The Indian cricket tour to England has started very positively. Winning the T20 series in a convincing manner seems to have given the side just the right thrust to accelerate further in both the ODIs and the Test series thereafter. The team looks in awesome form and the mind set to experiment is a very progressive thought ahead of the World Cup that will take place in England next year. The Indian limited over team seems to have the core group of players pretty well addressed and the only change one can see would be in selecting players taking into account the opposition and playing conditions.
The three one-day matches being played in England will be the final testing ground for the players, as a year later, India will take the centre stage of world cricket in England. The World Cup has become the premier tournament that cricketers and cricket lovers have recognised as the ultimate prize. The legendary Sachin Tendulkar endorsed it further by stating that his dream was to win the World Cup and God blessed him to do so in 2011. Since then, every cricketer is aspiring for it and the present Indian side is no different.
Cricket viewership is changing rapidly. The conventional Test cricket gradually ceded to the 60-over limited version, which in 1987 changed to the 50-over format, when the Cup moved to India. The introduction of 20-over matches has completely revolutionised cricket and this now has become the most popular format for the viewers. The revenues to host such matches has not only brought wealth to the cricket controlling bodies around the world, but also a commercial success to the multi-media providers and businesses associated with it. The International Cricket Council (ICC) has gone a step further and will be discontinuing the 50-over Champions Trophy to replace it with a World T20 championship. The writing on the wall seems to be quite clear -- in the years to come, the 50-over format will gradually take a back seat.
The ICC, therefore, has to take some quick remedial measures or else it will get very late to solve the issue. The first and foremost must be to reduce the 50-over format to a 40-over version. The 10 overs between the 25 and 35-over mark are at present becoming long drawn and boring. Reduction of overs will make it more viewer-friendly and interesting. The second area of change should be eliminating the use of two balls. Many senior cricketers have come out strongly in favour of this change as bowlers are becoming easy fodder for the batsmen, as they are not being able to reverse swing or use the softness of the ball to curb big hits. A 40-over match would not require having more than one ball in operation and so this could be just the solution to the above problem. The well-constructed modern bats have made big hitting quite easy for the batsmen. Slamming sixes and fours has become a simple task. The field restrictions are making the bowlers irrelevant on a good batting wicket and one feels sorry for them being slaughtered helplessly.
The idea of field restriction in the initial overs came into practice because most opening batsmen earlier were not known for aggressive batting. This has changed over time and the old rules have no place or relevance now. The field restriction may be good for spectators, as batsmen seem to find enough gaps and openings to play spectacular shots, unfortunately, at the expense of the poor bowler. The ideal solution would be to let the fielding side have six players outside the 30-yard circle from the very first ball of the match. This will at least give the bowlers some protection and comfort, rather than being subjected to an unwarranted thrashing during the initial part of the innings, especially during the power-play overs.
The leg-side wide is another bone of contention for the bowlers. The umpires are very strict in calling a wide even when the ball is barely down the leg. Certain leverage should be given in favour of the bowler, especially as at times a batsman should have hit it. The issue with the leg wide theory is that an in-swing bowler has to curtail his swing and movement. Similarly, it is for the spinners, who avoid spinning it, for it to be called a wide. A ball pitching in line with the stump should be allowed, as a batsman should be flexible enough with his footwork to be able to hit the ball.
Finally, the reverse sweep has become a profitable shot for a batsman because of field restrictions. Similarly, there are multi-dexterous bowlers who can bowl both left and right-handed. They should be allowed to do so without informing the batsman. This will bring a new dimension to the game. After all, the bowler should get the same luxury as the batsman.
The present 50-over format is very much in favour of the batsmen and with 200 runs being so easily scored by teams in the T20s, a total of 475 or more runs could be quite possible for a team to make in the near future.
The present Indian batting side looks very likely to notch up some big totals, especially with the swashbuckling batsmanship of Rohit Sharma, Lokesh Rahul, Shikhar Dhawan, Virat Kohli, Suresh Raina, MS Dhoni and Hardik Pandya. The English weather, for a change, seems to be hot and summery, which is ideal for the Indian batsmen.
(The writer is a former India cricketer)