It has been observed by many that ‘par’ for a 50 over innings has risen over the years. When One Day cricket first started, 200 runs was the benchmark. Four runs an over. Over the years, with various innovations, that has increased to 250 and beyond. In this World Cup, the team batting first scored 300 or more in the first five matches. Should we expect scores of 300 to be the normal for World Cup 2015? T20 cricket has had an impact on the way ODI cricket is played but there are other factors. Bat technology, benign drop-in pitches, severe fielding restrictions and shortened boundaries all stack the odds in favour of the batsmen. Has it gone too far?
There seems to be little doubt that seeing the ball hit to, and over the fence, and often, is a great spectacle for fans. This is especially true for the fans that cricket is trying to attract to limited overs cricket – casual cricket fans. But does it make life too hard for the bowlers? Is it good for the game to give the bowlers no real chance? I have heard some suggest that we could give the bowlers a break and replace them with bowling machines. The comments were facetious but it’s a fair point.
Modern bats are interesting and are being discussed more. We have seen similar developments in other balls sports where striking implements are an integral part of the game. Tennis in the 90s was transformed and continues to be transformed by racquet technology. Increased power from the racquet head and nothing else has changed the style of play, especially in the men’s game and some would say not for the better. It is the same with golf where we see composite heads and graphite shafts. Players hit the ball longer and straighter. When this is coupled with easy course lay outs, professionals shoot 4 day scores of 20 under and better. I guess there is something appealing in that because the weekend hacker simply cannot do that. Such scores are marveled at. Cricket bats are headed in the same direction.
While there are some strict laws about cricket bats that saw them remain largely unchanged for more than a century, the envelope is now being pushed. Bats must be made from wood and the width of the face is limited. However, there is no limit to the thickness of the bat. The good old willow is no longer compressed as it was. The timber is more elastic and the ball speeds away from the face. Also, the edges are much thicker – almost as wide as the face – which often sees edges speeding to, or over the boundary. I think we need to move with the times and make some use of technology but there should not be too much reward for poor strokes. Too often, top edges clear the field and even the rope when in days gone by a catch would have been taken well inside the fence. Well timed forward defensive shots inexplicably carry to the cover fence. Conversely, as long as the batsman hits the ball hard, the ball can be muscled to the fence. The timing doesn’t matter too much nor does it really matter which part of the bat the ball strikes. It’s all money for jam.
None of the first five matches resulted in close matches. There were no exciting finishes. In four cases, the side batting second fell well short and was never in the hunt. In the other, Ireland easily overhauled the target of 305. While on that subject, here is some trivia: There have been six successful 300 plus run chases in World Cup history and Ireland has made 50% of them. Finally, in match six, Scotland was skittled for just 142 (Scotland made five ducks, four of them golden which would have to be some sort of record). While New Zealand got the runs in just under 25 overs and was never really under threat, they did limp to the target with just three wickets in hand. The pitch gave the bowlers some encouragement, batting was challenging and I think that is also worth having in One Day cricket. Giving the batsmen a challenge should not be exclusive to Test cricket in my opinion. I think things have gone too far in making batting easy but I won’t be letting that thought spoil this World Cup.
You can listen to more discussion about easy runs, Sheffield Shield and the IPL auction on the Australian Cricket Podcast, this week featuring Menners and moi at http://auscricketpod.podomatic.com/entry/2015-02-17T02_28_26-08_00