NEW Zealand and Australia are leading a revitalising revolution in cricket, says Iain Fletcher.
Whichever side of the Tasman Sea wins today and is crowned champions, the cricketing world should be relieved that Australia and New Zealand made the World Cup final. Every few years sport goes through a dramatic cycle of change and one-day cricket has just completed one led by these two countries.
Actually, this has been an ongoing process since the advent of 20/20 cricket and teams starting to take it seriously rather than a hit and giggle. For those already playing when the IPL started in 2008, it was a chance to make serious money that they never envisaged when they first became professionals. It is the generation of youngsters that grew up watching those matches that has completed the change, the likes of Aaron Finch and Glenn Maxwell for Australia. This pair, bred for and from T20, are taking that same aggressive mindset into all their cricket, whatever the format and condition and it makes for quite an exhilarating spectacle.
But they have needed good management. When players get out playing ridiculous shots, reverse scoops or huge slogs over midwicket, it is easy for a coach to return them to the relative anonymity of first-class cricket.
Darren Lehmann, the Australian coach, refused that easy option and, instead, with captain Michael Clarke, encouraged all his players to adopt such aggressive intentions. It started to come to fruition for Australia in September 2013 after an Ashes defeat. They destroyed England with such power that it proved to all the Australian players that they could prosper with such belligerence. Finch smashed 150 in the T20 international, an innings of such astonishing brutality that he has been a fixture in one-day cricket ever since. Maxwell, the self-proclaimed ‘big show’, dominates from his first ball. But it is not just the batters who have this mentality. The two Mitchell’s, Johnson and Starc, are similarly aggressive with ball in hand. Starc pitches up, attacking the stumps and does batsman with late swing. At a slower pace, he would be cannon-fodder, but he is quick and that is hard to face. Johnson is back to threatening batsman’s safety.
Only one batsman has recently taken it to Johnson and, deliciously, it was the New Zealand captain, Brendon McCullum, in the group stage match. New Zealand won that, which just makes this final more appetising.
They, under his inspired leadership, have a similar mentality to the Australians. McCullum is as forthright a cricketer as has played the game. He was a powerful fly-half, good enough to keep a certain Dan Carter out of the school side, an excellent wicketkeeper who batted at seven and now a top-class, top-order T20, one day and Test match batsman.
It is not just McCullum, though. Martin Guptill hit a double century against West Indies last week, Grant Elliott won the semi-final against South Africa with some wonderful, late-innings hitting and now good sides seriously expect to score in excess of 100 in the final ten overs.
That means, on good pitches, average scores for the top sides – and that includes the two beaten semi-finalists, India and South Africa – are around the 320 mark. Five years ago that would be considered a phenomenal total. Three years ago it would have been merely astounding. Now it is the norm.
Of course, the ICC is responsible for some of the change since it changed the regulations to only four outfielders and the introduction of a second batting power play with only three fielders outside the circle.
In Australia’s semi-final, the second power play produced 64 runs and, truthfully, it did not seem particularly dramatic. Consider that for a moment. A run-rate of a whisker under 13 runs an over and it seemed normal. And most teams have the batting power play around the 34th over, which means the last 15 overs of the innings are a massive run fest.
Top-class bowlers can combat that and, in Starc, Australia have the best death bowler in the game. So the cries around the globe from purists that the game is now so loaded to the batters to make it unfair, is wrong. What the regulation changes have done is make the game thrilling for the audience, both in the crowd and the many millions on TV, and exposed the bowlers who are not good enough.
This change will also filter through to Test cricket and might even be the saviour of it.
Why score 100 in a day when you can do it in three hours? The likes of Maxwell will look at three slips, a short leg and a gully as a waste of five fielders. He will not worry about edging to them, but rather see the massive acreage around the ground left unpatrolled.
Would the crowds flock to see him hit in white clothing as well as yellow? Yes.
Players make the game and this current crop are making it a darned sight better.
n Australia captain Michael Clarke has announced that today’s Cricket World Cup final against New Zealand will be his last one-day international. Clarke plans to continue playing Test cricket.
1975: West Indies bt Australia by 17 runs (Lord’s)
1979: West Indies bt England by 92 runs (Lord’s)
1983: India bt West Indies by 43 runs (Lord’s)
1987: Australia bt England by 7 runs (Kolkata)
1992: Pakistan bt England by 22 runs (Melbourne)
1996: Sri Lanka bt Australia by 7 wickets (Lahore)
1999: Australia bt Pakistan by 8 wickets, (Lord’s)
2003: Australia bt India by 125 runs (Johannesburg)
2007: Australia bt Sri Lanka by 53 runs (Bridgetown)
2011: India bt Sri Lanka by 6 wickets (Mumbai)
2015: New Zealand v Australia (Melbourne)