Flintoff's men vulnerable to rise of the one-day robots
Tuesday 28 March 2006
Andrew Flintoff, the England captain, will have mixed emotions about the direction in which one-day cricket is moving as he prepares for the seven-match series against India, which starts this morning in Delhi. The batsman in him will revel in the volume of runs being scored but, as a bowler, which Flintoff predominantly is, he will be cursing those who have caused his breed to seek false beards, sunglasses and caps before leaving grounds in order to avoid being recognised.
Bowlers are prepared to accept that runs and entertainment go hand in hand in one-day cricket. For games to be exciting the ball needs to find the boundary at regular intervals, and this is why good pitches, fielding restrictions and the strict calling of wides is vital.
The fear is that the domination of bat over ball will reach a stage where a bowling machine may as well be placed by the side of the stumps and programmed to pitch the ball on a hittable length. This was highlighted by the recent game between South Africa and Australia at The Wanderers Ground in Johannesburg when 872 runs were scored.
There have been 215 scores of 300 or more in one-day cricket. Five of these were in the 1970s, 16 in the 1980s, 77 in the 1990s and 116 since April 2000. The ever-increasing volume of limited-over cricket being played obviously affects these statistics, but five of the highest 10 scores in one-day cricket have been posted in the last 12 months.
"I think the South Africa-Australia game was a one-off," said Flintoff, after arriving back in India following three days' paternity leave. "But scores are increasing and sides now go out believing that they can chase down totals of 300-plus. I think the introduction of Twenty20 cricket has shown sides that they can score far more than 220 or 240, which they used to settle for. Two hundred and eighty has now become a par score, so big totals are a trend we are going to see more and more of."
If England are to become serious contenders for the 2007 World Cup they will need to be able to chase down targets in excess of 280, a challenge at which they rarely succeed. Australia, predictably, have passed 300 on the most occasions, 41, but they are closely followed by Pakistan, 38, and India, 34. South Africa, 26, are fourth and England, 14, are joint seventh with Sri Lanka.
The positioning of the teams in world rankings almost mirrors this order and it highlights how much England's batsmen need to improve. Playing in the sub-continent over the next 19 days offers them the ideal place to start. The pitches are flat and the outfields fast. But how many times will England reach Flintoff's par score?
They face an Indian side today which is missing batsman Sachin Tendulkar, who could be sidelined for up to three months after having keyhole surgery on his shoulder at a London hospital yesterday.
* Neil Williams, the former Middlesex seamer, died yesterday at the age of 43. The West Indian-born paceman played a single Test for England against India in 1990.
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