Friday, 11 September 2009

Memo to England: boring one-day cricketers make one-day cricket boring

Sometimes, if you hang on to your unfashionable opinions for long enough, you suddenly find your views are back en vogue. English cricket finds itself in this happy predicament at present. One-Day Internationals? Just not the Real Thing. Not worth bothering too much about - a chance to groom future Test players (regardless of whether they’ve shown any limited overs pedigree domestically), to groom future Test captains (regardless of whether they merit a place in the one-day side) and to take punts on bits and pieces county pros in the hope that they might become the next Ian Botham. England have not had a world class ODI side since 1992, and have only pretended to care out of politeness to the rest of the world.

Now, however, they’ve been joined by a chorus of players and administrators across the globe, all singing the same song. The “primacy of Test match cricket” is paramount, I hear them chanting - a familiar old tune. Ironically, it’s the ECB’s creation of an even shorter form of the game that’s led to this sudden increase in its airtime. Personally, I’ve long been a believer that there’s too much ODI cricket played each year. Bilateral series could be reduced in length, the Champion’s Trophy could easily be scrapped, and the format of the World Cup altered to shorten its duration. But scrap ODIs altogether? That’s surely a bit much. It’s a format that has produced – and continues to produce – great matches and great entertainment for spectators, as well as great financial reward for administrators. The 50-over World Cup is still the single prize that means the most to cricket fans outside England and Australia.

No, it’s not the one-day format that’s so dull, it’s England’s current personnel. The seven-match Natwest Series is indeed a crass piece of scheduling and an anticlimactic way to end a great summer of cricket, but it wouldn’t be quite so mind-numbing if England had a dynamic player or two in their side. None of England’s top six in the last two games has a career strike rate over 80. 40% of England’s overs have been bowled by Collingwood, Wright, Bresnan and Bopara, medium pacers who don’t move the ball a great deal. England haven’t been helped by Lady Luck, it must be said, given that Pietersen, Flintoff and Broad are all out with injury, and the magnificent Marcus Treschothick remains tantalizingly out of reach. Still, they have done themselves no favours by dropping Adil Rashid after the exciting allrounder impressed on debut. Yes, this series was always going to be low key. However, if KP were blazing away as he did at Centurion Park, or Freddie was firing in yorkers, the cricket wouldn’t be half bad. Over in Sri Lanka, Thilan Samaraweera and Sachin Tendulkar have been repelling Shane Bond’s thunderbolts and carefully picking their way out of Dan Vettori’s web, while Lasith Malinga, as his wont, has been uprooting a few stumps.

England’s one-day cricket is only as boring as they choose to make it. They need some more firepower but mostly a change of attitude. They could start by picking Rashid. He can’t score runs in the pavilion, as Geoff Boycott would no doubt remind us, and he can’t take wickets there either.

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