at 12:45 pm - Reply

    Agree with you James about featherbed pitches and heavy bats making life easy for batsmen.
    The best of the recent 20-20’s against India was the 2nd and not just because we sneaked a win. The pitch had a tinge of green and gave seamers some pace and spinners some turn. The bowlers of both sides bowled really well and the batsmen were forced to reign in the hitting for accumulation. It was quite a treat to see so many singles and two’s. Less than 300 runs in total but a quality game. We could prepare similar pitches at will in this country but assume the public want to see big scores, which ironically means less close finishes. There’s always more tension for the punter when the bowlers are on top and because there are less boundaries being hit they are appreciated more as they have to be worked for, not presented to.
    Disagree with you about footie’s offside rule. I’d love to see it go, as it would open the game up for more goals, which after all is the primary purpose of the game. Man to man marking is a contest, zonal isn’t.

  7. AB July 10, 2018 at 12:45 pm - Reply

    PS: I’m 100% sure you’re wrong about the bats. Edges have always flown. You must have just had really crappy bats in the past. Players are just better at hitting 6’s these days, they work out and they practice specifically.

    • Marc Evans July 10, 2018 at 11:07 pm - Reply

      I personally used a Gunn and Moore that Ken Barrington had for a season. It weighed 2lbs 6oz and I can assure you bears no comparison in sideways on shape with the woody monsters of today’s stars. I have tried Alan Lamb and Graham Gooch replicas, weighing close to 4lbs and find them unmanagable with the sort of backlift I use. You can understand why Lamb had little backlift and Gooch had his bat aloft before delivery.
      Agree players practice six hitting and work out in the gym, inspired incidentally by baseball. Just look at the size of their hitters nowadays, they all look like bouncers. The problem is you lose the subtleties and variety in pursuit of power. The classic sporting illustration of this is tennis, where both men and women have become base line sluggers, unwilling to play any other way, relying on mistakes rather than winning points by coming to the net and forcing the issue. They have to be super fit to sustain the tedious rallies where for many the serve is merely a way of getting the ball into play. I find even Nadal boring to watch as a result of this.

      • AB July 11, 2018 at 8:31 am - Reply

        I have a couple of old GN bats that I used in the 90s. They are virtually identical to the bat I use now, and hit the ball just as far.

        I agree men’s white ball cricket is a boring slug-fest on the tv. I really don’t enjoy it other than when Notts are playing.

        As a neutral, I much. much prefer watching women’s white ball cricket for that reason (although it would be nice if there were some closer games)

        I’ve never enjoyed watching tennis so can’t really comment.

        • Marc Evans July 11, 2018 at 10:48 am - Reply

          There’s clearly an issue with development of women’s cricket in different parts of the world. Over here and in Australia many of the top women play men’s league cricket. In many countries this is still socially unacceptable, so there are going to be huge discrepancies in standards, as you need to play above your standard to improve and develop strength in depth.
          Recently, the Sky sports freebie channel, ‘Mix’, has shown a deal of the women’s game and I’ve been able to watch some of it, and it’s clearly becoming competitive, most sides seeming to have ex pro’s for coaches, though as you say there seem to be almost no close matches. I fear it may be another one of those women’s sports that reach a certain standard and then seem to get bogged down being compared with the men’s game, where everything is always going to be quicker and slicker at the top level, pretty much whatever the sport.

  8. Nick July 10, 2018 at 12:53 pm - Reply

    I think supporter in the ground like boundaries and like to see big shots. For all the thrill of seeing a bowler swing and seam the ball On TV its difficult to appreciate in the ground unless you are lucky enough to be sat high up with a straight view.

    The problem with the England Australia series wasn’t so much the high scores but the last of a contest, Australia only batted the 50 overs once in the five matches in a ‘batsmen dominated’ series. The Old Trafford game was the best because it was the closest by a distance

    There is of course measures the ICC could relaxing the fielding regulations so there is greater risk is trying to hit 6s, looking to set minimums on boundary length which is difficult but perhaps they could limited the distance in from the field size the rope is and/or they could start changing the ball after 35 Overs again so it goes soft and is harder to hit.

    I think they should wait until after the 2019WC because it unfair to let teams prepare for 4 years then start messing. This is an England bias of course and England have a team set up to bang on roads

  9. Andy Hunter July 10, 2018 at 1:19 pm - Reply

    Really enjoyed this and delighted to know I am not alone in my disdain for modern ODI cricket. Similarly to your experiences growing up I can remember being at the Natwest Final in 1993 when Sussex and Warwickshire both scored over 300 and it went down to the last ball. It was incredible stuff and was even more spectacular because scoring 300 didn’t happen very often.

