One-dayers can be engrossing

M.S. Dhoni... ODI Cricketer of the Year.-AP

The answer to the survival of the 50-overs-a-side game could lie in the nature of pitches. When a pitch is as lively as the one at the Wanderers, the slip cordon is in place, and the deliveries test the skill and technique of a batsman. He is probed by lateral movement and the short-pitched stuff. This is what we want in any format of the game, writes S. Dinakar.

ODI cricket in its present form is in the spotlight in South Africa. There are some who feel that the format is past its sell by date. However, once the ball starts to seam around at the Wanderers, missing the edge or finding it, or jagging into the bemused batsman, the contest becomes engrossing.

More than the pace of the run-getting, it is the intensity of the contest that is more engaging. A lop-sided duel in favour of batsmen can be extremely boring irrespective of the fours and sixes hit.

The answer to the survival of the 50-overs-a-side game could lie in the nature of pitches. When a pitch is as lively as the one at the Wanderers, the slip cordon is in place, and the deliveries test the skill and technique of a batsman. He is probed by lateral movement and the short-pitched stuff. This is what we want in any format of the game.

Actually, the closing down of the annual triangular series in Australia has hurt ODI cricket. The tournament, despite its gruelling schedule, was widely followed across the globe. And surfaces with pace and bounce brought the best out of the cricketers. There were thrilling finishes; even in medium- and low-scoring matches. The triangular series down under becoming history leaves a hole in the ODI calendar that has still not been filled.

The message is clear though. In a game already loaded in favour of batsmen, the bowlers need to be given a fair chance. And when somebody makes crucial runs in adversity – even as the other batsmen struggle – the quality of his effort is enhanced.

The crowds enjoy the quality of the matches and the atmosphere at the Wanderers – the Bull Ring. The action is followed closely.

The SuperSport Park at Centurion is a different kind of venue. This is a lovely open ground and from the press box one can see cars zipping on the motorway up the hill.

The big cat, Clive Lloyd, makes an appearance in the media box at the Wanderers. The man stills commands respect. “I am with royalty,” he quips as soon as he spots Sanjay Manjrekar and Harsha Bhogle. The two Indians assure him that it is Lloyd who is royalty.

It would have been painful for Lloyd to watch a second-string West Indian side in action. The starless side puts up a brave fight but is simply not good enough. How times change. Lloyd and his aggressive batsmen and a battery of fast bowlers rule world cricket from the mid-1970s into the 1980s. Then West Indian cricket gradually slumps.

The LG-ICC annual awards ceremony at Sandton Sun reflects the changes in fortunes. No West Indian wins an individual award. It is a pleasant function and the facilities for the media are excellent. India’s Gautam Gambhir is adjudged the Test Cricketer of the Year. “It’s been a dream run for me. I had almost given up at one point. I never thought that I would make it back to the Indian team. Things have happened quickly,” says the Indian opener after receiving the prize from cricket legend Sunil Gavaskar. Life is a lot about keeping faith.

Mitchell Johnson, the Australian pace-bowling all-rounder, too has been on the rollercoaster. The hard times only strengthen his resolve. And he is enjoying his ride. The Australian is the Cricketer of the Year.

Mahendra Singh Dhoni is not present on the occasion but is named the ODI Cricketer of the Year. The award will be some consolation for the Indian captain after a disastrous Champions Trophy campaign.

And then we hear the song, ‘The Circle of Life’ drifting in from a distance. That’s life. That’s cricket.