Cricket: Game of limited value: Derek Pringle says one-day cricket has had a lasting effect on true quality

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The Independent Online
THERE is no doubt that as the popularity of Test cricket wanes, one-day cricket bankrolls the international game. But like the Colombian drug cartels not a million miles from here, it has created a product that has proved addictive to pushers (the administrators of the game) and public alike, and has threatened to bankrupt the game of its traditional skills.

By feeding the habit, the cricket authorities are placing greater physical demands on players who also no longer seem to know or care whether a snick will bring them death, as it does with a slip cordon in place in a Test, or glory, as it invariably does in a one-dayer.

If Test cricket is to survive, both financially and as a vehicle for different skills, it needs the one-day game, but only in moderation. The way it has proliferated in the last 10 years, particularly outside England, has been tolerated as a necessary evil - hit and giggle is the phrase David Gower uses.

When I started playing first-class cricket, the one-day game was well established. Perhaps as a child of the new discipline, I found one-day games enjoyable, though I suspect for all the wrong reasons. Apart from the large and vocal crowds - which certainly were appealing after a windy four-day match at Derby - my style of batting and bowling were well suited to its restrictive parameters and there were several occasions that I ended up being picked for Test matches on the back of one-day performances.

But it is only when you become a regular spectator that you can see just how sterile and stereotyped this type of cricket has become. No matter how free you try to keep the mind for the more complex attacking tactics needed in the longer game, the negativity loaded into the modern player by one-day cricket pops up whatever the circumstance.

Captains set defensive fields at the drop of a cap while bowlers, instead of trying to move the ball and attack, are simply content to bowl to their field. When England had the West Indies struggling at 23 for 3 in the first Test at Sabina Park, they allowed Brian Lara and Keith Arthurton to settle. Instead of roughing up the new batsmen, like Courtney Walsh did, and accepting the possibility of giving runs away, the bowlers opted to wait for the batsmen to make mistakes. It didn't happen, and Atherton and his bowlers missed a vital chance to exploit a rare passage of West Indian weakness. With more adventure, England might have taken a one-nil lead.

This is a direct consequence of too much one-day cricket, which encourages players to bowl within themselves and to experiment only as a last resort. As most English county bowlers know only too well, the current motto, irrespective of the type of match, is: 'Restrict and ye shall be praised.'

Batting, too, has suffered. No one sets out to bat for the first two days of a Test match - always the best way to dominate the game if the toss is won on a fair pitch. During the first Test in Perth back in 1982, Chris Tavare batted the whole of the first day, ending some way short of his century. He was pilloried by press and spectator alike, and yet he had played the Test game to perfection.

But if such dour obduracy flies in the face of the short attention span of the modern spectator, bad habits engendered by the scoring demands of one-day cricket should be roundly criticised. The constant need to manoeuvre the ball into gaps has bred a generation of batsmen who find it natural to open the face of the bat and who rarely move their feet as much as they ought. There are players who adjust their styles accordingly. Javed Miandad, for instance, squares up to the ball in the 50-over games, as if playing French cricket. This enables him to squirt the ball away both sides of the wicket. In a Test, however, everything changes. The full face of the bat is shown and as the time frame increases, so does his patience, as he waits for the right ball.

Javed's method has evolved from more than 20 years in the sport and his ability to succeed in two very different forms of the game make him a rare animal indeed. It can be difficult, particularly for players not sure of their places, to switch successfully their modus operandi between Tests and one-dayers when an itinerary jumbles the two together.

Unfortunately, the fixture list for this tour of the West Indies - and more critically for England's visit to Australia next winter - has maximum hindrance value. Down Under, for instance, between 25 November and 7 February, England find themselves switching back and forth from Test to World series at least four times in an itinerary that has about as much cohesion for both players and public as your average episode of Twin Peaks.

But as an act of one-day overkill, it pales in comparison with the proposed format for the next World Cup to be held in India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka in 1995. Out of a total of 37 matches, 30 will be played in order to winkle out four teams from 12 for the final shake-up. Such blatant attempts at filling the coffers cannot have the players' interests at heart.

As Desmond Haynes, who plays his 238th one-day international today, says: 'I don't get nervous in these games like I do in Test matches. They are the ultimate, and the yardstick you will finally be judged by. I just relax in one-dayers and am happy if it turns out to be my day. If I fail, I don't worry. I know there will be another one along soon.'