Would you care if the Ashes included limited overs matches?

Cricket was the real winner - but which format?

Ben Stokes would. Reacting to plans to implement a points system spanning the formats for cricket tours, he said: “I think it would be rubbish. They’ve changed a lot of things, but Ashes is Ashes, it’s a massive series for England and Australia and I don’t see why it should get changed.”

This rather overlooks the fact that pretty much all the other Test series he takes part in are anything but a big deal. As we see it, the Ashes would remain exactly the same, but everything else would get a bit of a leg-up. However, Stokes’ comments do raise an interesting question: how would you feel if the Ashes were restructured so that it included T20 matches and one-day internationals as well as Tests?

Sacrilege!

Yes. That was our initial reaction. So then we tried to work out why we felt that way.

Test cricket is our preferred format. It can at times be breathtakingly dull, but the sheer breadth of possibilities is what makes it endlessly fascinating. Different players, different pitches, different weather, different approaches, different match situations. With that in mind, surely it makes sense that even greater scope would make for an even more appealing event.

The outsider’s view

There is a tendency within cricket to see the formats as being pitted against one another. Rather than perceiving Twenty20 cricket as a gateway format to Test cricket, we instead take sides lest our favoured format be killed by its shorter (or longer) rivals.

But this isn’t really the way things are. It may seem that way from within, but for most people who don’t consider themselves fans of the sport, it doesn’t matter what the format – it is all just cricket. All three formats are just aspects of the same thing. Bat and ball. Runs and wickets.

People with only a casual interest in cricket cannot for the life of them understand how England can play Australia without it being the Ashes. They may well understand the rivalry, but they don’t necessarily understand the history.

The truth is, the rivalry is more important than the history. The rivalry is the essence. It is what drives things. It is what has created the history.

The rivalry is the Ashes – and that rivalry spans the formats.

A parallel

The Tour de France comprises 21 different bike races. At the end, they recognise an overall winner. People who follow the race may or may not care who wins the points jersey or the mountains jersey or any of the individual stages, but they will all care who wins overall.

Last year, the Tour started with a 13.8km time trial – competitors rode alone, against the clock. Stage four was 223.5km and other than stretches of cobblestones, almost entirely flat and everyone rode in a bunch. Stage 10 was 167km and finished at the top of a mountain.

These are very different challenges and the three stages therefore gave rise to three different winners. But it was all part of the same race. At the end of the three weeks, the overall winner was recognised. An all-rounder. Someone who had conquered everything. For all its complexity, the Tour remains at heart a simple event.

Epic!

We use the Tour de France as an example deliberately, because its epic nature is its very essence. The Ashes is also an epic contest and it’s hard to argue that adding a greater number of challenges would make it less so.

People are fond of saying that Twenty20 is just a few overs of slogging, but you could equally say that Test cricket is ‘just’ risk-free accumulation without time pressures. You could say that Test bowling is just keeping it tight and waiting for mistakes. These things aren’t true, but even if they were, each different challenge would still contribute to the whole.

It is the range and number of challenges which makes the Ashes the epic contest that it is. So we have to ask: a Test series or a cricket series – which would be more alluring?

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33 Appeals

  1. I think what is most unappealing about a points system is that deciding to allocate points to different types of matches means that someone has to decide how much each match gets. Since that one person probably isn’t going to agree with me, the points system is probably going to feel too artificial and detached from actual play. It’d feel like you’re being told how much to care about certain things.

    • King Cricket

      April 30, 2016 at 5:22 pm

      Agreed, there is an unavoidable degree of artifice about it. To link back to the cycling example, it’s the exact same reason why bonus seconds for stage winners is a controversial feature of some bike races.

      • I am not a fan of time bonuses for stage winners – if you want to make up time on your rivals, finish the stage in less time than them.

        I don’t like the idea of a points system for any series, let alone the Ashes, partly because it would then divide the history of the Ashes into ‘old-style Ashes’ and ‘new-style Ashes’ – something which I think would take away one of the most special aspects of the series. I suppose you could argue that changing to 6-ball overs has already changed the nature of the contest, but I feel this would be a step beyond that, and I worry that the whole thing is just an exercise in turning one of the highlights of the sporting calendar into ‘cricketainment’.

        I do wonder if I would feel differently if, say, England were the world’s best limited-overs side but hadn’t won a Test series in years.

    • I also cannot decide what would be a fair and fun points system. However, if the points from all formats competitions are mixed together, maybe that will leave an opening for some schedule changes. I think one particular problem with having single-format blocks is the occurence of one-off T20 matches as the first or last event on the tour. They are divorced from context that way. I would think that allowing T20s to be interspersed among the other formats would attract more enthusiasm. Imagine a Fri night T20 and then two ODIs on the weekend, all in the same stadium. Then a midweek T20 to maintain viewer interest before another Fri T20 SatSun ODIs. Similarly, there could be a T20 or three between Tests. An associate side can come along to play some T20s too an

      • that is to say, the assoc side (or zim or ban) could get some dearly needed games while squad rotation will allow fringe players from the big sides to take part, instead of spending the whole summer away from their FC clubs without getting a game. That way, an international summer could have some action almost every day while tourists are about.

