Keep It Simple, Stupid

“Well very simple. I think what we’re trying to do with our new city-based tournament is really appeal to a new audience. So people that aren’t necessarily traditional cricket fans, and in particular looking at mums and kids during the summer holidays. So, what we’re trying to do is find a way of making the game as simple as possible for them to understand and, you know, if you imagine that sort of countdown from 100 balls down to 0 and the runs going up, I think that’s a pretty simple way of playing the game.”

These are the words of the ECB’s Director Of England Cricket, Andrew Strauss, in response to the question “A new 100-ball competition. Your reason for introducing that?” on Sportsweek. What stood out for me in this long winded (and arguably sexist) response, is that Strauss used the world “simple” three times in the first four sentences.

First, a recap of the current proposals by the ECB for this new format. Instead of the current T20 format of 20 six-ball overs per innings, each team will face a maximum of 100 balls in 16 overs. Of those 16 overs, one will have 10 balls and the rest will remain as 6 balls each. Since the initial proposal, there has been a suggestion reported in the Telegraph that the fielding team will have the option of switching bowlers during the longer over up to three times.

All of which begs the question: How is this simpler than T20? It honestly sounds like the most convoluted format of cricket I’ve ever heard of.

I, like most people who frequent this blog (or at least most of the people who comment), prefer Test cricket to the other forms of the game. With all the talk of the new tournament and now a new format, I’ve been trying to think why that is. The answer I have come up with is this: It’s a simple game.

For a start, the goals of the teams playing Test cricket are very simple. The fielding side has to take 20 wickets. If a Test team can’t manage that (see England’s performances this winter), they can’t win. Conversely, the batting team will attempt to preserve their wickets. If successful, they should never lose.

Which is not to say that there aren’t complexities in Test cricket. LBW is cricket’s answer to football’s offside rule, incredibly difficult to explain to a newbie and probably requiring diagrams of some sort. It is a necessary complication though, because otherwise it would be possible for batsmen to essentially negate all forms of dismissal. The names for the positions in the field aren’t exactly intuitive for people unfamiliar with the game, but given the massive variety of possible places a fielder can be in there may not be an obvious solution to that. More recently, the DRS system has also added some confusion to proceedings. That was almost an enforced change, with technology showing umpires’ mistakes almost instantly on television and causing an outcry amongst aggrieved fans.

The other formats of the game are certainly shorter, but can hardly be described as more simple. Take as an example the powerplays. I’m a cricket fan, I’ve watched and listened to dozens of ODIs, I’ve even done match reports for some of them here on BOC. I literally couldn’t tell you when the ODI powerplays are or how many fielders have to be within the circle. It seems to change every few years, and at some point I decided to stop keeping track.

Even more importantly, the powerplays mean that the rules by which the teams are playing change throughout the game itself. This would be like every rugby union game starting with 10 minutes of 7-a-side to encourage more tries, or football matches having 15 minutes without goalkeepers. I honestly can’t think of any other examples in sport where the rules shift mid-match, excluding tie-breakers such as extra time and penalty shoot-outs.

The thing I really hate about limited overs cricket is the limit on how many overs any player can bowl. As a fan of the sport, I want to see the best players from both teams facing each other as much as possible. Instead, batsmen in ODIs and T20s face the majority of their deliveries from bowlers picked for their batting ability over anything else. Whilst I understand the reasons behind it, namely that it weakens the bowling and strengthens the batting and therefore ensures a high-scoring game, it still feels contrived and artificial to me.

If the ECB really wanted to produce a format which was easy for newcomers and existing fans to understand and enjoy, surely the obvious solution is to have as few rules and restrictions as possible? No bowling limits, no fielding limits, and especially no weirdly long overs. Just get 11 great players on the field and let them create the drama and excitement, like in every popular sport.

It’s really very simple.