Category Archives: CricketCountry

What Next for Kochi

The new cricket season in India started with a bang. There were matched being played across the length and breadth of the country. All professional players were playing at least one tournament or other. New Zeland A and West Indies A toured India for unofficial test matches and one-dayers. There was the season opening one day tournament, the Challenger Trophy, which itself has lost its gloss over the years. Then there was the Duleep Trophy, featuring zonal wise matches to kick off the domestic first class season.  A lot of discussions have been going around regarding the relevance of the Duleep Trophy in this crowded domestic calendar.

Regardless of that I was excited when the fixtures were announced for the Duleep Trophy. Kochi, in my home state was given the nod to host one semi final and the final for the tournament. It may be a low profile tournament, but still boasts the presence of some of the top level players trying to stake their claims ahead of a busy season. My idea was to see at least two days of the final match from the ground.

The semi final match held at Kochi between North Zone and West Zone produced a run fest and it was extended to a reserve day as the first innings were not completed within four days. Rain played spoilsport for most of the match and no play was possible on the fifth day as well. So in a bizarre way, a coin toss was used to decide the winner and it turned up to the delight of Harbhajan Singh and his North Zone team.

Within three days time, the final between North Zone and South Zone was to be played in the same ground and there were genuine concerns regarding the weather building up to the match. But I was hopeful thinking that two matches in succession won’t be affected by rain in Kochi. This time of the year in Kerala, we don’t get torrential rains. It rains every now and then, but definitely not enough to wash out cricket matches. But sadly, the rain gods had different ideas, or were they functioning as usual. There were some overnight rains leading up to the final. That was quite common and under normal circumstances the match should have started be a bit delayed in case of a wet outfield.  But the umpires confirmed by noon that no play was possible on the first day as they concluded that the outfield was not conducive for competitive cricket.

Second day, the day I planned to watch the match live had arrived. But by then I was somehow exhausted with the uncertainty over the game. A friend from Kochi told me that it was raining the night before the second day too.  So going by the trend, it could become another frustrating day, I thought.  I decided to cancel the idea of a going to the ground but I was regularly checking the score updates, more accurately the outfield updates. They were pretty gloomy too. But play did begin late afternoon that day with South Zone winning the toss and electing to bat. They finished on 33 for 2 at the close of play for the day. Sadly, that was to be that for the match.

No more play was possible on the third day as the outfield was dampened further by the overnight rain. By then, I had sort of given up on the match. The only real stat of interest left was the time at which the play would be called off on the remaining days. A 15 minutes early start for the fifth day was announced, but by the time, no one really cared.  Credit must go to the administrators for not extending the match into a reserve sixth day and saving the players and fans from more frustration as they had suffered enough over the past week. So the match was called off very early on the fifth day and the trophy was shared between the two teams.  Game, Set and Match for a future test venue.

Yes, Kochi has been actively pushing its case for test status. The Kerala Cricket Association thought that these two first class matches could pave way to hosting test matches in the future. But they were ill prepared to say the least. If the sun is beating down and you can’t play cricket, then it shows how deficient the drainage facilities at the ground are. Shashi Tharoor, the Union Minister from Kerala came down hard on KCA saying that they owe an explanation to the fans of the game on this matter. He said via a tweet that the KCA had brought disgrace to the state and that they had benefited from an amount to the tune of 8 crores spent on the drainage works. To this argument, the KCA president, T.C Mathews, who is now also the National Cricket Academy (NCA) chairman riposted by saying that no funding was received by the KCA for drainage from the government.

The Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium at the heart of Kochi has a rich sporting history. But this stadium is not actually owned by the KCA, but by the GCDA (Greater Cochin Development Authority).  The stadium was initially constructed as a Football stadium but has hosted 8 ODI matches so far and has produced some enthralling cricket over the years.  In early 2013, I was fortunate enough to witness an ODI between India and England played at this venue. It was also the first day-night ODI played at Kochi. People flocked into the ground that day and provided an atmosphere befitting the cricket crazy nation that India is. As far as attendances go, there were reports of over 70,000 people attending that match and if those are true, then the  Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium has left behind the Eden Gardens, Kolkata as the largest cricket stadium in India.

The GCDA has in fact opened an online referendum on its website (http://www.gcdaonline.com/)  to assess public opinion on leasing the Nehru Stadium owned by it to the Kerala Cricket Association (KCA) for 30 years. It is one of the preconditions for considering the KCA’s claim to be allotted test match cricket. Depending on the public opinion, the authority will take a decision on the matter. If the love for the game that the people of Kerala have shown over the years, then the results of the voting could go only way.

