EVER since Kerry Packer’s cricket revolution and the introduction of limited-overs matches in the 1970s, debate has raged about the merits of traditional-length matches versus the fast-paced, shorter versions.
This week when Australia failed to bat out a day as it attempted to save the third Test against South Africa in Perth, some pundits were querying the inclusion of the quick-scoring David Warner as an opener. Warner, a product of the limited-overs era, is compelling viewing with his fearsome pulls and drives but he is never going to bat 90 overs and save a game — it’s just not his go.
So what’s better? A batsman who occupies the crease and accumulates runs or one who scores freely but fleetingly? It’s a similar question to one cricket administrators and the game in south-west Victoria is grappling with as longer versions of the game struggle to maintain competitor interest.
Just like the lounge-room cricket fans who love the frenetic action of a Twenty20 or 50-overs-a-side game, players are tending to tune out of longer matches. South West Cricket, which arguably has the best representative side in the region, this season opted to dispense with two-day matches spread across consecutive Saturdays. In theory, one side was supposed to bat one Saturday and then spend the following Saturday in the field.
But SWC, against a backdrop of player availability issues, snore-fest run rates and the inability of sides to bat for three-quarters of a day, switched to a fixture containing only 50-overs-a-side matches.
It was a decision long-time Warrnambool and District Cricket Association player, coach and administrator John Pattison argues needs to happen in the region’s biggest competition, which has a much larger population to draw on in Warrnambool than the small towns of Camperdown, Cobden, Terang, Mortlake and Timboon that make up SWC.
Pattison has argued for years the WDCA needs to adopt more shorter games, saying it will ensure exciting matches and lift the quality of play. “The cricket carcass is withering,” he wrote last month.
The Standard has analysed division one scorecards from two-day matches for the past three WDCA seasons. It’s fair to say the notion of two-day cricket is a misnomer. The average first innings in a completed two-day game was 66 overs last season, 14 short of the maximum 80 overs. It was the same for the 2010-11 season and 64 overs the previous season.
Last season, two-thirds of completed innings in two-day games failed to last the 80 overs. Almost half didn’t even get beyond the 69th over.
The figures were worse in 2010-11 when just 22 per cent of first innings went the distance. In 2009-10 it was 30 per cent.
So why stick with 80 overs?
Nestles star and WDCA captain Brett Eldridge is one of the most passionate ambassadors for two-day games in division one.
He concedes division two and three games should be one-dayers to ensure clubs get sides on the park. But division one must include games over a longer format.
“I had boys leaving the club because they weren’t getting a go,” Eldridge said.
“In 50-over games you might be two, three or four wickets down and guys in the middle order might only have a small window to bat and they will probably throw away their wicket. Generally in 80-over cricket they will have one hour to bat and that will determine whether you bat 60 or 80 overs.”
He said Nestles, under his leadership last season, always wanted to be no worse than three wickets down 30 minutes after tea. That left 40 overs for his middle order.
“They don’t get that in a one-day game. If you have one-day games only the association will cease to exist because no one will want to play because guys won’t be getting an opportunity to bat.”
He said one-day games would also be bad for young bowlers.
“You want to teach them the basics and in a two-day game they can work into a spell but in one-day games or T20s batsmen are just coming after the bowlers and they aren’t learning to bowl line and length.”
Eldridge said the figures confirmed his belief sides were becoming better at batting their overs, trending upwards from 2009-10.
Woodford coach John Houston is another in favour of two-day games.
“I think the problem is we are not teaching kids patience,” he said.
“Because we have a lot of young kids in the association, a lot just want to get on with it. They are playing a lot of T20. We need to teach the art of patience. If we take that away it could be to the detriment of cricket in the long term.”
Houston, a self-confessed accumulator of runs, said the beauty of two-day cricket was that players with a variety of skills were involved.
He said there needed to be incentives for clubs to prepare better turf pitches.
Pomborneit veteran and SWC Melbourne Country Week-winning captain Steve Castle said the move to one-day games had regenerated SWC. Instead of 75-overs-a-side two-day games, the 50-overs-a-side matches on one day had been a hit.
“I believe there wasn’t a lot of teams batting those overs and a lot of those games were becoming pretty uncompetitive,” Castle said, a view which prompted him to raise the idea for change. Results in many matches were all but determined by the end of the first day’s play. But the switch to one-day games had ensured closer games and a higher standard of cricket.
“One of the main things was the player availability in our league, trying to get players to commit to two-day cricket,” Castle said.
He argued the association’s representative cricket was based around 50-over or Twenty20 matches.
“I’m not saying this because we’ve had some success at representative cricket but two-day cricket discourages people from looking to score. They think they just have to stay there. When you go to Melbourne or Bendigo Country Week you need 250 off 50 overs to be competitive, not 160 or 180.
“The two-day cricket was really only one-dayers played over two days. I know there are a couple of clubs who aren’t as keen on it but a lot of the people I’ve spoken to are pretty happy with it. ”