Tony Becca | Beware of cricket's useless changes
The new year is seven days old, and already, like so many times in the past, there are cries to change many things in cricket, including the pitch at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, home of the famous Boxing Day Test.
In recent years, Test cricket has been blessed by the presence of batting artists like AB deVilliers, Virat Kohli, and Kane Williamson; run-getters like Steve Smith, Joe Root, and Hisham Amla; ball-beaters like Chris Gayle and Brendon McCullum; and fast bowlers like Curtly Ambrose, Courtney Walsh, Glen McGrath, and Dale Steyn, James Anderson, Trent Boult, and Tim Southee.
Cricket has also been blessed by a host of puzzling right-arm wrist spinners led by Yasir Khan, Imran Tahir, Kuldeep Yadav, Shadab Khan, and Rashid Khan, and despite the decline in the quality of wicket-keepers and close-to-the wicket fielders, some amazing outfielders.
Despite the presence of so many attractive cricketers today, and many, many more, past and present, cricket has never missed an opportunity to tamper with the game, sometimes to the benefit of the game, sometimes to its detriment, and all in the interest of making it more appealing.
In all the changes, however, or in most of them, the question should have been, changes in the interest of whom or what?
As the years passed on, and as things changed, some things in the game would have to change to meet the changing times. Changes, however, should have been made. Not for changes sake, but for the better, and with an eye on longevity.
And since the changes were intended to make the game more attractive, and to earn more money, they should have been made more to change some of the players' way of playing the game and not so much to the rules of the game.
Cricket was changed for the better when, for example, it changed from underarm bowling to overarm bowling, from a bat with a curved toe to one with a straight blade, but the rule-changes that involved things like field-placements, leg-before-wicket decisions, bouncer restrictions, no-balls, and wide balls were not so game-changing, and neither were they widely accepted.
There has been talk in the fraternity that some of them now need changing again.
The latest thing under the microscope is the pitch at the MCG the pitch on which fast bowlers Anderson and Stuart Broad bowled well for the first time on the present Ashes tour the pitch on which Alistair Cook played what was described as a "magnificent and glorious" undefeated double century while batting through the England innings; the pitch on which off-spinner Nathan Lyon bowled beautifully; the pitch on which fast bowler Josh Hazlewood bowled wonderfully; and the pitch on which Warner scored 103 and 86 and Smith scored 76 and 102 not out.
The "disappointing" thing to the powers that be, and to some spectators, was that the match at the MCG, the Boxing Day Test, ended in a draw. It mattered not
to some people that despite the rain, England could have won the game before it was called off some three hours before the match was scheduled to end.
England were denied victory apparently only by Australia's stubborn batting led by Warner and Smith's defiant innings in the decisive third innings and probably by Joe Root's defensive approach even when it was obvious that England could not lose the match.
The Boxing Day Test, played to a huge crowd, showed that a draw, and a fight for a draw, is part of the game. An exciting part of the game, and sometimes, at certain times, it is worth being there for the drama.
Cricket needs changes at certain times. It needs to change tour fixtures, and it needs to change how players are handled. As Kohli, the captain, said recently, and as Dawid Malan, the England batsman, also said recently.
Once upon a time, touring teams usually played many first-class matches against good teams on good pitches. Those were the days when teams did not tour so often; when the touring players were often new to the viewing public; when the public wanted to see the visitors; when the visiting players wanted to get acclimatised; and when the home team's players saw the occasion as an opportunity to perform, to score a 100 runs or to take a handful of wickets.
Today, none of these things are really important. With television and players playing all over the world, the players are well known and there is no time to get acclimatised, and also, with television and sponsors money around, there is little or no need for crowds.
WASTE OF TIME
As Kohli has said, these warm-up games are now a waste of time. They are often played against weak teams and on poor pitches. The time, according to Kohli, would be better spent having good net sessions with good, properly prepared pitches.
Speaking about England's performances recently, Malan said that times have changed, and cricketers, especially England's fast bowlers, need to be handled better.
England's conditions call for seam bowling. England's county championship calls for seam bowlers playing day in and day out, for fast bowlers to cut their pace in order to last a long season, and when playing for England, the pacers, who then become seamers, cannot get back the pace that frightens batsmen and that wins Test matches, especially on tour.
Kohli, a veteran, and Malan, a newcomer, see the need for change, but they also see the need for change in the way things are done, the way the game is played, rather than in the rules and in the conditions of play.
Why, for example, attempt to change the game by awarding more points for a fast bowler who takes a wicket instead of encouraging the fast bowler to train and to get better?
And why interfere with the pitch at the MCG? The pitch which, when it was converted to the drop-in type, was once considered a major stroke in ingenuity, and a pitch which produced some of cricket's best performances and selling points, including a tantalising draw, except for the last three or so hours.
The MCG pitch may have been a bit slow, but the wear and tear made it somewhat difficult to bat on, and probably all it needs, if anything at all, is some maintenance, or a little freshening up.
Cricket has gone from five days and four days to 50-over, 20-over, and now to 10-over-aside games. Maybe one day it will reach five-overs-per-side games, and if it does, it will be simply to win friends and to influence the gates.
The changes, hopefully, will be beneficial to the game and will last for generations to come. Changes are good, and most times, they are important to improvement. They should not, however, be at any and all cost.