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The 21st century ODI cricket revolution

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Cricket_revolutionWhen I started following cricket back in 2002, the post-match-fixing scandal-hit Indian cricket team was still in its embryonic stage. Fresh from the historic Test series against Australia in the previous year, following which they faltered to similar foes in the 50-over fixtures and put on an even worse display against the South Africans in their backyard. The 2002 Champions Trophy was the ultimate test for the “Men in Blue” to prove their worth.

Things were quite different those days, especially the approach towards the particular format. There was a certain kind of inclination to bat first, put up around 250 runs on the board and pressurise the opponent. Yes! 250 was a challenging total for any team in any respective venue. Chasing under the lights made things all the more difficult for the team batting second. The nail-biting semi-final clash between India and South Africa proved that scores like 261 can be tricky even if you get a good start, needless to mention the excellent fielding efforts by the Indians also contributed to the overall success.

The next big event was the 2003 ICC Cricket World Cup, hosted by South Africa for the first time. Australia were the firm favourites, along with the Proteas. The spirited Indian team was expected to put up a promising show but not enough to bring them cup glory. It was a well-fought tournament with an unexpected finalist India facing the mighty Aussies only to see themselves thrashed thanks to brilliant knocks from skipper Ricky Ponting and Damien Martyn.

The showpiece event witnessed some high scoring matches; the final at Johannesburg saw the highest team total of 359 runs and also the highest aggregate score of 593 runs. The most successful chased down total in the World Cup was 253.

The year 2006 witnessed one of the greatest matches in One-Day Internationals ever played. There was everything at stakes in the final match between Australia and South Africa as the series was locked at 2-2. The Wanderers provided the perfect setting for the pinnacle clash.

The Australians, desperate to clinch the tie, demolished the bowling side and scored an unbelievable 434 runs in their 50 overs, to assure what seemed then likely to be a secured win. But fate had other plans. Herschelle Gibbs produced a gem of an innings to pull-off probably the most clinical run chase ever. The right-hander went berserk, scoring 175 runs in just 142 balls with the aid of 21 fours and 7 sixes.

When he was dismissed, the South Africans were one short of the 300-run mark with more than 18 overs left. Veteran Mark Boucher stood firm and steered them to a win with supporting act from Johan Van der Wath. The match recorded the highest run aggregate, the combined runs scored on that day was 872, the most in any 50-over International.

A similar trend was reflected during the 2007 ICC Cricket World Cup in the Caribbean with high scoring encounters sprouting here and there throughout the tournament. 676 was the run count during the clash between South Africa and defenders Australia. The men from “Down Under” became the only nation to win three consecutive World Cups after they got the better of the Lankan Lions at the title match in Barbados.

Interestingly, 7 out of the most successful run chases in One-Day Internationals have been achieved after 2007. The new spectacle which could have added to such outcomes was the introduction of the ICC World T20, in 2007 itself.

A different new ball game was gradually grasping the attention of cricket lovers around the globe. Glitz, glamour, six, four, free-hit, it had everything moulded inside 40 overs of exciting cricket. Hit out or get out was the mantra and it became so popular that India started staging its own T20 league investing millions.

People flocked to the stadiums like swarms of bees trying to extract entertaining cricket to the last penny spent on their tickets. One-Day Internationals started to show traits of a T20 hangover, as a more aggressive brand of cricket was being adopted in their style of play.

The Dhoni-era witnessed some of the most memorable wins India ever featured in, the top-ranked being the 2011 ICC Cricket World Cup triumph. Being the favourites to win the coveted tournament for the second time after 28 years, India did not disappoint. Even the genie out of Aladdin’s lamp couldn’t have scripted a better story for the Indian Cricket Team.

The city on the shores of the Arabian Sea erupted as the skipper’s powerful hit travelled to the stands, tears of joy trickled down the cheeks of many a few moments later. The hosts chased down 274, the highest in the final match of any ICC International tournament, with 10 balls to spare.

Indian run chases have been fruitful in the past decade, with Virat Kohli playing a huge part in this. The Asian outfit chased three 350+ scores in ODIs (two in 2013 and one in 2017), the most by any team. Twenty-twenty cricket cannot be blamed alone for the transformation of the game as the years passed; the new rules imposed by the International Cricket Council (ICC) also made a huge impact.

The conventional 15-over fielding restriction at the beginning was curtailed by 5 overs in 2005, with two power-plays of 5-over each to be taken by the batting team between the 11th and the 50th over. In 2008, ICC decided to offer the discretion of one of the power-plays to the batting team and the other to the bowling unit. Three years later, it was addressed by the parent body to complete the power-plays by the 40th over. But the 2012 amendment made it clear that good days were arriving for the batsman as the maximum players outside the circle were reduced to four from five.

As per the latest rules, along with the mandatory 10-overs at the beginning, during which only two fielders are allowed outside, there will be a phase between the 11th and 40th over where 4 fielders will stand outside the 30-yard circle and the 5 fielders to be permitted outside in the last 10 overs. Whatever the rules may be, the batsman seems to get an upper hand always.

The bigger question arises whether easy run-scoring conditions will actually help the game of cricket in the long run or not. Even the best bowler in the world, Dale Steyn once said, "It's always tough to be a bowler. All the rules are against us." Does this mean Test cricket remains the only format where the battle between the bat and the ball is fair? No fielding restrictions, the red cherry likely to assist the bowlers more compared to its white counterpart added with the pitch factor which changes along with 5 days of cricket.

Time will tell how limited overs cricket shapes up in the next couple of years, with the 2019 ICC Cricket World Cup to return from where it began, England.

 

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