Not seventh heaven!

Cricket

CHANGING TIMES: The future of the 50-over game depends on innovation and smartness, not just on financial motives.The last time Australia played India in a bilateral seven-match one-day series, Ricky Ponting’s men came out victors 4-2 over Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s boys. Ask Stuart Clark, who played the first three matches, about the outcome of the series, and there is every chance that the paceman will fail the test.

“I think the last time we played here, we won 5-1 or 5-2, I don’t remember,” he said, speaking ahead of the seven-match series beginning in Vadodara on Sunday. But it’s unlikely that the bowler will be as unsure if you ask him about the last few Ashes series or for that matter Test series against India.

To think that Clark has made only sporadic appearances since the India series – 11 one-dayers in just over two years, to be precise – and still has very few memories of the tour is perhaps an indicator of how much the sanctity of one-dayers has been eroded.  
Even before he stepped on the Indian shores for the biennial series, Aussie skipper Ponting called for a points system to breathe some life into long-drawn contests of this kind which otherwise can become ‘meaningless’ once the outcome is decided. Upon his arrival in India, Ponting reiterated his views. “My feeling is that if we are interested in keeping the 50-over game as a great spectacle and keep people around the world interested in watching and players interested in playing it, then there must be a points system riding on it, which means every game will have some amount of meaning and people would have something to watch for,” he pointed out.

For some time now, the future of one-day cricket has come under intense scrutiny and various people have come out with various suggestions to reinvent the game or in other words win back the spectators who have embraced the thrill-a-minute T20 format with open arms. In this scenario, the last thing the 50-over game needs is tournaments or series which serve little purpose.

Sandwiched between Australia’s series against England and India, the compact format of the Champions Trophy in South Africa was like a whiff of fresh air and drove home the point that 50-over cricket still has its place in international cricket. The presence of only the cream of international cricket ensured that the event didn’t degenerate into another extended, dull affair. But coming close on the back of the Champions Trophy, this one-off series, Ponting fears, might just slip into a similar situation like they faced in England after wrapping up the series 4-0.

Best ever

Not surprisingly Ponting, who declared the Champions Trophy in South Africa the best ever he has played in, called for fewer matches in a series. “I think five games are enough to play head to head in any series, but we all know the reasons why we play seven-game series,” he remarked. Even South African skipper Graeme Smith had recently doubted about the utility of having a seven-match series between Australia and England.

“With the greatest respect, the seven ODIs taking place in England at the moment are more for financial benefit than meaningful cricket,” he had said.

Ponting placed some amount of onus on the players, especially the batsmen, to make the 50-over game more interesting. But with little incentive to take unnecessary risks, the Aussie great mooted a bonus points system which will encourage the batsmen to be more adventurous.

“The most boring game in one-day cricket is when the team batting first is bowled out for around 180 and the team batting second goes out and takes no risks whatsoever and picks off the runs in 40-45 overs. That is a boring game but if you had a points system, then if the side batting second had a chance to score the runs in 30 overs and pick up a bonus point to move up the table, it will be good for the game,” he reasoned.

Call it mismanagement, lack of farsightedness or insatiable greed on the part of the powers that be, but just in its second edition, the relevance of this high-profile series has been questioned in open, at least by the Australians. There might be many in the Indian camp as well willing to back Ponting, but are holding themselves back from expressing their opinion for obvious reasons.

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