Sunday, January 18, 2009

ODIs, Rankings and Hayden

Considering the advent of twenty-twenty cricket and the status attached to test cricket, one would imagine that the fifty over format of the game isn’t here to stay. But if the ongoing series in Australia is anything to go by, one day internationals can make for enthralling viewing. The series is evenly balanced after Australia’s victory earlier today in the second ODI and with the recently introduced batting power play the game continues to provide tremendous scope for tactical innovations. ODIs over the last few years have however tended to be a bit predictable with teams unwilling to experiment and bring enough tactical originality into the contests. The format will therefore require the ICC to make suitable modifications and innovations which may include a possible reduction of the games to a forty over a side match to ensure its survival.  

The South Africa-Australia series has so far seen the deployment of interesting tactics as regards the use of the third power play which is a group of five overs selected by the batting team wherein only three fielders can be placed outside the thirty yard circle. The Proteas chose to use the power play as late as possible in the game and whilst it worked to their advantage in the first ODI, it certainly proved detrimental to their chances in the second match. No doubt, these innovations make for interesting viewing, but it’s important that the ICC maintains a sense of perspective when determining the extent of reforms that are required in the fifty over format. The bowlers must be provided with conditions that go beyond ensuring that their role is merely to stem the flow of runs. If all new innovations are garnered towards making sure that the batsmen get greater opportunities to score runs, ODIs are bound to face a possibly slow but certain death. 

Speaking of the ICC, their recently introduced rankings for all time great players is an appalling joke. A list which places Kumar Sangakarra, as fine a batsman as he may be, alongside Gary Sobers and ahead of Brian Lara and Sachin Tendulkar in the batting rankings and Derek Underwood ahead of Shane Warne in the bowlers rankings can hardly be considered with any level of seriousness. The exercise of coming up with such a ranking system by itself is steeped in stupidity as it makes little sense comparing players of different eras. Of course the hue and cry that it has raised in India has much to do with how much individual performance and ratings are valued in the country as opposed to collective team effort, but the ICC would have done well to stay away from this futile exercise and in the process could have avoided the media maelstrom that ensued. 

The rankings itself came to light due to the retirement of Matthew Hayden, which motivated certain tributes from different quarters including one from the ICC which had placed him in tenth position on the list of the world’s greatest ever batsmen. As ridiculous as the rankings may be, Hayden has been a magnificent batsmen over the years, one whom Australia are certain to miss in all forms of the game. Although, he has never been the most elegant of batsmen, he has unquestionably been one of the game’s most effective batsmen. When Michael Slater retired, the Australians were able to replace him with an equally ferocious player at the top of the order, one who could take the wind out of the opposition’s sails right from the go. Hayden’s fearless attacking approach to the game has in many ways epitomised the Australian way of playing cricket over the last decade or so. The value of having a match winner at the top of the order can never be overemphasised and Australia are unlikely to dominate world cricket as they once did unless they can find a player of Hayden’s authoritarian and brutal nature. 

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