Matthew Hayden's Ashes Summer: This series is far too long – but cricket needs 50-over game

From the man at the heart of Australia's most successful Test side
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The Independent Online

There are increasing calls for changing 50-over cricket. Some people want to reduce the number of overs, others want to change the overs – the great Sachin Tendulkar has advocated dividing each side's innings into two lots of 25 overs – and there are other theories about power plays, boundaries, fielding restrictions, some entering the realms of the fanciful.

They will tinker at their peril. Fifty-over cricket should be left as it is. With great respect to Sachin, I cannot agree with him.

I think the last thing cricket needs is another format of the game. The thing about one-day cricket, the thing I have always struggled with the most, is the criticism which still exists about the middle overs of the game.

But that's where your main skill sets get shown: containment, ability to be able to play spin, fitness levels, mental stamina, all elements of the one-day game. And then you can time your run-in with the power play as well. If you do break it up, it will make the game even longer because there will be intervals. It is worth considering but there are bigger fish to fry. It's time for a consolidation of the cricketing calendar.

Certainly, if you want batsmen to dominate the game then break it down, split the game up. But we have already got Twenty20 cricket. What I want to see in a 50-over game are the nuances of those middle overs. Granted, they can be painfully slow and, granted, in a 50-over game you can be on the end of a shellacking and you have to grind out the last few overs, but in any sport you get a bad day at the office.

If, however, you want to see the skill sets of cricketers tested you need to leave the game alone and let them go about their business. It's not about moving with the times – we've got Twenty20 cricket, of which I am a major advocate. It's key that we have the three formats of the game and I'm certainly not sure that tinkering round with it is the way forward.

Having said all of which, it's ridiculous that England and Australia are engaged in a seven-match one-day series. It is not what this summer needed or deserved. But two caveats.

It's fine for us to walk around and run down these one-dayers because, ultimately, there are so many of them and we're on the road and see them every day. Well, tell that to these spectators who are filling grounds. It is their only day at the cricket, so that must be borne in mind.

And say that it's too many to Ravi Bopara, who's trying to get back into form, or to Adil Rashid, the young all-rounder, desperately trying to get back into England's side regularly. You can learn a lot and you have to keep this in perspective. Playing one-day cricket for your country is a wonderful experience. You get great crowds, there is always a good vibe, it's a very skilful game.

But it means a lot more if there is less of it and, especially on the back of an iconic Test series like the Ashes, five is the premium number.

Ponting did the right thing to avoid burnout

I am disappointed for the game about Ricky Ponting's retirement from Twenty20 cricket. If I was to pay money to watch any one person it would be Ricky and only about four others. He's in the top five.

What motivates Ponting is his love for his country and the unselfish use of the skills he brings to his cricket team. There is a burnout factor. At various stages of your career you do go through the motions. When I came back from India in 2005 I had pneumonia and pleurisy and I didn't even know it. I had this tremendous pain in my ribs. I finally got dropped. It can go so quickly.

The fact that Ponting is captain as well makes his workload almost frightening: he is a very busy man. Politicians at home have often reflected on the view that the most important man in Australian culture is the Australian cricket captain. They realise the expectations and pressure and the weight carried through the love of the Baggy Green and of our cricket. I support Ricky in his decision 100 per cent. He has done the right thing for both the team and himself.

'Big Four' can take Test game to next level

The 2009 Ashes series didn't reach the heights of 2005 but it had one unexpected effect. I'm getting a lot of questions about Australia being fourth in the Test rankings, the lowest they have ever been.

The fact is that you have four sides that are really very close, something we haven't experienced in the last decade. You have had one side that was so dominant – Australia – it made everyone else look like schoolboys.

The closer the sides become it escalates the changes in the rankings position. I have never been convinced about them. Even when I was the No 1 batsman in both forms of the game I was always sceptical.

But the present position will make for some deeply interesting and beautiful cricket in Test matches among the Big Four in the coming years. As long as those four nations stay strong – India, Australia, South Africa and England are emerging as superpowers from a talent point of view – we will see some terrific cricket. They will all have to deal with Sri Lanka, however, the No 1 one-day side. Watch them go in the Champions Trophy.