Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Musings on World Cup 2019 & How Cricket Has Changed


World Cup 2019 was a cricket tournament I watched earnestly after several years. The intervening years have changed cricket significantly. A generation of cricketers retired. T20 became very big. New rules came in. As much as everything has had their impact on cricket, T20’s effect has been most transformative.

In the early years of 2000, anything from 230 to 250 was considered a good score. Anything above was match winning. I was surprised to see the ease with which teams, in this World Cup, were scoring 300 plus.

Batsmen took more risks, there were more boundaries and over boundaries, fielding seemed to have improved, there were fewer poor deliveries. The margin of error seemed to have shrunk.

The shortest format of the game, where teams get into tight situations more often than its more generous cousins, has also got teams used to handling adversities. In the past, it was rare to see teams batting second win. Now teams seem to negotiate the pressure of chasing better and often come up triumphs. How England chased in the final, moving in and out of the game almost in every alternate over, is a good example of that.

I also saw lot of unconventional shots being played with ease and success. Again, in the final, it was heart-stopping and delightful, at the same time, to see Jose Butler spooning balls, with his bat, over the wicket for boundaries. Most of the shots were played during tight situations when his dismissal would have dealt a mortal blow to England’s Word Cup chances, yet he took the risks, an indication that team leaderships are more welcoming of risks taken even if they lead to setbacks. 

And undoubtedly these are the bequests of T20, allegedly the most vulgar of all forms of the game.
Only one bequest of T20 is not so good. And that is the ICC rule that in case of a tie in a Super Over the team hitting the most number of boundaries would win. This rule has been adopted from T20. After the match, the Kiwi captain said they couldn’t complain because they were signatories to this rule. Great professionalism! They wouldn’t have thought it would come to haunt them in the final match and be the singular reason for their defeat or England’s victory without outscoring them. The more I think of it, in fact, the more life seems unfair.

But the bigger question is not the vagaries of luck, but lack of judgement in adopting a rule from T20 which is not suited to its longer counterpart, ODIs. The 50 over format was derived from Test – and it has the languid characteristics of Test. One offers enough space to both the bowler and batsman. The bowler gets as many as 10 overs to bowl. And if you are a batsman, and you are not comfortable hitting the bowler, you can just play him off and have your colleagues at the other end handle him. T20 does not allow this space. You cannot plan your innings in a similar way.

The bowler can only bowl a few overs in which either he takes wickets or he gets clobbered. T20, which is a derivative of ODI, is not about intrigues but solely thrills and chills. Boundaries are a defining characteristic of T20, but there is a little more to ODIs. Therefore the T20 rule, which takes the number of boundaries as the yardstick to decide the winner in case of a Super Over ending in a tie, is reflective of the personality of T20, a derivative of ODIs, but not ODIs, a derivative of Test. The personality of a format is partly determined by its progenitor and partly by the intent behind creating the format. One days were invented as a shorter version of Test; T20s were invented as shorter versions of one days.

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