      • I also suspect that playing fewer ODIs but instead playing a series of three or so T20s on the same pitch on consecutive days and with squad rotation would encourage more lively pitches and also ensure third-choice seamers or second-choice spinners are allowed to rotate in and out of the eleven as the pitch develops. Say an extra medium swing bowler and a specialist wk for the first match on a green strip, then the wk-batsman and the bouncy quick replacing them for the middle matches on batting wickets, and then the specialist wk along with the extra spinner coming on for the final match as the wicket gets dry and worn. batting surfaces

  2. The Ashes would be unlikely to benefit from a multi-format points system because its very long nature means it usually gives decisive answers. 2005, 2009 and maybe 2015 excepted, rare is the occasion where playing it all again may reveal a different result. Could 2002/3 be improved by dragging England’s Ashes humiliation into late January

    By contrast, the 2015 series against New Zealand and 2014 one against Sri Lanka may have benefitted from extra context by making the trophies awarded not just on the basis of performance in the tests but the limited overs matches as well.

  3. It seems to me that redefining cricket to be more in keeping with the view of the casual observer is a good way to alienate the people with an actual interest in the game.

    It doesn’t really matter to me if something I enjoy vanishes if the only way it can survive is by losing the character that drew me to it in the first place. I’m not saying that this is what is being suggested here, but it is a question of degree.

    I do think it is a bit silly to think that grafting on an arbitrary points system onto what is simply an overloaded schedule will give it all more gravity and context. Rather than all crictet-match boats rising, the good bits are denigrated back down into the general pool. It is all “just cricket,” then.

    I think if one wants to save the Ashes the way forward is seeing less of each other, not a spreadsheet. Scarcity increases value more than points. What has happened over the past several years was a mistake (on multiple levels).

    • King Cricket

      May 1, 2016 at 8:57 am

      The point with the casual fan is not so much to appeal to them as that they can sometimes offer a clearer view.

      Time was, all matches between England and Australia were the Ashes because they only played Tests. We’re just asking what it is at heart. Test matches between the two or all matches between the two.

  4. With a 4/2/2 scoring system for Tests/ODI/T20 it would have meant England lost the 2010/11 “Ashes” 18-16, because despite everyone fondly remembering the great 3-1 test triumph, they actually got trounced 6-1 in the ODIs. Would you be OK with that result?

    • I would most definitely NOT be OK with that result. Not in any possible sense.

      • King Cricket

        May 1, 2016 at 9:03 am

        We wouldn’t be okay with that result but you can’t say it would have panned out the same. If nothing else it’s doubtful they’d ever schedule the one-dayers to be the deciders.

  5. Yes.

    #Betteridgedenied

  6. The TdF example highlights the problem. In what sense was Mark Cavendish competing in the same race as Chris Froome? Sure enough they were competing at the same time, but in the same race? Only by seriously stretching the definition was this true.

    I like the idea of points. And I like the idea of an overall TdF winner and a sprint champion. The Ashes is the test series, but there can be an overall winner as well.

    • King Cricket

      May 1, 2016 at 9:12 am

      But does it not make sense for the overall winner to take the Ashes and then have a Test series winner within that?

      To a great extent we’re playing devil’s advocate on this page, but it warrants scrutiny.

      • To be honest, I think it is likely to be the best outcome. The test lovers amongst us will at some point need to realise we can’t have what we want with no compromise. As compromises go, this one is pretty good.

  7. (First post here!)

    You could easily do points systems. 3 points for a win, 1 each for a draw or a tied match. Of course, that would only work if you played the same number of Tests, ODIs and T20s.
    To do that, the ICC should introduce a ‘standard tour’, which consists of 3 matches in each format or 5 matches in each format. No more, no less. Every tour must also start with ODIs, the other matches can follow in any order.

  8. Well, you could play 7 ODIs if you wanted, but only if you played 7 tests to go with them.

    • No posts since the beginning of time, then two in a minute. At that rate of acceleration the universe will be entirely taken up by your posts some time around the middle of next week.

      But anyway, I like the idea of the standard tour. Five ODIs to kick off the summer. Five tests to get us through the long, hot days of July and August. And five T20s in September to wrap things up. A proper story to tell from the moment the tourists get off the plane to the moment their overseas work visas expire.

  9. In the light of the morning, sobered up, I’d like to take out a tiny bit of the article and subject it to disproportionate scrutiny. Except it’s not really, because I feel that the article hinges on it.

    “The truth is, the rivalry is more important than the history. The rivalry is the essence. It is what drives things. It is what has created the history.”

