Sachin Tendulkar sparked it off with a considerate tweet; fast bowling legend Waqar Younis fuelled it; England hero Stuart Broad and Indian captain Virat Kohli expressed similar sentiments. Suddenly, the idea of using two white balls from either end in a One-Day International (ODI) is resonating as a bad ploy. It is a unanimous verdict: This is killing reverse swing.
For cricketers, erstwhile and contemporary, to say that two-white ball cricket is a recipe for disaster nearly seven years after it was introduced in an attempt to let the faster bowlers produce some bounce through a match sounds as a bit strange. More so since the fast bowlers are able to manage reverse swing even in a Twenty20 (T20) game.
Curiously, it did not seem to matter to the game’s thought leaders that spin bowlers would be the most affected by the decision to employ two cricket balls at each end of the wicket. It did not seem to matter to them that curators, pressed by the demand for more ‘entertaining’ tracks, rolled out belters — and left the bowlers with their teeth drawn.
There can be no question that the limited-over game needs to find a balance between bat and ball for it to stay relevant and the think-tank must do all within its powers to discover that balance. Every thought, every tweet, every comment on television or in print can go a long way in swinging the opinion of the people who make the decision.
It is not the first time that Australian bowlers have found themselves in the firing line. Who can forget that amazing chase by South Africa at the Wanderers in Johannesburg in March 2006 when the home side crossed the line by scoring 438 for nine with one delivery to spare. That was the time one ball was used through the innings.
Yet, the fact that England has drubbed Australia in each of the four matches in the current series has been the cornerstone on which much of the reaction has been pounded. It seems that cricketers and fans, conditioned to the side from Down Under calling the shots, have been unable to stomach such a pasting for the once redoubtable, dominating Australian squad.
A measure of bowling efficiency can be had from a comparison of the two bowling units in the four games. Five England bowlers have claimed 37 wickets among them in the four ODIs so far while seven Australians have garnered a mere 22 wickets. If indeed, the theory that two white balls were affecting the bowling was entirely true, even the England attack should have struggled.
Clearly, we are being uncharitable to England’s growth as a limited-over power, post the ICC Cricket World Cup 2015. Surely, we are ignoring the fact that Australia are going through a cathartic period that has seen their premier batsmen serving time away from the game and bowlers recovering from a variety of injuries. Their present bowlers face a challenge early in their international careers.
With Mitchell Johnson retired, Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins, James Pattinson and Josh Hazelwood recovering from injuries, Australia had to fall back on an inexperienced set of fast bowlers. Truth to tell, the Australian attack does not have a single bowler at the moment who would invoke doubts, let alone fear, in the minds of the batsmen.
Lest it be construed as a dig against the Australian bowlers, the debate must go beyond the current series. For, bowlers must find a way around the conditions to challenge batsmen. Are the fast bowlers staying competitive enough? After all, they need to keep innovating while retaining the basic disciplines of line and length to stay competitive, respected and, even feared.
Cricket has always had a way of tinkering with the playing conditions in the belief that it will enhance the intensity of the game and make it a spectacle for the viewing public. It is the cricketers on the ICC Cricket Committee who usher in the changes, hoping that the game will become more entertaining. It may help to reflect on all the possibilities before making any more changes.
You can keep changing the playing conditions in a bid to restore parity but someone or the other is always going to find oneself at the receiving end. And that will start another round of conversation and debate. Unless, of course, they make changes to the one thing that has remained constant for years now. The white cricket ball itself. It is time that the rule makers and the owners of the game encourage ball manufacturers around the world to come up with products that do not get discoloured within 50 overs. After all, it was for this reason that the previous set of playing conditions for ODIs saw the ball being changed at the start of the 35th over with one of similar wear and tear.
At a time when the International Cricket Committee itself is veering towards T20 cricket, ODIs must find ways to co-exist with its older and younger siblings. The format that started as 60-overs-a-side game can perhaps be reduced to 40-overs-a-side, especially since a white cricket ball becomes discoloured before 50 overs are bowled.
It may be one way to lending a balanced contest, with the ball not getting discoloured enough and allowing spinners, especially finger spinners, to come into play as well as providing the faster bowlers the opportunity to manufacture reverse swing. To think that reverse swing is the only element that has gone missing because of the two-ball rule is to miss the woods for the trees.