March 14, 2006

Is It Really the Greatest Game Ever?

I wrote yesterday that the Australia - South Africa game was the greatest ODI game ever. There have been many people who doubted that conclusion. Generally the the doubt revolved around the correct point that more runs does not make it better.

For instance, Nandhu asked the following at Desicritics:
Is there any compelling reason why the highest scoring match of all time should all be the greatest ODI of all time? I flinched everytime a tv commentator called this the greatest ODI ever.

I mean, surely, there have been matches as intensely fought as this one. and the higher number of runs by itself doesnt make the drama greater.
also making the bowlers look like dumb fools isnt cricket now, is it?

Here was my answer to him:

According to me, a ODI game is to be assessed by

1. How exciting it was - that is how suspenseful it was, how much down to the wire it went, and so on. In other words, a game's greatness is more if a result is not known till the very end. You know what I am talking about: seat-edge, nail-baiting etc.

2. How closely the two teams competed (and NOT how closely the bat and ball fared). This is obviously tied to the first point above, but some games could go to the end and one team have a small edge throughout.

So games are great depending on these two factors. Mind you, none of these points has to do with the number of runs scored.

Now this game was not less great than any other match I have ever seen or read about. May be some other games were equally great (world cup 99 semi-final, Ind-Pak in Dhaka etc). It is not easy for me to separate these games on the above two factors. In terms of those, all of them are probably equal. However, the number of runs serve as tie-breaker. What makes this game the obvious greatest is the sheer magnitude of the number of runs scored.

Your point about runs being not the only factor is well taken. Of course, I will disagree with any such assessment. For instance, if South Africa lost the game (even scoring 400) I would not call this the greatest game. But the fact that they won against such gigantic odds (and scored more than ten runs per over in the last seven or eight overs) makes this the most exciting game ever.

A comment about bowlers appearing dumb. Frankly, I do not quite understand this point. True, more runs are being scored, but the value or significance of bowlers has NOT gone down. There is still a huge role for quality bowlers. Everyone observed that if McGrath or Pollock was there things would have been different. If only one them played his team would certainly have won. Of course, pitches are not conducive for good bowling, as we generally think of it. That is, people can not bowl maiden overs, or take lot of wickets, or even restrict batsmen to less than six or seven an over. That was the definition of good bowling. But why can't people understand that this definition can change as everything else does. In modern day ODI cricket a good bowler is one whose economy rate is much below the average. I don't believe that there is no scope for bowlers in ODIs. We are just evolving and need to change old notions. Remember that it is a game between the two teams; not between bat and ball.

I agree that batsmen win ODIs, but in this particular match one single quality bowler could have won it for his team (Nathan Bracken almost did it for Aussies).

Finally, I admit the possibility that this trend might bring down the quality of bowlers. But again quality as we have known for decades. May be we will see another notion of quality and everyone will agree that the new notion is much better.


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