The announcement of the Aus-Ban 3 ODI series, right after the World Cup points to all that is wrong with cricket administration, especially viewed against the backdrop of the thrilling Ind-Eng ODI.
That the Aus-Ban ODI series is meaningless needs no reiteration. But to think ODI is on its death-bed needs revaluation. The series itself undermines the world cup. After all, what function does the new ODI series claim to do, coming at the wake of the tournament to find out the best ODI side in the world?
It is not the format that is dead. While it is capable of producing thrilling games once in a while, the fact that most of the other games are boring because they often form the bulk of un-necessary seven game series, most of which are played by un-interested teams with major players “rested” in front of bored audiences. The best days of ODI cricket, in the 90s, were when each game had a significance. There were mostly 3 ODI bilateral series or interesting triangular series scheduled. Without doubt, if the Ind-Eng WC game were one among 7 in a bilateral series, one of the teams would have given up halfway through the second innings. The game got so close, was that despite being out of it, India showed some fight in the end, and despite the chase looking to be a lost cause, England came out trying to win it. In a 7 match series, there is always the next game, and in a world where the next ODI series played by the national team is probably a week after the current one, a loss does not matter to the fan or the players.
There is a tamil saying which tells that “Consumed in excess, even the best food will turn into poison”. Over-consumption is the bane of the ODI.The road ahead for the ICC is to restrict ODI games in bilateral series, so that each game has its importance. What such an restriction will entail is that the revenue model for cricket has to be changed. IPL has led the way in showing what the revenue model should be. Restricting “international” cricket, to probably four or three bilateral series per team in a year, with each series being 2-3 tests and 3 ODIs, will not only free up the stars for more franchisee T20 cricket which could be the revenue stream for cricket but make the series itself more meaningful, and hence more competitive. The bilateral series, will have more implications in rankings, should infuse some extra patriotic fervour among the fans and open up new underlying rivalries, about franchisee team-mates taking on each other. (imagine a world T20 league, administered by the ICC, played all year round) (On that topic, Eng, Aus and SA could as well come up with one such league to compete with the IPL. Obviously BCCI will ban the Indian player from that. But it will be an interesting tussle that will be played out).
It is all but a dream. Come May, India will travel to England and play out 7 ODI’s with uninterested players and spectators.
The Ind-Eng game, despite being a thrilling tie, was a disappointment for Indian fans. A team, billed as the hot favourites, has had its bowling exposed. Obviously, all of us thought that we could hide our weak bowling line up underneath the heavy duty presence of our strong batting. England showed that no matter what, the weak bowling cannot be hidden. The strong batting itself is partially to blame. Such a line-up demands that belters be prepared, which in turn means that opposition batters can hit the hide out of our hapless bowling.
Now that Yuvraj is back in some sort of form, team selection is also going to be important. Yousuf Pathan’s role in the team is under most question. Clearly, he is in as the hitter. Clearly, Dhoni does not value his bowling much. Which means that YP’s role while batting first would be only meaningful, if India loses its 4th or 5th wicket during the 40-41st over. While chasing, it might allow the top order to bat a little more calmly, but then the pressure is squarely on the man. YP is evidently not a cushion against top-order collapse. He is not that good a batsman to even provide that cushion. If India wanted such a cushion, then Raina was the better choice. So, going into the future games, we should hedge our bets on the strong, and now “in-form” top -middle order to fire, so that we can drop Pathan and get in a bowler. If I were the selector, I would get Ashish Nehra (unfortunately, we have to select the best amongst the worst) and Ashwin (in for Chawla, who in the England game bowled either too short or too full and was milked for runs). Dropping Pathan for a bowler is the more balanced side, in which we have distributed our risks equally. For far too long, we have had extra insurance against a top-order collapse. For a top-order which claims to be the best in business, it should be a shame to even demand that extra insurance by compromising the already weak bowling line-up.
If only the younger Pathan was not injured and in some respectable form.