“In basketball, talk that three-point scoring is destroying the game is growing louder and louder. It might be a stretch to say that big hitting is destroying cricket, but could it not be argued that it has become too commonplace? Sixes now run so rapidly into each other that it has sometimes become difficult to recall individual hits”
481/6. Consider that score for a moment. Consider that England racked up that number of runs in the process of totally crushing Australia in the third One Day International (ODI) in Nottingham. 21 sixes were struck and 41 fours were hit in England’s innings. Two batsmen, Jonny Bairstow and Alex Hales, slammed centuries. Jason Roy made 82 and Eoin Morgan created even more mayhem as the end of the innings approached with a brutal 67, made off just 30 balls.
England’s total was the highest in ODI history, overtaking the 444/3 made by England against Pakistan almost two years ago at the same venue. Coincidentally, Hales, Buttler and Morgan all made runs in that game, Hales’ 171 being especially notable.
One could hardly have experienced a more one-sided game. Australia were dismantled for 239 in 37 overs, meaning England won by all of 242 runs. It is normally unwise to make judgments after only half the game is completed, but in this case, one could reasonably have forecasted that the visitors stood no chance. In essence, the game was over as a contest once England made such a humungous score, South Africa’s Record chase of 438/9 against Australia in 2006 notwithstanding.
Big scores are the norm nowadays. In the 1999 World Cup, there were only two scores over 300. For the 2011 tournament, that number rose to 17. And the 2015 competition saw 28 totals over 300, including three that went past 400.
Now, consider the fifth and final game of the current England/Australia series played in Manchester. Batting first, Australia managed only 205/8 off 34.4 overs. In reply, England made 208/9 to win the game by a single wicket with nine balls remaining.
A measly two sixes and 17 fours were counted in England’s innings in Manchester, a far cry from the flurry of boundaries in Nottingham. The home team largely owed its victory to a masterly, relatively restrained innings by Buttler. He made 110 off 122 deliveries, the most he has ever faced in an ODI, despite reaching or going past a hundred on five previous occasions.
From very early in the Nottingham game everyone knew what the outcome would be; there was no way Australia would’ve overtaken England’s total, especially after losing wickets fairly early in their reply.
The Nottingham game, on the other hand, went down almost to the last over, and any of three results — an England win, an Australian win, or a tie — were entirely possible until the moment Buttler drove Marcus Stoinis for four to secure victory for his side. It was a thrilling end to an engaging game, a game that held the audience captive for much of its duration.
That cricket has become far friendlier to batsmen than it is to bowlers is beyond dispute. More and more, bowlers are being reduced to the role of supporting cast, there only to carry out the perfunctory task of providing balls for the game’s batting stars to exercise their hitting powers. The batsman has emerged as cricket’s fair-haired boy. The bowler is cricket’s ill-begotten stepchild.
For a number of fans, a game that involves a balanced contest between bat and ball is quite preferable to one in which everything is stacked against the bowler. The pitch that allows the batsman to simply plonk down his front foot and hit do injury to the game. Much better is the surface that allows the bowler a fair chance. Many are the rule changes made on the batsmen’s behalf. They really have no need of further assistance.
Even the great six hitters of the past, Ian Botham and Viv Richards for example, could hardly have imagined, in their day, that the ball could be deposited over the boundary with such ease and regularity. Today’s batsmen have substantially expanded the boundaries of batting, refining the science of hitting the ball far and often.
A few years ago, Sir Viv observed that there are steps the authorities should take, like lengthening boundaries, “if we do not just want to see sixes and fours.” The West Indian great thinks boundary hitting has become too easy. “The boundaries that we see, especially with the improvement of bats you should have decent-sized boundaries.”
Bowlers are also frequently punished despite gaining a victory, of sorts, over the batsman. “You can have a batsman who goes for a hook shot,” Sir Viv said, “and because of the fact he is a little late on the shot he gets a top edge and because of the quality of that bat it goes for six. In my mind that is a mistake. That’s the position the bowler would have got him into – making that false shot. When you think you have him it’s sailing over the boundary.”
Sixes are now a much more widely traded scoring currency.
Consider the sport of baseball: on average, the number of home runs per game in the major leagues is less than two. But what if that number were to rise more than tenfold, say to 20, would home runs still be as highly valued? Would they be as momentous? Or, what if the vast majority of boxing matches ended in knockouts? Wouldn’t that greatly reduce the thrill and the drama that knockouts generate?
In basketball, talk that three-point scoring is destroying the game is growing louder and louder. It might be a stretch to say that big hitting is destroying cricket, but could it not be argued that it has become too commonplace? Sixes now run so rapidly into each other that it has sometimes become difficult to recall individual hits.
There are undoubtedly some who have welcomed bat dominating ball in the manner that it has been. Viewing six after six climbing out of the ground is exciting. But at what point does it all become too much? At what point do we agree that the game loses some value with the bowler being so diminished? How long before the game becomes too lacking in intrigue and nuance?
It was spectacular watching England’s much-feared 50-over batting unit rush towards their record score in the third ODI. But given the choice between watching that game and the fifth ODI in Manchester where bat and ball danced more as equals -I know which one I’d choose.