    I didn’t enjoy or even watch the Australian series which is probably the first time in my life that I have not revelled in a victory over the Australians. I have little interest in 450 playing 400 on a flat, lifeless deck that offers nothing to the bowlers. Batsman like Jason Roy being rewarded with a 6 when it comes of the splice rather than the middle completely negates the battle between bat and ball as you say.

    England have jammed themselves into a corner with Morgan’s obsession with playing on flat decks. I was at Lords last summer when Rabada skittled through the feeble England batting order and the England captain then blamed the pitch. We are in danger of creating one dimensional players who cannot get tough runs on tricky pitches and a year out from the World Cup this is very concerning.

    Perhaps seeing someone like Rohit Sharma who times the ball as well as anyone I can remember might give England the perspective they need this summer. When you compare to England’s current top 3 who try to heave every ball as far as they can watching someone with natural touch and timing will be marvellous. Sadly I think we’re in the minority these days but I live in hope that we can get it right ahead of next summer.

  10. Benny July 10, 2018 at 1:22 pm - Reply

    Yes but …..

    I too loved the Sunday League, not just for Hick, Barry Richards etc but no batsman rested easily against Joel Garner or Andy Roberts.

    However, as Nick says, if you’re in the crowd square of the wicket, you ain’t gonna know if that was a late outswinger or a googly that just beat the bat. So, for an afternoon’s entertainment watching bat v ball, a few sixes are a plus.

    The best, most engrossing cricket is a battle, be it Tests, ODIs or T20. Probably my favourite memory is still Headingley 81, which had everything. The tooth and nail 2005 Ashes is up there too.

  11. HP23 July 10, 2018 at 1:22 pm - Reply

    I like the last comment about the ICC should change the regulations, but not until after the WC2019. It would be just our luck they change the regulations at the one thing we’re starting to get quite good at ! lol

  12. AB July 10, 2018 at 2:02 pm - Reply

    Mostly people seem to be agreeing with what I’ve always argued, in that test cricket is the perfect sport to watch on the tv, T20s are designed to be watch in the ground.

    T20 (and modern ODIs) are great fun to watch live, but they’re actually quite a dull tv product unless you’re a die-hard fan of one of the teams. Unfortunately, cricket administrators don’t seem to understand this basic fact.

    Just because something vaguely works in India (in a country of 1 billion cricket lovers with no previous professional domestic cricket of any note, how could the IPL possibly fail?) does not mean it is the right solution for other parts of the world.

    • Benny July 11, 2018 at 1:18 pm - Reply

      Yep. Mind you, one of the most absorbing elements of being there is the atmosphere – the smell of the grass, the roar of the crowd (and the silence as the bowler runs up), the sense of history, the magnificence of the buildings in the older, top grounds …

  13. Simon H July 10, 2018 at 3:17 pm - Reply

    England’s cunning plan to tempt Kohli into playing Rohit and Pandya in the Test series is going brilliantly!

    Why are England/India playing 3 T20Is and 3 ODIs? They played 1 T20I and 5 ODIs in 2011 and 2014 (didn’t have to look that up…. cough, cough…. ). Why change that formula a year out from the WC which is our supposed priority? It’s another hint that ODIs are destined for the knackers’ yard.

    I found this from Gideon Haigh in 2007 about T20 – “Cricket will make a great deal of money in the short term, for which it has no obvious need and will mostly waste, and will be left a coarser, crueller, crasser game as a result”.

    • James Morgan July 10, 2018 at 3:59 pm - Reply

      That is an awesome quote. Cheers.

  14. Doug M July 10, 2018 at 4:26 pm - Reply

    When T20 first started in 2003 it was played over 3 weeks, it was different and a bit of innocent fun. Now it’s trying to take over the world with meaningless game after meaningless game. Mostly all the same with endless, mostly, slogs into the beer soaked instant gratification crowd. More is rarely better in life. However the Indian batsman actually play proper cricket shots, and our flat track batsman can’t get thier better bowlers away so easily. If the World Cup is not played on roads we haven’t a hope, especially with our poor bowling.

  15. Barry Turner July 10, 2018 at 6:51 pm - Reply

    Well I don’t have Sky and only see a couple of Lancs T20 games so the highlights of England games on Channel5 have been mesmeric watching for me. Never seen hitting like this. Awesome.

  16. James July 11, 2018 at 10:30 am - Reply

    The England v India T20 series was one of the better ones, because it was a proper contest. Great piece by Andy Zaltzman here. http://www.espncricinfo.com/story/_/id/24062296/england-v-india-t20i-series-needed-heck-deserved

    If you want to know the difference between old and modern bats, there’s a picture on Cricinfo (sorry: image won’t post) of the great Barry Richards with his old bat (the one he scored 325 with in a day) and a modern one. The difference is ridiculous.

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