Kass Naidoo

Cricket too batsman-friendly?

2007-10-26 12:31

Kass Naidoo

It's make or break for the Proteas in Multan on Friday, needing to win to keep the One Day International series against Pakistan alive. Middle overs batting is once again a problem, with South Africa bogged down by the spinners. There is even talk of batting Shaun Pollock up the order, to give the innings some momentum.

The mandatory ball change rule isn't helping things much, as Pakistan are batting well in the middle overs, and then cashing in when the ball is changed in the 35th over, making batting much easier, against a harder ball. I don't know if this rule works. Australian captain, Ricky Ponting, has already voiced his disapproval, saying it gives the batting side an unfair advantage.

For me, one of the most thrilling aspects of an ODI is the last 10 overs, and the duel between bat and ball. This innovation may find itself in the trash, much like the controversial 12th-man substitute experiment.

I've been eagerly following various debates on the internet about the recent rule changes introduced to ODI cricket. Many long-time fans of the game feel that free hits, powerplays, and mandatory ball changes in the 35th over, are making cricket too batsman-friendly.

I've seen a few compelling points made, but the International Cricket Council has made it clear that its target is the youth, and big-hitting cricket is about as thrilling as cricket can be.

A divide

As an impromptu experiment, I did snap-interviews with two fans of the game, one who has supported cricket for over 20 years, and another person who only recently became interested in cricket, through the Twenty20 phenomenon.

Pretty much as expected, the established cricket fan wanted things to stay as they were, and the new fan thought the changes made for a much more appealing product.

I enjoy the free-hit rule being introduced to ODI cricket. Have you noticed how few foot-fault no-balls there've been in the ODI matches across Asia, between Pakistan and South Africa, India and Australia, and Sri Lanka hosting England?

I like the adventurous thinking that's taking place. We will always have and revere Test cricket; I just can't see the premier edition of a great game dying out, not in our lives. But conventional wisdom demands that, to sustain large tracts of expensive ground, that ground must be cost-effective. Not only cost-effective, in this age of commercialism there is every incentive for administrators to maximise the profit potential of their products.

The primary aim of the ICC is to make cricket a truly global sport, and in T20 they have their ideal marketing tool; a really cool introduction to ODI, probably the best innovation in the game to date. The success of T20 means that there is pressure on the 50-over game to become more appealing.

No doubt, there will be more rule trials to come in international cricket. I'd like to see the captain of the batting side deciding when to execute the third powerplay. Whatever the ICC decide, the debates will continue as established fans try to protect what once was, and new fans continue to be fascinated by cricket's changing face.

Send your comments to Kass.

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