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Make Cricket Great Again

After India clinched the series 2-0 over New Zealand in Kolkata, presentation ceremony host Ravi Shastri looked to the crowd and rhetorically asked, “Who says test cricket is dead?”.

It may not be dead, but it certainly isn’t kicking and screaming. The result of the third test appeared decided after just two days of play. The second test was decided a day before it ended, and the same can be said of the first test. For New Zealand, they knew they were behind the eight ball the second they lost the toss. The eventual 178, 197, and 321 run margins were not indicative of the level at which they competed.

For all the sensory overload that T20 cricket has brought with its innovative stroke play and dancing in the stands, results have never looked more predictable across all formats. The toss influenced results in both the T20 and ODI World Cups, and now 14 consecutive toss wins for the home team in Asia has seen them mount 12 wins and two draws.

Sports is about competition, and cricket needs to improve its presentation of said competition from start to finish, rather than minimize it to a few key individual battles and the odd frenetic finish. At present, there is an overwhelming level of monotony to the game. One team bats, and bats, while the other bowls, and bowls. Eventually they’ll switch, and fans are left hoping for an eventual climax.

Studying other sports such as basketball, soccer, and perhaps most relevant to cricket, baseball, I have noticed one common denominator. All these sports switch back and forth between offense and defense, and this allows teams to consistently respond to an opposition’s attack with their own. This keeps fans stimulated more consistently.

Imagine a football match where one team could only attack for 45 minutes, before having to defend for the next 45; an NBA game where a team had to defend for 24 minutes before attacking for the next 24; a baseball game where one team hit for nine straight innings before the opposition had a chance to respond. These sports would suffer a decline in sustained intensity, and thereby lose viewership as well.

Cricket is a great sport, but right now, it is that great restaurant on the wrong side of town. North American sports may have their own issues, but entertainment is not one of them. There are lessons to be learned here.

In order to increase it’s appeal, it needs more sustained competition on a team level. Introducing more back and forth to the game can help address this issue.

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Test Matches

In the most traditional form of the game, two halves has already been established to some extent with the first two innings representing the first half, and the third and fourth innings representing the second half.

What can make the game a bore though is when one team essentially bats the other out of the game. Test cricket is supposed to be the ultimate battle, but is it really fair that it currently serves to only test the away team?

The extent to which odds are stacked against the away team has made test cricket an incredibly mundane affair. To minimize the potential for this, I think test cricket would be better with the following changes:

  1. A team cannot bat for more than 45 consecutive overs in a day. The only exception being if the third innings team loses all 10 wickets or declares, leaving the fourth innings as the lone innings remaining.
  2. Make the new ball due after 75 overs.

A fielding team that knows they will only be on the field for 45 overs will actually be able to get through their overs quicker and exert more energy knowing they don’t have to potentially last for the traditional 90. Bowlers will be able to maintain their freshness while unbeaten batsmen will have the challenge of refocusing on a brand new day. As Aakash Chopra pointed out in a recent piece for Cricinfo, the importance of breaks can never be overstated in this format.

In theory, both teams will get an equal bite at the cherry on each day of the test. The impact of the toss winning captain trying to take advantage of the conditions will be marginalized. Now THIS is a test. For fans, it will also guarantee them the opportunity to watch both aspects of each team on every single day. This is something they are accustomed to in the shorter formats of the game, and should help draw larger crowds in test cricket.

Laxman Sivaramakrishnan commented on the final day of the third test that it was nice to see Indian fans turn up when their side was bowling, as it is usually the batting that excites. Give fans the opportunity to look forward to both sides rather than just one.

Law 5 in the laws of cricket as per MCC states that a new ball in a match of more than one day’s duration can be requested after a minimum of 75 overs. For whatever reason, test cricket sets an 80 over minimum for the new ball. Far too often, the 70-80 over stage is one where the batting side finds the ball too soft to score consistently and the bowling side uses part-timers to get through overs quickly to get to the 80 over mark. Give captains the option of using a new ball at the 75 over mark and push the game forward.

Even looking at the third test that began between India and New Zealand. India were 115/3 after 45 overs with Kohli on 28* and Rahane new to the crease on 3*. As the partnership grew, Ravi Shastri made the point that India have put themselves in position to bat out the first five sessions of the match would be when the pitch assist batsmen the most. All because of one coin flip. If India had to stop after the 45 over mark though, New Zealand would have the opportunity to build on their bowling momentum by getting off to a good start and not be bogged down by the scoreboard pressure of a huge final total.

There is the perspective of teams taking advantages of seaming conditions on the first morning that needs to be considered as well. The test that immediately comes to mind is the 4th test between Australia and England in the 2015 Ashes. Australia were bowled out for just 60 in 18.3 overs on the first morning, and England went on to take full advantage of the better batting conditions thereafter and posted 391/9 before declaring.

Under my proposal, England would have had to stop at 175/3 after 45 overs, and Australia would have to begin their second innings with a bit more than 15 overs remaining on Day One. To me, while England would still be miles ahead, it still gives Australia some semblance of hope of fighting back in better batting conditions.

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ODIs and T20

  • 10-15-15-10 splits for ODIs.
  • 6-8-6 splits for T20.

From watching baseball since 2002, and becoming quite enamored with the level of tactics and strategy involved, I really think this is the best way for cricket to build more suspense and intrigue into its limited overs matches.

In ODI cricket, the first 10 overs and the last 10 overs are when field restrictions are different than the middle 30, and so having these phases separated makes the most sense. Separating the 30 overs in between into two separate 15 over segments is all about ensuring both teams bat and bowl the same amount of overs during the day and under lights.

A halfway stage where both teams have batted and bowled 25 overs can allow for much more intrigue in the second half. Furthermore, these regular switches will also encourage fielding teams to push the pace and get more overs in as they know they can give it their all for the entire period.

For T20 cricket, let the first phase be about the Powerplay. The second phase is the building phase, while the final phase will be the final onslaught.

In both formats, batsmen have received too much favor. And while a lot of the talk rightfully surrounds the size of modern day bats and boundaries, I believe the continuity factor is something that gets overlooked and has just as big an impact.

What I mean by continuity is that a batsman can theoretically bat out the entire 50 overs and build their innings accordingly, but a bowler knows they cannot impact the game for more than 60 legal deliveries. Rohit Sharma’s world record 264 came off 173 balls, but at one stage he was on 50 off 72. Knowing that he was building his own momentum and that he had the entire 50 overs to play with allowed him to pull off his record feat.

I believe that by compartmentalizing the game into different phases, batsmen will not be able to carry their rhythm for an entire innings, and this will make for a much more even contest between bat and ball.

Again, marginalizing the impact of the toss is crucial, and dividing the innings into different segments would ensure that. The team that wins the toss no longer has the opportunity to take sole advantage of the dew factor or perfect conditions during the day.

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These are new scenarios that could really ramp up the tactical thinking and strategy involved in the game, and again, keep fans enticed. Fans from both sides will also feel more involved as both teams will have a level of progress on both batting and bowling fronts throughout the matches.

I’ll admit that I’m not sure how the D/L method factors into these changes, but frankly, that is a system that has become far too outdated for modern day scoring anyway.

After mulling over a myriad of options, I believe this is the simplest solution that can breathe new life into the sport. It brings an aspect of virtually all other sports that can make it both more marketable and sustainable. The time is now for cricket to not only cater to the purists, but the masses as well.

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