Hit and miss

THE real thing, in the eyes of most, is over and the circus is close to packing up. So begins the hard-sell of the summer, when cricket’s uncertain middle sibling gets its go.

The arrival of the one-day international series used to excite fans. But through cricket fatigue and scheduling and selection puzzles, the 50-over format has seemingly never had it so tough in Australia.

Friday’s clash between an Australian side missing most of its best players and Sri Lanka is the first of 10 one-day internationals to be played over the next month, which instead of giving fans plenty of a good thing might just whet their appetites for football.

So what’s the problem? Is it the game itself? Or does the 50-over format get the rough treatment because it gets shabbily treated by selectors and administrators?

For James Hopes, one of Australia’s most reliable one-day players of recent years and a stalwart of the domestic game, it’s the latter. The five-game series against Sri Lanka ultimately counts for zilch, as does the following series against the West Indies. But Hopes, who played 84 matches for Australia between 2005 and 2010, is adamant there is nothing wrong with the product.

”As players, we love it,” he said this week.

”You have Test cricket and four-day cricket, which is a grind, and with Twenty20 you’re just on the go the whole time. But with 50 overs you’re never out of the game and so many players can be good at it.”

Hopes cited the likes of Ed Cowan and Usman Khawaja as very good one-day players because they could build an innings and score quickly, despite perception. But a Twenty20 side would probably only take one of their ilk because they lack the explosive ball-striking power of Aaron Finch or David Warner. Similarly, he said, 50-over cricket could reward all manner of bowlers, whereas the shortest format accommodated just the fast bowler, the fast bowler with a slower ball and the spinner.

While it has become commonplace to talk down the 50-over game at this time of the season, it was only a year ago the tri-series served up some beauties. Australia, Sri Lanka and India were evenly matched and eight of the 15 matches were decided by either 20 runs or fewer, or with 20 deliveries or fewer remaining, with one game tied.

Among those games were two pursuits where M.S. Dhoni expertly shepherded the Indian tail, playing himself in with dot balls until the time was right to launch an explosive finish. It made for riveting cricket.

But as good as the series was, can you recall it? Here lies the format’s biggest problem. Even if the format is solid, too many matches dilutes appeal. Would we accept Collingwood and Carlton playing 12 games across eight months, like Australia and England did in 2010-11? Hopes believes the 50-over game needs context to stay relevant and suggested series such as the one starting on Friday should be played for World Cup qualification to retain interest.

As for the game itself, just as in Test cricket, sometimes there are dips but that doesn’t mean nothing is happening. For Hopes, low-scoring games are the best and the much-maligned middle overs of 50-over games the most absorbing.

”I think it’s a skill to be able to bat and bowl in those periods. I’ve played games where it’s been 220 versus 7-221 off 49 overs and people will go, ‘That was a pretty boring game of cricket’. But then you speak to cricket players and they’ll say, ‘I was glued to the TV because you could see the game swinging and could see one side sneak in front and the other team drag them back’.”

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.

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