Happy New Year!!! There is no other season that fills me with hope and cheer than Christmas as it seems to bring the perfect end of the year with an eye on the one to come which is even before I consider the Boxing Day Tests. Now that Christmas is over I can risk making a New Year wish list without the risk of having it discarded in the off chance I was considered to be naughty. If I was asked what I would like to see for cricket in 2020 then this would be my list which may be unsurprisingly biased towards English cricket but that is something I can live with. Analysts may try to appear objective but the truth of the matter is that we all have our own biases which we will never admit to anyone else but ourselves.
1) An Opening Partnership of 150 by England.
There has not been a stable opening Test opening partnership for England ever since Andrew Strauss retired and I refuse to believe that this is because there is a significant difference in the quality of bowling, pitches or balls used in County and International Cricket. It is extremely easy to blame other factors but at the end of the day, the role of the opening batsman is to see off the new ball no matter what the circumstance. At the end of the day, the team that gets 20 wickets in a Test will win but that cannot happen if the openers do not put on a good partnership. The lack of runs by the openers has meant that Root essentially has become an opening batsman. The openers must wear out the bowlers. It does not matter whether they do it mentally by dispatching a bowler or two to all parts of the ground or just digging in so that they just get tired. This is, of course, easier said than done especially considering the depth of analysis each team does but it is a two-way street. If the opposition can figure out the weaknesses of batsmen then the batting side should also be able to do the same. Both the openers should do well at the same time which has not happened so far. The injury to Rory Burns while playing football has potentially decreased the chances of this happening but Dom Sibley and Zak Crawley look strong and this can still happen.
2) Five wickets in each innings of a Test match for Jofra Archer.
Jofra Archer has been a very timely gift for English cricket. There have been great expectations from him across all formats. People forget though that he has just started his career. He has played only 22 matches across all formats. I would like to see him do really well in Tests. I believe that he must be allowed to bowl longer spells. I do not think the four or five over spells that he is given is sufficient for him to take a wicket. If he manages to take a wicket within four overs then possibly pull him off but if he does not then let him bowl a few more so that he can get into a rhythm. The dilemma though is how do you manage his workload to get the best from him without causing any injury especially as he plays all formats of the game. Ben Stokes has reduced the amount he bowls and now he is the silver bullet that Joe Root pulls out. Jofra has so far done well in one of the innings. I would like to see him get five wickets in each innings. He has the talent and capability to do that so I hope he can do it this year provided of course he is injury-free.
3) Five day Test Matches.
The ECB has been advocating for a changing the Test matches days from five days to four days. I cannot deny the numbers that show that the percentage of matches going into the fifth day is 33% however I believe that this has more to do with the influence of white-ball cricket than Test matches itself. So far in 2020, there has been only one game out of five that has not gone into the fifth day. Would it have been better for the game if the results for 2020 so far showed one win and four draws? I do not want this to go through as I believe that this would end up changing the essence of the game. Theoretically, the game can be over in less than one session. Similarly, a team can win the game half an hour before the close of play on the fifth day. Test cricket has had a number of Avatars in terms of the number of days played and when they were played since it first officially started in 1877. How low is one prepared to go in terms of days played. Sachin Tendulkar had suggested a Test style format to One Day Internationals where one team would have two innings of 25 overs instead of one of 50 overs. Why stop with only four days when this option is viable? Weather and time are the two major factors that influence all aspects of the game so cutting down the number of days will give the forces of nature more control on the game. I also do not believe that increasing the number of overs bowled in a day and an earlier start will have any material impact on the game. Teams that have taken part in four day Tests have barely managed to bowl 90 overs in a day let alone the proposed 98 overs. Captains will see themselves and their team chastised for slow over rates which will result in a lower-quality game. One of these instances was between West Indies and England. I am convinced that West Indies would have won that series 3-0 if Jason Holder had played in that last game.
