International one-day cricket is about to become a whole different ball-game. Perhaps it should have been spotted before, but it is too late now and, starting on Friday, the consequences will become clear.
Under new regulations, experimented with for the first time in England's opening practice match on Saturday, each innings of an ODI will have two new white balls, to be used alternately at either end. This may make the game more diversified than the International Cricket Council, ever ready to overhaul the limited-overs format, bargained for.
Different cricket balls behave differently. Nobody knows why but 'twas ever thus. One ball swings, another might be as straight as plumb line. It happened during England's match against Hyderabad Cricket Association XI, which they won by 56 runs.
As the tourists' all-rounder Ravi Bopara revealed yesterday: "We had one ball that was swinging and one ball that wasn't. That made a difference. I came back at the other end from the one I started and tried to bowl exactly the same. It had been swinging a little bit and keeping quite low a lot but when I came from the pavilion end it seemed like a totally different game. It seemed that the pitch was really flat and difficult to bowl on."
This invites all manner of fascinating possibilities for the new playing conditions. Batsmen may be chancing their arm against one ball, desperately trying to survive against the other. It could influence the five-over powerplays, which are also to be governed by new rules. Both the batting and bowling powerplays – when the number of fielders allowed outside the 30-yard circle is restricted to three – must be taken between the 16th and 40th overs. Batsmen may decide they need three of their five overs against a ball that is moving little, bowlers work out that three of their five should be with the ball that is swinging.
The ICC may have missed a trick in promoting the unfamiliar regulation. One of the great comic propaganda songs was Hitler Has Only Got One Ball. This could be varied to "One-dayers have got two balls".
Bopara, who made an assured 73 to ensure that England had a reasonable total of 219 to defend after falling to 47 for four, said: "The balls stayed a lot harder. You notice it more when you're bowling. When I was batting I forgot about the two new balls, I just thought we were playing with one ball. But when you're bowling it certainly makes a difference. I came off and thought I was seeing it well, and that's probably why, two new balls."
England needed to bowl well to defend their total of 219 and did so. Steve Finn took a hat-trick to finish off the Hyderabad CA's innings for 163.
The tourists' second and final warm-up match is tomorrow in the Ranjiv Gandhi Stadium. They will probably select the trio who missed out on Saturday, Tim Bresnan, Stuart Meaker and Scott Borthwick, as well as Craig Kieswetter, who has returned from Champions League duty with Somerset. But with the need to cement their favoured XI for Friday, that is by no means certain.Reuse content