Every single one in the cricketing fraternity will be talking about India’s glorious run-chase against Australia on October 16, 2013, for a long time to come. It was glorious, it was extraordinary and it was mind-boggling. They chased down a 360-run target with more than six overs to spare and with nine wickets in hand. Simply stunning! But there is a flip side. Shrikant Shankar writes about a growing imbalance between bat and ball and why it is not great for cricket.
When Australia posted a score of 359 for five in the second One-Day International (ODI) against India in Jaipur on Wednesday, memories of two previous matches where the exact same score was posted would have flashed in everyone’s mind. If history was to go by, then India should have lost by a massive margin. Little did anyone expect that they would win by a massive margin. India won by nine wickets as they scored 362 runs in 43.3 overs. Rohit Sharma top-scored with an unbeaten 141 and Virat Kohli scored an unbeaten 100.
All sorts of records were broken. Shikhar Dhawan too played his part with a blistering 95. If he would have scored five runs more, another record would have been set. No team has had three batsmen score centuries in an innings in an ODI. So, that record will have to wait. Many plaudits will be flowing for days to come. The batting display was simply brilliant. To lose just one wicket while scoring, especially chasing, 360-plus runs cannot be easily described in words.
Everyone will be talking about the entertainment that was on show. They will be saying what a great game of cricket it was. But was it? Was it a great game of cricket? Going back to basics, cricket is a game between bat and ball. It does not mean a bowler bowls and a batsman hits the leather out of it. It means a contest between bat and ball. What people saw on Wednesday was not a contest. There was absolutely nothing in the pitch that the bowlers could get help from. This is where the debate of balance between bat and ball comes.
When South Africa chased down Australia’s 435-run target in 2006, it was considered as a freak result. Totals over 300 were not chased down easily back then. South Africa lost nine wickets in the process as well. But that started a slowly growing trend of teams chasing down 300-plus totals. But in most of the other high-scoring run-chases or even high-scoring second innings totals, the chasing team has at least lost a few wickets. India lost one!
In the first ODI, India were bowled out for 232, chasing Australia’s 304. As the writer mentioned before that the batting collapse was just a blip, they would show their mettle soon in the series. What was surprising in the second ODI was that the same Aussie bowling attack that bundled India out 72 runs less than their total, could not take a second wicket. They might have had a bad day at the office. Agreed. But not that bad a day that they did not look like taking a second wicket.
The pitch gave absolutely no help to the bowlers and that is what is worrying. Taking examples from previous world cups, the best tournaments were when the pitch was suited for a 250-275 score in an innings. If the bowlers bowled well then that score would be less and if the batsmen batted well that score would go beyond 300. The contest between bat and ball was even. When you have average scores of over 300, then the matches become less of a contest between the basics of cricket.
India’s bowling attack is definitely not something to boast about. So, people could say them letting Australia score a massive total was not that surprising. But Australia’s bowling attack is far better and they were made to look like rank amateurs by the Indian top three. The advent of T20 cricket has obviously changed a lot of things. But drastic changes in ODIs as a result is not that good for the game.
One key element in all this is the pitch as mentioned before. If the pitch is made in a way that both bat and ball have a chance to flourish, then that is what is called a great cricket match. The game is heading into a future where scoring more runs is seen as more entertainment. But entertainment does not necessarily include a great game of cricket. But a great game of cricket definitely does include entertainment. The ICC have to see what is best for the game and make sure the balance between bat and ball is not lost.
(Shrikant Shankarpreviously worked with Mobile ESPN, where he did audio commentary for many matches involving India, Indian Premier League and Champions League Twenty20. He has also written many articles involving other sports for ESPNSTAR.com. You can follow him on Twitter @Shrikant_23)