“I am for 50-over cricket. I think we should have 25 overs-a-side to start with. I thought of this during the 2002 Champions Trophy in Sri Lanka”. These are the words of Indian great Sachin Tendulkar, who holds the record for the most One-Day International centuries ever (49), speaking in 2009 about his views on the future of one-day cricket.
Given the current status of limited overs cricket, The Little Master’s remarks may have been, for once, premature and pessimistic.
However, his conclusion was rather pertinent at the time. Commentators and players alike deemed the middle of the innings, between overs 15-40, a stale period where the game would become so tedious that the sinuous beer snakes forming amongst the apathetic crowd would be a more interesting occurrence.
Therefore, to suggest that the incredible fifth ODI in Johannesburg between South Africa and Australia in 2006, which saw 872 runs scored in 99.5 overs, was played in the wrong era for ODI cricket gives prominence to modern standards. Take Australia’s tour of India in late 2013, or the 2015 World Cup in Australia and New Zealand, and New Zealand’s tour of England last summer, and the marked proliferation of runs in each provides everyone with a brief but meagre framework in which batsmen, with their ingenuity, have recently combated bowlers’ variations.
The second ODI in the 2013 series in Jaipur provided those who almost repudiated the idea of ODI cricket as a concept with an eye-opening experience. Australia had set India 360 to win after George Bailey’s unbeaten 92. In reply, Virat Kohli scored the fastest century by an Indian ever, at the time of writing the 12th fastest in history, whilst Rohit Sharma enhanced his reputation as the ‘hitman’ of the Indian side.
For the impudent individual, two staggering achievements were manifested in this encounter. Whilst Australia’s innings allowed others to realise that a centurion was not a prerequisite for a score well in advance of 300, it was India’s riposte that made for tantalizing viewing. Kohli and Sharma dispatched of an internationally respected bowling attack consisting of Mitchell Johnson, James Faulkner and Shane Watson, knocking the runs off with an incredible 39 balls still to spare.
Even still, the boorish Test cricket enthusiasts were left unconvinced. So what they thought, if an ageing Mitchell Johnson travailed on flat, batsman-friendly Indian wickets in vain? Fortunately for limited overs fans, the preconception of interminable ODI cricket was disproved last year, as belligerent hitting imbued with renewed confidence saw new records pervade the annals of cricket.
New Zealand’s Martin Guptill and Sri Lanka’s Kumar Sangakkara both passed 500 runs in the World Cup in February and March last year, having only played 16 innings between them. The former’s 237 not out against West Indies became the highest individual score in the tournament’s history, whilst the respective captains of New Zealand and South Africa, Brendon McCullum and AB de Villiers, scored the fastest World Cup 50 and 150.
Teams as a whole flourished, with 28 scores of 300 or above, and 2627 deliveries resulting in a four or six. Australia passed 400 once and South Africa twice to confirm that the figure may be cemented as the ‘new 300’.
Without wanting to revert to an overload of statistical analysis, the most recent edition of cricket’s most cherished prize was incredibly significant, not just for Australia’s sake given the Phillip Hughes tragedy, but also to breathe new life into all forms of the game, and in particular to serve as an inspiration for every single team.
This was most discernible in the England side following their World Cup humiliation at the expense of Bangladesh. The ODI series against New Zealand, which ended in a 3-2 victory for the hosts, after a scintillating finale at Emirates Durham ICG, proved that the shackles had well and truly come off.
England managed to accumulate their highest ever total of 408 at Edgbaston following centuries from Joe Root and Jos Buttler. In only three of the 10 innings in the five-match series was a score of at least 300 not put on the board, two of which were in the rain-interrupted Chester-le-Street decider, leading to an aggregate of 3151 runs scored in the series.
This was then usurped in the most recent series between the India and Australia Down Under, which concluded four days ago, where 3159 runs were scored, now the most ever in a bilateral series of five games or less.
Just as with any sport, such statistical evidence can only describe, not explain, the changing face of cricket in general, as this has more disputable aspects to it than 300 become the ‘new 250’. Nevertheless, what is for sure is that the long-term seminal effect of the Big Bash League and Indian Premier League has been the amount of unprecedented individual and team records worldwide.
What is not so certain though, is the limit of modern-day players’ inconceivable strengths. There were 11 centuries in the 2016 series between Australia and India, seven of which came in defeats, five for India and two for Australia. Perhaps only double centuries will ultimately decide outcomes in the years to come.
Few at the ground in Johannesburg in 2006 would have dreamt of seeing scores like 434 and 438 again. No one knows what the next 10 years may bring.
Photograph : Tourism Victoria via Flickr