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Nothing beats the quiet, vegetative state induced by ODIs

Date

Malcolm Knox

Going through the motions … Clint McKay celebrates the wicket of Dinesh Chandimal.

Going through the motions … Clint McKay celebrates the wicket of Dinesh Chandimal. Photo: AFP

Among other interesting effects, Channel Nine's series Howzat! recreated that buzz of excitement when one-day cricket, not just the night version but all limited-overs cricket, felt new.

It seems a long time ago when a day-night international was an event, the coloured clothes a novelty, the turf a startling fluoro green, the ball wondrously visible, the result fought over with the intensity of a Test match.

A long time ago indeed, now that many, including Adam Gilchrist in recent weeks, have forecast that 50-over internationals might soon be extinct, squeezed into irrelevance by the pincer movement of Test and Twenty20 cricket.

One-dayers feel too long but not long enough; too many are played with too little hanging on them; the rules have been tinkered with too much, or too little; what is a Powerplay anyway? George Bailey admitted last week that ODIs lack both the sense of occasion of a Test match and the fireworks of T20. Crowds of Melburnians supported his assertion by not going to watch his very attractive 89 on Friday.

I don't know anyone who has a good word to say about one-day cricket, but nor do I know anyone under 44 years of age. For my generation, Wayne Daniel opening his legs and hitting Mick Malone for six at VFL Park in the first season of World Series Cricket was pretty much the zenith of one-day cricket - that or the 1975 World Cup final - and it has been downhill ever since.

While it may be comforting for a generation to get burnt-out together, does it reflect reality? I met a man in Hobart a few weeks ago who said the biggest problem with cricket was that there weren't enough 50-over internationals. Tests were too long and T20 games happened too helter-skelter to engage him. My first reaction was to call him an idiot, but who's the idiot really? The newcomer to cricket who is finding out what he likes, or the jaded old fogey who has seen hundreds of ODIs and can't remember any of them?

When, in the 1980s, Test cricket seemed under mortal threat from the one-day game, everyone from Sir Donald Bradman to W.G. Grace (or so it seemed) rallied to the cause. The five-day game has an enormous, if somewhat armchair-bound, constituency. But now that 50-over cricket is under the cosh, who is standing up for it? Who, of influence, speaks for that guy in Hobart?

Bill Lawry does. Say what you like about Phanto, he's genuine. On the last day of the Sydney Test, he was railing against the predicted absence of David Warner from the one-dayers. ''If I'm paying money,'' Lawry said, ''I'd want to watch the most exciting players.''

Bill probably isn't paying money to work at Channel Nine. But he would; he still embraces the game with the full-on gusto of a 12-year-old. Perhaps there was strategy in Nine's whines about the resting of Warner and others, perhaps there was even a grand plan to talk down the value of the broadcast rights, but Lawry is a simple enthusiast.

Nine's enthusiasm may feel manufactured to those of us who have seen it all too often, but the packaging, like the game, can still seem new to those who are new.

I coach a team of under-11 cricket tragics, and they are tragic for all forms of cricket: Test, 50-over, T20, international, domestic, indoor, backyard, beach, French. They would jump at the chance to go to another boring ODI, because it is not boring for them. For them, it is 1978 right now, going out for a night game is a huge thrill, David Hussey is their David Hookes and Warner is their Ian Chappell.

Bill Lawry's breathless exertions mirror theirs, and he adds to the TV version for them in the same way he did for us in the WSC days. It would take a true idiot to sniff at the joy those kids take in cricket and tell them it is just another meaningless one-dayer.

Youth may be wasted on the young, but world-weariness isn't the same as wisdom. Where the young catch you out is when they find you watching one-day cricket anyway, no matter what you say.

That pleasant vegetative state associated with summer holiday evenings is conducive to a night staring at a comparative worm chart. Eventually something might happen, and even if it doesn't, it might jog a memory of a night out on the Hill with friends as a teenager.

There may be a lot wrong with one-day cricket, but if you ask a moth it could probably suggest many ways to improve flames. There's something warmly automatic in watching it. And it beats the crap out of the tennis.

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