Sitting in the MA Noble Stand on Sunday night, watching India’s valiant attempt to chase down Australia’s 389, I mused whether One Day International cricket – like India following Virat Kohli’s dismissal – had lost its way.
Is more really better than less? Does watching a team smash 338 runs in 50 overs – and still fall 50 runs short – really nourish the cricketing soul?
Sure, some of the strokes played by the batsman, on both sides, were sublime. Indeed, some of the shots were the best I had seen since… the equally majestic swipe in the previous over, or, perhaps from the last ball.
It made me wonder whether it really was possible to have too much of a good thing.
Part of me – a large part, I’ll be bound – yearns for days or yore when a lower scoring, ebb and flow, one-dayer captured my imagination for weeks. Where seeing a batsman penetrate the infield and scamper up and down the pitch for a tremulous triple was thrilling.
Where seeing the ball reach the boundary for the first time in several overs eased the inexorable build of tension. Where a batting team could lose early wickets and, with dogged determination and exhilarating enterprise, fight their way back into the contest, only to stumble in the final over.
Two of the greatest ODIs I can remember, involving Australia, were tight tussles played out in the cauldron of a World Cup semi-final.
First there was Mohali in ’96 where, twice in the match, the Aussies had no chance of winning. At 4 for 15 – and with Curtly Ambrose on the rampage – Australia could easily have been skittled for double figures. Yet they managed to fight back and post a score of 207.
That should not have been enough and, with the Windies at 2 for 165, and with over eight overs to go, it clearly wasn’t. Yet, Shane Warne, Glen McGrath and Damien Fleming combined to provoke an extraordinary collapse and a 5-run win.
I remember listening to the final stages on the radio in the dark before dawn; my pulse racing when I should have been sleeping. It was gripping and the outcome was unexpected. What a match!
Then there was Edgbaston in ’99; the famous tie against the South Africans which propelled Australia to the Final at Lord’s.
Again, Australian hopes seemed dashed at 4 for 68 in the first innings and, again, at 6 for 168. Though the Aussies fought hard to post 213, it seemed insufficient.
When the Saffers reached 48 without loss, they appeared to have a solid platform. But then Warnie struck thrice and the South Africans seemed out of the contest at 3 for 53 and then 4 for 61.
Yet the Proteas’ hopes rose and they looked headed for an unlikely victory at 4 for 145, before another glut of wickets saw them tumble to 9 for 198. Heading into the final over, with Lance Klusener on strike and Alan Donald backing up at the bowlers end; South Africa needed just nine to win.
Australia probably had the edge; that is until Klusener pummelled the first two balls from Fleming to the extra cover boundary. Scores tied and four balls remaining! Surely, now, it was South African’s match. The blood draining from Fleming’s ashen face certainly communicated as much.
Yet the third ball of that epic last over almost saw Darren Lehman narrowly miss running out Donald at the bowler’s end. Surely that was the Aussies’ last chance.
Incredibly, however, Klusener evidently decided that he was going to run no matter where the next ball was hit. Problem was he didn’t tell Donald. The sight of Klusener running past the bowlers’ end stumps, and onwards towards the dressing room, while Fleming rolled the ball down the wicket to run out a faltering Allan Donald is one of the iconic images of Australian sport.
This time I saw the whole match live on TV. Klusener enjoyed a better chance of going back in time and trying again than I did of getting any sleep that morning!
In these clashes, every run was valuable. Every time the ball bobbled into the gap between gulley and cover-point; every time a batsman ran a second on an outfielder’s throw; and every time a well-struck ball evaded the desperate hand of a sprawling fielder to reach the fence.
By contrast, in the recent ODIs at the SCG, every boundary – not matter how well hit – was just another of many.
In this day and age – as the 50-over game tries to finds its place between the traditions of Test match cricket and the popularity of T20s – I advocate a return to playing conditions which allowed a more even contest between bat and ball.
There’s certainly a place for flat pitches and sustained hitting at eight (or more) an over. If you want to see that, there’s plenty of matches available in T20 internationals and countless franchise tournaments around the cricketing world.
In ODIs, however, where there is more time in each innings for gripping ebb and grappling flow, why can’t we give the bowlers a chance and the spectators something to get truly excited about? Why not have us on the edge of our seats, rather than pondering on games past as yet another six sails into the stands?