In a time where One Day Internationals are being frowned upon as the most redundant aspect of modern cricket, India and Australia are beginning to make a mockery of the 50-over game, giving it a new lease of life in a difficult passage.
The emergence of Twenty20 cricket has given ODI’s an almost third-wheel approach to the cricket relationship, and with it, a sense of freedom in the way that players can play the format. The recent bi-lateral series has had this in abundance. A seven-match series, months after the two had competed in Tests, and sandwiched between back-to-back Ashes series for the visitors initially gave the contest little significance in an already frantic calendar. Added to that, an apparent lack of logic within the tour destinations led to the almost universal thought of “Well, what’s the point of this?”
But the aforementioned freedom has allowed some expression from the players, in the form of an attention-grabbing performance only comparable with that from the IPL. In the space of 14 days, India have successfully chased a target of 350+ on two occasions, putting Australia on each of the five highest successful run chases in ODI history. And they made it look comfortable. To score at an average rate of seven runs an over for a sustained period of 50 overs whilst under match pressure seemed almost unachievable before the turn of the millennium, with Sri Lanka’s 329 against West Indies in 1995 the highest second-innings score in an ODI before 2000. (http://www.espncricinfo.com/ci/engine/match/65863.html)
Games like that between South Africa and Australia in Johannesburg in 2006 – yes, the one where Australia scored 434 and lost – have given belief that whatever the opposition scores, you can score more. It’s that philosophy that has ultimately kept ODI’s alive. Fans want to turn up and see 100 overs of runs, runs and more runs, and the players are duly obliging. A “hit-and-giggle” nature that we have become accustomed to in T20’s is not a realistic ambition in the 50-over format, with teams still seen as failing should they not bat out all of their 300 deliveries. But what we are seeing is teams making the 30-over mark at 150-1, not an easy achievement in itself, and then being able to push a T20-esque 180 runs from the remainder to give themselves a rather cosmic total.
George Bailey and Virat Kohli are two who have especially taken advantage of this. Bailey, a player arguably yet to fully prove himself before this series, has thus far mustered 474 runs in the series at an average of 118.50, the highest in a bi-lateral series, even with one game abandoned before Australia, and still with one game to go. Kohli, with 17 tons in 118 matches boasts an average of 52 in ODI’s, as well as spearheading India’s two mammoth victories as part of his average of 172 in this series.
The timely reformation has benefited more than that of the duo though, with MS Dhoni in particular, and to some extent South Africans AB de Villiers and David Miller gaining the roles of “finishers” within the ODI game. The set-up has ultimately led ODI’s to become a batsman’ s game, with the two new balls and heavy field restrictions ultimately deterring bowlers from featuring, and them choosing rest in advance of more noteworthy Test series.
Perhaps this new found phenomenon should be taken with a pinch of salt – South Africa successfully defended 183 on the same day as India’s second 350+ assault over Australia. But ODI’s, like the rest of cricket, has continued to evolve, with the game benefiting because of it. Whether it proves to be enough for a sustainable future remains to be seen. Either way, we’ll miss a lot if it goes.