As the One-Day International (ODI) series between India and Australia finished in a thrilling fashion, everyone was talking about all the records that have been made and broken in terms of runs. The series saw a colossal number of runs being scored and at times the lower-order batsmen and tail-enders did not even get a chance to bat. The bowling, as it would seem, was below par. But it was the same for both teams and what can they do if there is absolutely no help offered to them. Shrikant Shankar writes about the predicament the bowlers found themselves in during the entirety of the series.
As soon as the rules in One-Day International (ODI) cricket were changed, bowlers would have been looking at each other and wondering how are they supposed to have an equal contest with the batsmen? The new rules are such that only four fielders can be positioned outside the circle. Then the use of two new balls from either end also brought up the debate of the lesser chances of the ball to reverse. Runs were there to be scored and records were there to be tumbled. And bowlers’ morale were there to be weakened along with their numbers and figures.
India’s home ODI series against Australia was always going to be a run-fest. The pitches were flat and there was absolutely no help for the bowlers from the surface. Scoring centuries in any form of the game is difficult, but almost every match had at least one centurion. In every completed match, Australia scored a minimum of 300 runs. India crossed the 300-run mark in four out of five matches that were completed. The bowlers’ economy rates took a right-royal beating. Among the regular bowlers, Bhuvneshwar Kumar‘s economy rate was the most impressive at 5.44.
The old adage of ‘win the toss and elect to bat first’ is no longer the mantra in cricket anymore. Captains are disappointed when opposite numbers elect to field first. Bowlers have absolutely no clue as to what they should do if the batsmen get going. Swing alone is not enough to help bowlers to get the wickets. They need bounce, or, the batsmen can easily judge the length of the ball and play their shots. The boundaries are short, so, the batsmen can easily clear the fence. With only four fielders outside the circle, the batsmen just have to find the gaps and they are assured of boundaries.
There might be a situation where the bowlers actually start feeling sorry for themselves. Watching Rohit Sharma’s record-breaking innings of 209, one got the feeling that whatever the Australian bowlers bowled, did not have any effect. Low full-tosses, high full-tosses, half-volleys, good length deliveries, long hops, short-of-a-length deliveries, short deliveries, bouncers and whatever one can think of were being effortlessly carted away for fours and sixes. Australia’s bowlers are not that bad and neither is Rohit that good. He is highly talented — something that everyone knows, but there was absolutely no mis-hits from him. Everything was pure striking.
R Vinay Kumar may come under a lot of ridicule after conceding 102 runs in only nine overs. But one has to sympathise with him. He was never a world-beater, but he was reduced to something of a manual bowling machine. The batsmen would know that there would be no swing, reverse swing nor any bounce and movement from the wicket. India may have bowled Australia out, but make no mistake, they were well on course to chase down India’s total. The only top bowling performance from the series that really sticks out is Mitchell Johnson’s four for 46 in the third ODI at Mohali. And who can forget Ishant Sharma‘s horror over to James Faulkner also in the same match. Essays have been written on that one particular over. Let’s not dwell too much on that for now.
The career figures took a pasting for almost all the bowlers and conversely the batsmen’s career statistics would have just become better to read. A few years down the line, when new fans might look into the figures, they might think that the quality of bowling was really poor as compared to some previous eras. They might also think that the batsmen are faultless. That is not the case. The balance between bat and ball has to be equal or near equal. Ian Chappell rightly said that the bowlers may resort to some illegal methods to contain the batsmen.
Tests in recent times have yielded results, if not interrupted by rain or other reasons. ODIs will always produce results. It was created for that. But in relative terms, ODIs need closer duels between bat and ball, where the skills of the two are tested properly. At the same time, there have been low scores in the South Pakistan-Africa ODIs and prior to that as well. It is this particular ODI series that has generated such batting records. The bowlers find themselves in a predicament that they have no idea how to get out off.
For the sake of the fans, who want to see balls sailing over them, the aesthetics of the game cannot change and should not change. If there is any debate as to which is the best ODI in history — the 1999 World Cup semi-final between Australia and South Africa or the encounter between the same sides at Johannesburg in 2006, what would be the answer? The 2006 tie was the first match to witness anything like this. So, it can get the vote. But as a cricket purist, the 1999 semi-final has to be ahead. The battle between bat and ball in that particular match was outstanding. That is what is needed in ODIs, or else we risk losing the 50-over format to an elongated version of the 20-over format.
(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)