Evolution of one-day game is amazing

One day cricket has really evolved over the years. One saw more evidence of this during the World Cup in Southern Africa.

SRIKKANTH

One day cricket has really evolved over the years. One saw more evidence of this during the World Cup in Southern Africa.

Limited overs cricket rules the game. It brings in the money, draws the crowds, and produces gripping cricket. I would even go to the extent of saying that in the minds of countless fans, it has become the main attraction now.

When I look back at the manner in which the abbreviated form of the game has progressed over the years, I am truly amazed. How things can change in life and sports.

In the 70s and the early 80s, limited overs cricket was looked down by the purists. It was considered a flippant light-hearted form of the game. One-day records hardly mattered.

Now, each time a record is set in the limited overs game, it makes big news. In fact, more people keep track of them than Test match cricket even as the statisticians work overtime.

This is not to belittle Test cricket, which is indeed a very demanding form of the game, but then these are days when one-day cricket sells. Commercially, it is very heart of the game.

In India, it is an even bigger craze than in most other countries - one saw clear evidence of this during the World Cup where the feelings and the passions ran sky high. A fact that sets me thinking.

In the 70s, the ODIs were hardly given much importance in India. Even by the organisers, whose minds were clearly focussed and trained on Test match cricket.

I can recall that the ODIs were just used as `fillers during a tour, the Tests being the major attraction. And in those days, the concept of limited overs cricketers was just not there.

The same men, who would play in Tests, would figure in the ODIs also, however unsuitable they might be to limited overs cricket. In other words, one-day cricket was not a specialist form of the game.

We used to have orthodox field positions then, and the slip cordon, the gully, even the short-legs would be in place. And even after the early overs, the mid-off and the mid-on would be up, in regular slots.

Not many kept track of the results in the ODI series. Even if a side was thrashed 5-0 it did not matter as long as it won the Test series. The priorities were very different.

In India the remarkable transformation took place when the country triumphed against all odds in the '83 World Cup. We were the champions of the world, and one-day cricket gathered steam in the country.

The sheer joy of watching us win ignited the nation. The response we received back home was unprecedented. One-day cricket became an even bigger rage in the country, when we won the World Championship of Cricket in Australia. Technically, the game has evolved and developed. We saw the field restrictions for the first time in the mid-80s, and the rules of the game changed.

I loved striking the ball over the infield, and those days I had trouble convincing people that this was a deliberate ploy to gather quick runs, not slogging. The field would be up, and this was a feasible tactic to collect quick runs.

In the '92 World Cup, Mark Greatbatch adopted the same method, however, I would say it was the Lankans who transformed the game in the '96 World Cup. Sanath Jayasuriya and Romesh Kaluwitharana treated the first 15 overs as the last 15, and the whole concept of limited overs cricket changed.

Earlier the approach used to be this — bat safely in the first 15 overs, build a platform, and go for the bowling in the last 15 overs. Now things had turned upside down!

This also meant the pace bowlers had to be more accurate, had to bowl a more fullish length. While there may have been more fearsome fast bowlers in the 70s and 80s, the pacemen, who followed them have been more accurate, if not as furious.

The pacemen have also developed several variations over the years. The slower delivery, for instance, is a creation of one-day cricket. Indeed, if a bowler is one-paced these days, he is sure to get whacked.

Over the years, the captains have also realised the value of the spinners. One-day cricket was pacemen's game in the beginning, however, it was soon realised that on slower pitches and on bigger grounds, the spinners would be valuable assets.

Spinners could not merely check the flow of runs, but attack as well. There are so many glittering examples - Shane Warne, Muttiah Muralitharan, Saqlain Mushtaq. All match-winners.

Not to mention the fielding standards that have really improved. Most sides have a fitness trainer these days, apart from the physio, and they have made a huge difference to the fitness levels of the players.

The diving and sliding stops are so commonplace that if a player does not attempt them now, he might find staying in a one-day side tough. Those days, a cricketer could find a place in the team if he was a classy batsman or a quality bowler. Now he has to be an average fielder. That is the basic minimum.

In contemporary cricket, there is no dearth of specialist fielders at point, cover, or mid-wicket, who would effect run-out dismissals with direct hits. The running between the wickets is hard, and the fielders moved in swiftly.

The job of the coach is extremely important in ODIs; those days there were no men with such roles. Coach is the one who watches every delivery from the pavilion and he does play a key role in strategy sessions. No wonder, every delivery is captured on video, and a cricketer's strengths and weaknesses are analysed.

The role of a captain in ODIs has also been acknowledged. If anything, leading a side in one-day cricket, especially during stages when the matches run close can be extremely telling. A captain has to flexible, quick and alert, and has to manage his overs cleverly. He has to keep a watchful eye on the field placements as well.

Above all, he has to handle the pressure. Here, a game can change course in a single over. Limited overs cricket has travelled a long way, and I must add that it is growing from strength to strength.