a day with Sachin Tendulkar: ODIs have gradually evolved and can be traced on players’ clothing. There was a match we played against South Africa in 1991 in New Delhi which was a day and night match. In that game, only the jerseys were colored but the pants were white. Since the game was in November, it was pretty cold at night, so we wore sweaters and they were white.
The 1993 Hero Cup was the first time we played in properly colored outfits. In the 1996 World Cup played on the subcontinent, things took a turn for the better. But there were times when he went back to white. Like in 1998 in a home series against Australia, we played in white. As late as 2000, an India-Zimbabwe ODI series was blank.
The red ball would soften, discolor and begin to recede
The real big change in the game was that the red ball changed to white. If you ask the members of my Indian team which ball they want to play with in an ODI, they will all say red. In the past, single red ball ODIs provided batsmen with a different challenge. It became soft, discolored and also inverted.
If the ball was discolored, it was difficult to pick it out. So if a spinner was spinning, one had to watch the hand closely as it was difficult to see the ‘spin’ of the ball while it was in the air. Say, on a ball sighting scale, if a new red cherry was 10 out of 10, the discolored ball could possibly be 5 or 6 out of 10.
The SG ball would also invert quite a bit. I remember quality fast bowlers would come back in the ‘between overs’ for wickets. Sometimes, when the ball had lost its color, they would go bowling with slips.
You can go back to the old video clips of the India-Pakistan 1999 World Cup match. Wasim Akram was throwing the 47 or 48 with slips. He was looking for the batter to skirt the ball. Perhaps, to save a limit or to get a gate. That’s because the old ball was inverting.
The two white balls replacing the red rule setting played against bowlers. This meant that during an innings a ball would be used for only 25 overs from one end. Even when the spinners came to bowl later in the game, it wasn’t too hard to watch. In ODIs, spinners usually come into play on the 16th or 17th. But in reality, the ball only had eight overs.
An extra fielder in the ring makes bowlers defensive and batsmen bold
Field restrictions also played a major role in changing the dynamics of ODI cricket. These days in ODI, there needs to be five fielders in the 30-yard circle (from 11 to 40 overs). Previously, there were only four fielders, so there was an extra man on the limit. Should that extra fielder be, say, long, the hitter would think twice before hitting the ball. That was because the ball would have gone soft and the batter had to be totally sure that he would punt it.
Due to the new restrictions, the extra fielder is up on the 30-yard circle, either in the middle, in the middle, or at the point, when the spinners are bowling. So as a hitter, you feel like I basically have to clear the 30-yard circle and I’m safe. Also, the ball is still hard since there are two. These elements have given a different dimension to ODI cricket since its inception.
There is talk of spinners finding it difficult to get wickets in ODIs compared to T20s. I think that’s because in ODIs there are five fielders in the ring while in T20s there are only four (after six overs). This changes the psyche of both batsmen and bowlers. The extra fielder in the ring makes bowlers more defensive. A fielder standing long compared to one in the middle makes the bowler think differently, their mindset changes.
With two new balls, the ball does not age enough, there is no discoloration. So, as in the case of an old red ball, a spinner cannot effectively disguise a doosra or googly since the white ball is not as discolored. Also, only when the ball is scratched a little, the spinning wheels can better grip it. If you see, the economy rates of all bowlers are much higher now than they used to be in the 90’s. The strike rates of batsmen have also increased. The average number of runs scored by a team is much higher.
Same hit, different return
I’m asked if hitters are having an easier time scoring these days because of the rule tweak. Nothing to take away from hitters because hitting is not easy. But I can tell that the same shots are reaping different rewards. It could be the same cover unit or a square unit, but due to field restrictions the rewards are different. For the same shot, the returns have changed. It is immediately three times more valuable for shooting.
There is another aspect of ODI cricket. Before the rule change, in the event there was a threatening batsman in the crease, the pitcher would throw a ‘single’ ball that could send him to the non-striker’s end. This would mean the less damaging hitter would be on strike and you would throw more pitches at him. Now, due to the rule change, one less fielder at the fence, the ‘simple’ delivery could be a limit. It’s not just three extra runs, but the most threatening batsman will still face the next ball.
Previously, it used to be that players would throw a full shot off the stump of the leg and one would throw the ball going square leg or thin leg, and you were on the non-forward end. Now it could be a four. Rubbing salt into the wound, the same batsman would continue to strike. In T20 cricket, since there are four fielders in the ring, when batsmen like Kieron Pollard or Andre Russell are batting, the bowlers test the yorkers to take a single and go to the non-forward end.