Secret ingredient needed to spice up 50-over game

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The Independent Online

Among the hot topics of the summer is the future of 50-over cricket. In some quarters indeed, wherein reside the deepest thinkers of how the game should evolve, it is the hottest topic.

The trouble with the 50-over format is that it has become predictable. No less a figure than Sachin Tendulkar said the other day that the outcome of 75 per cent of matches is known at the toss. Tendulkar has played in 425 of them – only Sanath Jayasuriya has appeared in more – and scored 16,684 runs, 3,682 more than anybody else, so he might have a teensy-weensy idea of what is going on out there.

Tendulkar's preferred amendment is that the total of 100 overs allocated should be divided into four so that team A has 25 overs, team B has 25, team A finishes off and is followed by team B. He rightly thinks this would go some way to negating the advantage of the toss in day-night matches, which are now the majority.

But it would add a further complication to a game that is supposed to be straightforward. It would not be a two innings match but a one innings match divided by two. Batsmen would not know whether they were coming or going, there would be an unnatural flow to the game, like forcing a river to alter course.

But it is not merely toss and effect, of course. It is the manner in which the players approach the game. Between roughly the 20th over and the 40th in most innings of one-day internationals the game is put in a kind of suspended animation in which the bowlers bowl and the batsmen bat, but only way, as if by unspoken agreement.

Defensive fields are set, runs are nurdled and squeezed rather than struck, it is risk-free on both sides. Anything beyond is a bonus. Things start to happen again in the 40th over. It was like that at Lord's again yesterday. Australia, having reach 75 for three off 20 overs, were 169 for six from 40 and then added 80 in the final 10. Perfectly innocent Sunday afternoon slumbers were disturbed all round the ground.

It is formulaic cricket, which the introduction of power plays has not fully addressed, and its torpid effect has been aggravated by the advent of Twenty20 which is not perpetually exciting but is short. And at least in 20-over cricket, somebody is always trying something.

Of course, it is probably worth saying that to those who do not watch much 50-over cricket, this is not especially noticeable yet but it is only a matter of time and then it will be too late.

Nothing official has been said or done but talks are already being conducted in the corridors of cricketing power. The England and Wales Cricket Board has nailed its colours to the mast so firmly that it would need the services of at least a jemmy and possibly some mild explosive to loosen them.

From next summer there will be no 50-over competition as part of the domestic structure. Whatever the ECB declares about the insignificance of this decision, it should not be swallowed. Twenty-over cricket and 40-over cricket, which the counties will play instead cannot be a proper preparation for 50-over international cricket.

Either the ECB knows something or it is flexing its muscles to seek a change after the 2011 World Cup. The television companies, who do not run cricket but do make it commercially viable, may have something to say yet on two grounds: first 50-over cricket may still appeal to large audiences and second it can include a heck of a lot more advertising than T20.

Ultimately, however, one-day cricket is meant to excite, entertain and be unpredictable and if it is not doing that now, it will move from withering to perishing.