Vic Marks: Cricket’s inflation taking game to new levels

Inflation is rampant. But I don’t suppose Mervyn King, George Osborne or Ed Balls will be too worried in this instance.

At Mohali, in the third one-day international of the series against India, England knocked up 298 for 4 from their 50 overs. There was a time when such a score would have ensured that the match was effectively over as a contest.

Remember how England hit 334 for 4 at Lord’s in the 1975 World Cup, to which India replied with 132 for 3 from their 60 overs. Sunil Gavaskar, deciding that it was futile to chase such a large target, faced 174 balls for his unbeaten 36. He hit a solitary boundary.

Yet even before India began their innings in Mohali there seemed a good chance that they would knock off the runs. In this age you are never safe, no matter how many runs have been posted in the first innings. Inflation means that the 210 of twenty or thirty years ago is the 290 of today.

There are many reasons for this. The powerplays, with which the administrators love to tinker, are designed to increase the run-rate. And they usually do. The pitches are generally truer; the bats are bigger and can hit the ball further. Perversely – and unlike golf – this has coincided with the parameters of the playing surface being reduced. A six used to be an event. Not anymore.

The greatest single factor in today’s inflation has been the advent of Twenty20 cricket. When it was introduced the assumption was that it was just a bit of hit and giggle. It was the cricketing equivalent of the “panem et circenses” of Rome [the “bread and circuses” and a phrase coined by Juvenal in the first century AD – keep awake at the back]. We assumed that Twenty20 was a spectacle designed for the masses of no inherent value except that it might keep those hordes happy.

That assessment was wrong. The players took the new game much more seriously than anticipated – after all, there was good money at stake. They analysed, they innovated and they exploited the freedom to experiment with new shots and to place a new assessment upon the value of a batsman’s wicket. Horizons were lifted.

Batsmen discarded their old parameters; they realised that they could hit 200 from 20 overs. So the logic was obvious. Why, with wickets in hand, should they not be able to score something like that in the last twenty overs of a 50-over match?

They experimented with new shots: the reverse sweep, the reverse slog, the slog sweep and the scoop over short fine leg (though it is noticeable in the current series that Indian batsmen seldom bother with these “reverse” strokes). Most batsmen recognised that boundary fielders need not be deterrents anymore. They came to realise that with a relatively clean hit – sadly it does not need to be a perfect one – they could clear the boundary.

The definition of an “economical” bowler changed. Now this might seem like a bit of belated self-promotion (actually, you may be right): Graeme Swann, superstar of the modern era, consummate off-spinner, promising author, has so far yielded runs at a rate of 4.45 runs per over in ODI cricket. Almost thirty years previously I contrived to concede runs at 3.70 per over in ODI cricket and I’m not about to argue that I was the better bowler.

Life for bowlers has become ever more tricky with batsmen who have deserted the MCC coaching manual, who no longer recognise that any target is impossible. It is a different game; it is probably a better game, though England’s tourists in India may have to work hard to sustain their enthusiasm for it just at the moment.

However this does not justify the mammoth number of fixtures that the players are required to fulfil in this era. That sort of inflation is regrettable and this time it really is fuelled by economics. All these ODIs still make money.

*Vic Marks, the former Somerset and England off spinner, played in 34 one-day internationals

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