Evolution of One-Day cricket

With the introduction of powerplays, boundary ropes being brought in, the increasing number of flat wickets, and the technologically enhanced bats, there is no doubt the ICC’s mission statement for one-day cricket is boundary hitting, and plenty of it.

The powers that be are determined to reward batting teams with aggressive risks in the early stages of a limited overs contest. Almost goading the openers to chance their arm and take on an extravagant lofted drives, in turn responding to the hierarchies desire for a constant flow of boundaries. Indeed ‘Babe’ Ruth would not look out of his place in the modern game with his own inimitable hitting style.

With such scenarios set, teams have experimented between orthodox batsmen with the versatility of playing the expansive strokes and so called ‘pinch-hitters’, generally lower order batters promoted to utilise the fielding restrictions without the fear of losing their wicket.

Two of the finest exponents of this art are a combination of both styles. Happy to blaze away from ball one, yet technically good enough to appreciate and deal with an opening bowler who has found his rhythm with the new ball. I am of course referring to Adam Gilchrist and Sanath Jayasuriya, for whom it will almost certainly be their last World Cup and a final chance to take centre stage in a prestigious one-day event before their inevitable retirements arrive.

Australia’s Adam Gilchrist will now be arriving in time for the start of the World Cup, after his wife gave birth to their third child, however, making up for lost time is nothing new to the Aussie keeper (he had to wait till he was nearly 28 for his Test debut). In the one-day arena Gilchrist has been pretty much a regular since his debut in 1996, and he has proved to be one of the most entertaining and exciting batsmen of the modern era.

Unfazed by the prospect of facing the new ball, ‘Gilly’ sees it as a chance to get some early runs with the attacking fields set and does so with a mix of ferocious cuts and pulls, flaying anything that offers a hint of width. A career strike rate of 96.29 in 257 ODI’s tells you all you need to know about how Gilchrist goes about his batting. It is obviously not all about how quick you score the runs, but how many you score, and he has accumulated an impressive 8585 runs, whilst twice winning the award for One-Day International Player of the Year in 2003 and 2004.

Gilchrist’ plan in the future is to spend more time with his family, and in the 20 games he has played in the World Cup so far he is yet to register a century, what better way to sign off than amending that particular statistic.

Sanath Jayasuriya will be hoping to lead the way for Sri Lanka in a repeat of their 1996 World Cup success. Another exceptionally explosive hitter at the top of the innings, and like Gilchrist, he is as strong as any other player in world cricket square of the wicket. He has so far scored over 11,500 runs in ODI cricket and still maintains a strike rate in excess of 90 runs per 100 balls, which emphasizes the fact he has been one of Sri Lanka’s most important one-day players in their history.

It was in 1996 where Jayasuriya first came to worldwide prominence with his ultra positive style, when he was promoted up the order to open the innings and use the first 15 overs like you would the last 15. It was possibly the first time such a diverse tactic was used (New Zealand and Mark Greatbatch may disagree). The decision was made by his captain Arjuna Ranatunga and against England in the quarter-finals, Jayasuriya scored 82 runs off a mere 44 balls helping them secure a comfortable five wicket victory.

It has not all been plain sailing for Sri Lanka’s master blaster, it was not until his 34th innings that he managed to pass the half century mark, and he briefly retired in 2006, only to be called out of his armchair and slippers to join up with Tom Moody’s squad in England (of which he did not feature).

He still holds the record for the fastest fifity, racing to the landmark off only 17 balls against Pakistan in 1996 and was top of the list for fastest century when he reached a hundred off 48 balls in the same series (this record lasted only 6 months, that innings is now fifth in the list).

This will be Jayasuriya’s fifth and final World Cup, and you would not bet against him going out in typical dynamic and gung-ho fashion.

Most nations throughout the years, since 1996, have experimented with these explosive players at the top and in this coming World Cup they will still be on show. Virender Sehwag of India is currently short on form, but can be quite destructive if he gets it right, as can Robin Uthappa, also of India, who is in the very early stages of his international career but has already signified his intentions in the shorter form of the game, with a strike rate that stands at over 114 runs per 100 balls.

In the last 10 ODI matches of all the major nations, India are the leading side that use the first 10 overs to their advantage, scoring on average 55 runs in the opening stages.

England are the team slowest out of the traps (averaging 39), favouring instead to try ensure wickets are kept in the shed for a later onslaught. I would not imagine things changing for England in the Caribbean, as they left out there only real attacking threat at the top in Mal Loye.

Chris Gayle, who had an outstanding ICC Champions Trophy where he made three centuries, will no doubt be a big threat, especially playing at his home ground in Jamaica in the initial group stage. Gayle has become a consistent performer for the West Indies, and what he lacks in footwork he more than makes up for with bludgeoning drives through the off side.

Pakistan are another side that can boast a handful of destructive players that can be used in the opening salvos. Imran Nazir has won a recall to the side after a two and a half year exile, and blasted a 32-ball fifty on his return against South Africa and Shahid Afridi has been used in the past as an opener with a certain licence to entertain and has scored 3484 of his 4982 career ODI runs at the top of the order. His style of batting needs no introduction, but at times his shot selection is certainly questionable. Pakistan continue to be a little bemused as to which position he is most effective.

Lou Vincent has been in sparkling form for New Zealand recently in the CB Series and the Chappell-Hadlee Trophy after replacing Nathan Astle, and will not be shy in taking the aerial route at the World Cup and asserting his authority on opposing sides.

With a mix of rule changes, innovative tactics, shortened boundaries and the undoubted skill of players in the mould of the above, the upcoming World Cup promises to be a high scoring affair, as run rates are generally on the increase. This may bu due in part to the introduction of Twenty20 cricket, the new format of the game, which has brought alternative thinking to the game and some interesting shot play.

When 50 over cricket was first introduced to the World Cup back in 1987, only the West Indies passed the 300 mark, and that was in large thanks to Viv Richards incredible 181 against Sri Lanka. With all the new tracks laid for this World Cup it is difficult to predict exactly how these pitches will play, but I have the feeling that 300 rather than being the benchmark may well be insufficient on occasions, as the idea of 400 runs in a World Cup innings grows ever closer to becoming an unthinkable reality.

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