    Disagree. The history has created the rivalry. The history is the obituary of English cricket, cremation of the stumps etc., and everything that sprung from it, just as the history is the myriad conflicts between India and Pakistan. The rivalry has been developed through countless contests since, which are all part of the history.

    The history is more important than the rivalry because without one, there wouldn’t be the other. That is, to a certain extent, why the WAshes could get away with its tripe format: it doesn’t have the same history behind it.

    • King Cricket

      May 1, 2016 at 1:53 pm

      Yes, we’d agree that the history has helped create the rivalry, but it’s a virtuous circle really. They feed into one another and despite the slightly mischievous wording in the article, you can’t really disentangle them.

      Is it right to say that the history is more important than the rivalry though? Surely without the latter, it’s just a load of things that have happened and which no-one gives a shit about?

      And surely the history of England v Australia includes one-day matches anyway? You could argue that we forget much of that form of cricket precisely because we haven’t attach this ‘Ashes’ importance to it. Even so, despite its second tier status, we still think of moments like Paul Collingwood’s catch of Matthew Hayden, Simon Jones’ confrontation with the same batsman and England’s mugging of Australia in the T20 game as being integral parts of the 2005 Ashes.

      • I don’t think so personally, because people will still remember other series like England vs. New Zealand, which have history but no rivalry. Rivalry certainly adds spice, but it need not be the be-all and end-all.

        And as someone who didn’t follow cricket back then, which may or may not make this relevant at all, I know a heck of a lot about the 2005 Tests. I don’t know a damn thing about the 2005 LO stuff. With the exception of Harmy drawing blood in the ODIs – which I know about because it set things up for the Tests. An amuse-bouche, nothing more.

        Then again, I’m one of the most skewed-against LO people you’ll find here. The LO stuff might well mean more to other readers.

        This is all getting awfully serious isn’t it.

  10. I don’t think this is complicated but I do think it is important to get the terminology for the elements of such contests right.

    As far as I am concerned, the Ashes should remain the trophy for the test series between England and Australia. Each single format series might well have its own trophy with its own name and significance. There should be a different (new) trophy for the overall, multi-format series. In time, the multi-format series might grow in significance such that most people are really interested in who wins that series. Such is change, such is progress. But to take an historic trophy and recycle it to have a wholly different meaning from its original meaning seems incongruous and daft to me.

    This point is not just about the Ashes, btw. India and Australia play their tests series for the Border-Gavaskar Trophy; a relatively new construct (just under 20 years now) but it is the Trophy for the test series. Not only would it be confusing to recycle that Trophy to cover a multi-format series, I think it would be hypocritical to do so. Sunny Gavaskar was so unsure of ODI as a format, he conducted a one-man campaign of satyagraha against ODIs at the first world cup – have a look at this scorecard if you have never seen it before:

    http://www.espncricinfo.com/ci/engine/current/match/65035.html

    In short – yes to the multi-format tournaments but no to recycling the existing names and trophies for them. Simples.

    • Ged speaks sense.

      Expect none of his suggestions to ever see the light of day, therefore.

      • He does indeed speak sense. For comparison, see The Calcutta Cup and the Triple Crown, all happily retained within the overall Six Nations. Although obviously Brexit will put that back to the original Four Nations. And it’s the Kolkata Cup now, of course.

        In summary, I’m not sure.

      • Forgive me for intervening to question Bert’s maths – or should I say sums…

        …but Brexit would surely reduce the Six Nations to Two Nations.

        Ireland would consider itself predominantly “in Europe” rather than out of it, although Rugby would probably be well down the agenda once the troubles broke out again.

        Scotland would call a replay referendum and leave the UK to join Europe faster than you could say “Calcutta splutter”.

        “The Two Nations” sounds terrific though. Who needs other nations when we have each other?

      • The Ireland that plays international RU includes Northern Ireland as well as the Republic, so I thought it appropriate for them to retain a place. As for Scotland, they remain a vassal state and therefore will do as they’re told.

  11. Thank you for your kind words, Sam.

    To continue my line of thought, if my idea were to be accepted, these new multi-format trophies will need names.

    Overnight I have thought up an ideal name for the England v Australia multi format trophy. It should honour players who made significant contributions in every conceivable format of cricket (on and off the field) and should encapsulate the historic, combative rivalry between our two great cricketing nations.

    Ladies and gentlemen, I put to you: The Botham-Chappell Trophy.

    Would other King Cricket readers care to suggest names for this or other bilateral multi-format trophies?

    • the West indies England one would be easy. ‘The Holding Willey Trophy’

    • Not the Warner-Root Trophy?

      Pakistan-Australia’s not hard either.

    • The India-England multi-format trophy should be called the Kohinoor series & the winner should get to keep the diamond till next contest

      • King Cricket

        May 4, 2016 at 8:23 am

        Brilliant idea.

        Googling that also led us to the revelation that there is a Kohinoor Krispy Chicken shop near where we used to live in Manchester.

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