Thursday, June 20, 2013

A zero for the Oval

Four out of five games played at the Oval in the Champions Trophy were won by the team batting second. The only time the side batting first won the game was when Australia fell 20 runs short of Sri Lanka's total - but that was only because they were initially trying to get to the target in 29 overs to get their net run rate up, and lost four top order batsmen in the process. Had that been a normal game, it would have probably been a five out of five result for teams batting second at the Oval. Critics are quick to pick on pitches in the sub-continent that crack up, where it becomes almost a matter of winning the toss and batting first to win the game. But there hasn't been a word of criticism for starting a game in overcast conditions in the morning in London, where the team bowling first has too much of an advantage. At least a knockout game like the South Africa v England semi-final should have been a day-nighter, where the toss would have been less of a factor. AB de Villiers and South Africa are easy targets for lampooning as chokers, but they hardly had a chance in that semi-final at the Oval once they lost the toss. Anderson got the ball to swing prodigiously both ways, and James Treadwell too made the ball turn sharply in those moist conditions. It's true the South African top order might have done better if they had been more conservative in their approach in the first half of the innings, but I don't think that would have made a difference to the result. We saw with the ninth wicket stand of nearly a hundred at a run a ball between Miller and Kleinveldt how easy batting became once the sun came out and the ball stopped swinging and turning. Anything below 275 would have been easy to chase under the sun, and South Africa would only have delayed the inevitable even if they had kept wickets in hand. Watching a seven-hour-game is no fun if the result is a foregone conclusion, and administrators should think outside the box to prevent the toss becoming too big a factor. We did have an example of that in India recently during the winter. In an ODI series with England, the day-night games were advanced by a couple of hours to start at noon. That prevented an unfair advantage to the team batting second on account of the dew factor. Evidently, the England & Wales cricket board has a thing or two to learn from the sub-continent. Had the start of the day games at the Oval been delayed, they might have turned out to be fairer contests. In Wednesday's semi-final, therefore, the real loser was the Oval as a venue for one of the big games on the cricket calendar.

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