A radical proposal to revamp 50-over cricket is under consideration and has already secured support from some of the game's most influential voices. It is widely believed that the 50-over version of the game has become tired. Dick Wood, a number cruncher from Cape Town who reached the top of his profession at an early age but withdrew to follow his heart, wants that to change.
With time on his hands, Wood looked at 50-over cricket and realised it was too slow. In particular, he felt the format of one team batting for around four hours and the other side trying its luck for the next four hours, did not create the drama needed to satisfy crowds. For a start, teams were too far apart. One side had scored 300 before their opponents had put a run on the board.
Contrastingly, he noticed that baseball sides stay in close contact throughout, so the state of play is clear to spectators. In tennis, too, a player does not serve 100 times before giving his opponent an opportunity to reply in kind. It would be too boring, too repetitive.
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Yet cricket allows one side to complete an innings spread over an afternoon before allowing its rival to go to the crease. Only barrackers willing and able to watch all day and into the night will see both sides bat and bowl. Even then, the contest will lack the nip and tuck observed in other sports, including boxing, rugby, football and so forth.
Wood's solution was simple and audacious. Without interfering with the laws of the game in any way, he advocated letting teams bat in shorter bursts so tension is sustained. Cricket has been tinkering around the edges, by introducing power plays and obliging teams to take them within the first 40 overs, but Wood did not think these improvements went far enough because they did not tackle the real problem.
5ives Cricket, his baby, has a simple format. Team A bats for five overs then Team B bats for 10 overs, completing the first cycle with a bonus point at stake and throwing down the gauntlet for the next five-over cycle. Team A then bats for another 10 overs, and so on, until the 50 overs have been completed and the victor has emerged. Along the way, bonus points are given for every five-over burst, forcing captains to decide whether to go for the point or concentrate on overall position.
At first, it sounds harebrained but, gradually, advantages emerge. For a start, Duckworth-Lewis is not needed. The team in front, when rains stops play, wins. Both sides have the same opportunity to anticipate changes in the weather. Moreover, a glance at the scoreboard will tell spectators the situation.
Showing the sense of adventure that, unexpectedly, has become its hallmark, the Marylebone Cricket Club tried the format on a recent trip to Abu Dhabi. Typically, too, they went the whole hog, using Wood's formula rather than a compromise. Even old pros like Clive Radley and Mark Alleyne, the coaches, liked it. Both thought it had a future, both confirmed players enjoyed it and both praised its intensity.
Not the least attractive part of Wood's proposal is that the laws of the game are left untouched. The only alteration is that 12th and 13th men are allowed to field - a strategy that quickens the changeovers, letting not-out batsmen get ready whilst their side is fielding. MCC reported that turnarounds took 90 seconds in Dubai. Both coaches thought the 10-over (40-minute) batting stints worked. Clearly, swift turnarounds and informative scoreboards are essential or the purpose is lost.
In every other respect, the game follows its traditional course , with 10 wickets, batsmen getting a single innings, bowling and fielding restrictions as required etc.
Besides the MCC, the 5ives format will be trialled by South Africa universities this summer. Cricket Australia likes it, as does Sunil Gavaskar. Both advised Wood that the ODI format will not change till after the 2015 World Cup because teams will want to prepare for the current rules. But both thought the idea had merit.
5ives is worth a look because the current format looks weary. Perhaps the last words ought to be left with Radley, Alleyne and Robert Wooley, the MCC Universities captain.
Asked if they thought 5ives cricket could catch on they said:
Radley: ''Yes at professional level.''
Wooley: ''Yes, I believe it will."