Kerala cricket is going through a lot of radical changes. A lot of young players are coming into national recognition. Their domestic performances have been steadily improving all the time and the taste of test cricket in their own backyard can come at no better time. But before that they have to make sure that the issues with the drainage facilities at the ground are taken care of properly. A farce of the kind happened in the Duleep Trophy cannot be afforded at test level. The chance for redemption couldn’t have come any quicker for the KCA as Kochi is scheduled to host the first ODI between India and West Indies to be played on November 21st.  What makes the game unique is that it will be the first International match India plays after the retirement of Sachin Tendulkar. If Kochi can come up with a spectacle following the hang over of such a massive occasion, then that could help to go a long way in not only mitigating the damage in reputation as an International venue, but also to push their case as a future test centre.

 

This post first appeared on the website CricketCountry

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From the ODI Corner

Cricket is a unique game in many ways. What makes it all the more trickier for a newcomer to understand the whole game is the simultaneous existence of three formats of the game. The traditional, the much revered and the most classical form, test cricket played over five grueling days with two innings per side, the one day game, with only one innings of 50 overs per side and then the newest baby on board, the twenty-twenty or T20 as it is called more fashionably.

One Day Internationals have been around from 1971. But they have been questioned for their relevance for a long time now. With the advent of T20 leagues around the world and the crowded calendar, nowadays it’s the 50 over format that is under the scanner. The administrators have also been not helping the case with the scheduling and the constant tinkering of rules in ODI cricket. In the last decade itself, ODI cricket has gone through a handful of rule changes designed to make the  game more interesting for the spectators and to sustain the format in an environment where T20 cricket is attracting more eyeballs.

From it’s very inception, one day cricket has been seen as a format to try out new things and experiment with. When they first began in 1971, ODIs comprised 60 overs to be bowled by a side with each bowler allotted a quota of maximum 12 overs. Subsequently, considering time constraints the ICC experimented with a quota of 55 overs and then  later 50. The first three World Cups 1975, 1979 and 1983 were played in the 60-over format.

In the 1983 World Cup, itself, the field restriction rules emerged. 30 yard circle was introduced to cricket. Back then the rule was that a minimum of 4 fielders must always be inside the 30 yard circle. But the biggest game changer was the rule allowing not more than 2 fielders outside the inner circle for the first 15 overs of an ODI innings implemented from 1992. Hard hitting opening batsmen became a norm and batsmen who could score quickly by going over the top initially started to win matches for their teams.

In 2005, the ICC introduced two new major additions to the ODI playing rules, the Powerplays  and the Supersub. The Supersub rule allowed teams to replace a player in the playing eleven with a substitute player at any stage of the match. But the problem with it was that the rule heavily favoured the team winning the toss as they could take a decision best suiting to make full use of their super sub.  This rule was withdrawn within a season but they persisted with the Powerplays rules. Powerplays are basically an extension of the field restriction rules. More overs with field restrictions were introduced allowing teams to choose blocks of powerplay overs. This rule has gone through a cycle of frequent facelifts over the years. With each such revision, teams have been asked to constantly reassess their game plans in ODI matches.

A lot has been tinkered with the number of bouncers that are allowed in an over. Now it is fixed at two-bouncers per over. Another major change has been the use of two new balls from each end to start an ODI innings. But still the question remains despite all these wholesome changes. Has all this tinkering made the ODI game any better as a spectacle ?  One has to doubt that. The reality is that ODIs are a massive revenue generating tool for cricket boards through T.V rights and as a result so many pointless matches are being played across the globe. When nothing is at stake, teams do tend to field weaker teams on the park and that doesn’t bode well for the health of the format.

That leads to the other bruising issue, the scheduling. The administrators could try to give some context to ODI matches by giving a proper thought to scheduling. The marquee series this season has been the Ashes between England and Australia. In both England and Australia, test matches are still well received and they attract crowds who would flock into the grounds. Also the media coverage surrounding the Ashes test matches are surreal. So it was not really surprising that the ODI matches that followed the test matches failed to grab the public’s attention.

A straightforward solution to this is to schedule the ODI matches before the test matches in a tour. What many people call as the greatest test series of all time was the 2005 Ashes. That series was preceded by a highly entertaining ODI triangular tournament involving England, Australia and Bangladesh. For a big test series, the ODIs could act as a build up that could help the players get into the groove and the fans could get into the mood of the series.

In a column published on ESPNCricinfo, Samir Chopra puts forward a slightly more innovative way to take forward ODI cricket. In this, he ponders over a qualification system for World Cup of cricket. He suggests each and every ODI match should practically act as a qualification match for the big event with points to be won and lost.

One day cricket has given us some memorable moments and heroes. It still has its relevance in this ever changing world of cricket. After all, the 50 over World Cup still remains the biggest tournament in the game. So it is upto the decision makers in the game to make sure that the ODIs rediscover the lost mojo by showing some intelligence and commitment to improve the quality of the game.

This article first appeared on the website CricketCountry

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