The humdinger played out by New Zealand and Australia on Saturday was just the boost this World Cup needed. Despite the hoopla around it, exciting and close contests - especially between full members of the ICC - had been all too few.
This was a poor advertisement for the biggest tournament in the sport and, on a broader plane, even for the format. Everybody knows that ODIs have been under duress, what with dwindling spectatorship and weakening sponsorship.
Ever since T20 became a hit and captured a new spectatorship, questions have been raised about just how long - or in what health - the 50-over format would survive. This World Cup was to provide some answers, which didn't seem forthcoming in the first two weeks - till Saturday's crackling match set the stage alight.
Not all questions can be answered in just one exciting match, of course. The future of ODIs rests on making the entire duration of play engaging for modern spectators whose attention span has slipped a fair bit. The middle passage of play - especially between overs 20 and 40 - had become too predictable.
Some tweaking of rules - like say incorporating an extra power play followed by reduction of fielders outside the inner circle - have been introduced in recent years to ensure that there are no lull periods in the match.
"What made such a rousing contest possible was the razor-sharp competitiveness between the two teams, of course, but also the fact that the bowlers got prominence because of the conditions - both weather, and the pitch."
While these have worked to an extent, it has also been seen that this has also loaded the dice heavily against bowlers, what with flat pitches and shortened boundaries also working in favour of batsmen.
All this was based on the premise that big-hitting and huge scores would make for more exciting matches. Interestingly, this is precisely what Saturday's crackling match between Australia-New Zealand debunked.
Only 303 runs were scored between the two sides and only 55.3 overs were bowled. While this would otherwise seem that spectators were massively short-changed, in fact the crowd at Auckland gave both teams a standing ovation for the hard-fought match which ended in a nail-biting finish.
What made such a rousing contest possible was the razor-sharp competitiveness between the two teams, of course, but also the fact that the bowlers got prominence because of the conditions - both weather, and the pitch.
With both host countries New Zealand and Australia emerging as strong favourites to win the title, players from both teams were pumped up to gain psychological advantage in this league match. This showed up in the overly aggressive batting from both teams, but more tellingly in the highly skilled bowling.
The innings of Australia and New Zealand seemed to follow a similar pattern as the batsmen tried to take the attack to the bowlers, who then struck back sensationally. Australia were at one stage 80 for one and folded up for 151. New Zealand in reply were 78 for 1 and coasting to a win, before wickets started tumbling.
They finally won with only one wicket remaining; and that because young Kane Williamson threw caution to the winds and played a gutsy, if risky, stroke for six off Pat Cummins. By that time, every New Zealand supporter would have been chewing on his or her heart.
Essentially, though, the match went through such dramatic twists and turns because of outstanding left-arm pace bowling by Trent Boult (for New Zealand) and Australia's Mitchell Starc. They were fast, swung the ball late and either way and had superb control. I dare say, even if the batsmen had been a trifle less adventurous, these two would have reaped wickets.
"The match swung wildly like an out-of-control yo-yo till its pulsating climax, which had the fans on the edge of their seats - and asking for more."
What Boult and Starc managed was to turn the match around on its head a couple of times -- in half a day! The match swung wildly like an out-of-control yo-yo till its pulsating climax, which had the fans on the edge of their seats - and asking for more.
This tenor and texture of this match was dramatically different from those seen in recent times where teams have plundered runs at will, where 300 per innings has become more or less a par score, but where bowlers have been left with an existential crisis.
Saturday's match showed that if the contest between bat and ball becomes more even and is not contrived to serve the interests of batsmen, it may perhaps reduce the quantum of play possible but take nothing away from the thrill of the match.
Indeed, it enhances the display of skills of all departments more which could work for the holistic betterment of the sport. The ICC, I understand, is mulling over making the ODI of 40-overs each side to remove the ennui of the middle overs.
There might be good reason to do so, but if this is done without keeping bowlers in the competitive scheme of things, it will end up becoming much of the same old story rather than redefining the dynamics of cricket for the future.Suggest a correction