One of the reasons given for four-day cricket is reducing the cost incurred when the match lasts four days. I do think that creative solutions can be found to mitigate or reduce this potential loss. There could be a meet and greet players or even a live masterclass which people can watch from the stands. If the game is likely to go into the fifth day then they can go on sale after the close of play on the fourth day. It could be discounted so that more people can actually come to the ground and see the game with priority given to schools and children. The feeling of seeing a game in the ground cannot be compared to watching it on the television no matter how big the screen size is or the technology involved. This is, of course, easier said than done but will be a nice probiotic to the profile of the game. Lately, the ECB has been pushing initiatives to get a fresh audience to the game. This would go a long way and have a more lasting impact than the other ventures that the ECB has undertaken recently. I may support four day Tests if series would be a minimum of three tests and those extra days are not used to fill the calendar with more white-ball cricket.
4) Football style T20 Matches.
One of the reasons given for the reduction in the number of days of Test cricket is that players are getting overburdened because of the lack of windows between the various domestic leagues and international games which has resulted in a very congested calendar for cricket. Simon Doull had suggested that T20’s should be made as domestic competitions and then once in four years you have a world cup which is an idea I completely support. Create a football premier league system but on an international level. How will the Mumbai Indians in the Caribbean, the Barbados Tridents in England or the Essex Eagles in India? Will they have the same success globally as they do domestically?
5) RCB to win the IPL.
RCB has had probably the most charismatic players among all the IPL teams but this has not resulted in any victories. I think it is about time RCB wins the IPL or at least win consistently. There is nothing else that can be said on this topic.
6) English Domestic Cricket
Like it or not this season will see the start of The Hundred. The main question though is the impact it will have on the other existing tournaments in English domestic cricket. I have left this until the end but this does not mean that this is the least important in fact this is probably the most important as it will have far-reaching consequences in how cricket will be played the world over. If The Hundred is a success then the probability of it being the format of choice will increase. The question though is how will success be measured in this format. Will it be by profitability, new followers of the game or viewership? I will view The Hundred to be successful if England wins more series across all formats in the 2020/2021 season and if there is a new talent that gets discovered. If this is not achieved then I will view it as a failure no matter how The ECB, SKY or BBC decide to report it. The main reason for the Hundred is to get a new audience but it will be to no avail if England does not win at the international level.
7) Jimmy Anderson to 620 wickets.
As of the second Test with South Africa; Jimmy Anderson has 584 wickets to his name which as it stands is the highest by a fast bowler. I would like to see him get to a minimum of 601 wickets this year but getting to 620 wickets would be the icing on the cake. England plays 10 more Tests this year however his injury in the South Africa series would mean he has a maximum of eight tests left. If he is fit enough to play all the remaining Tests then he would need a little more than four wickets on the average per game to cross that number. He has been a strong workhorse for England and deserves to cement his place in the history of the game.
8) Less Dependent on key players.
Every team have their star players who they rely on to win games; however, I would like to see Tests being won without depending on them too much. Can England win without Ben Stokes performing, India without Kohli or Australia without Steven Smith or Marnus Labuschagne
9) More Tests played by Afghanistan and Ireland.
Afghanistan has played four Tests and has won two of the four games they have played while Ireland has played three games without any wins. There is no doubt that the only way they can get better is if they play more without significant intervals between games and series. I believe that this can be achieved if every team that comes to India play against Afghanistan in India and those that come to England play against Ireland with Ireland and Afghanistan playing each other twice a year and one Test between England and Ireland as well as Afghanistan and India at the start of their respective cricket seasons. This would be more meaningful than having meaningless practice matches. If teams plan to survive Jimmy Anderson then let them try to succeed against Tim Murtagh first or if they do not want to get bitten by the sniping spin in India then let them survive Rashid Khan first. I did mention that I would like Tests to be five days but I do not mind these matches being four days as getting four days is better than none at all.
10) Dukes balls to be used in all Tests.
Only Kookaburra balls are used in international white-ball cricket so why cannot the same thing be duplicated for Test matches? I strongly believe that the Dukes ball should be used in all Test matches as there is a beauty about how the ball behaves no matter if it is in the first 15 overs or the last 15 before the new ball is due. Variations to the basic Dukes ball can be made to add flavour to Tests in different countries. England did this in the Ashes in 2019 to make it more bowler-friendly while they used a different at the county level during that same year. SG manufactures balls in India. I do not see why a merger or licensing of technology cannot happen. Having similar balls globally would mean that the main difference between the two teams would be their ability.
I do not know how many of my New Year wishes would come through but I hope I will be able to strike a few of this list. I would love to know what your cricket wish list would be.