We could not ask more of the ICC Champions Trophy. Many grounds are full, even for matches that hardly concern the locals, the cricket has been good — as it should be between the eight finest international sides in the world — or exciting and sometimes both.
Those who have wanted to cut the tournament off in its prime are said to be having a rethink. It should continue although I would like ICC to consider how it might be better structured in future.
Its officials should begin by reading Iain Banks’ novels from his sci-fi Culture series in which he outlines a world without law. I am not suggesting ICC should mull over the idea of disbanding its own authority — oh, what a delicious idea — but that it should halt its tinkering, go back to basic cricket law and leave strategy, tactics and the winning of matches by ordinary means to the players.
You may have noticed that another half dozen playing conditions have been imposed on the Champions Trophy and although I welcome the ban on runners — whatever good did they bring to the game except to prolong it unnecessarily — the rest of the stuff about PowerPlays and how many fielders should be within touching distance of the square leg umpire are quite without reason.
Shane Warne, a more complex figure than the wicket-hungry leg-spinner of yore, was quick to spot how the game was drifting towards a state in which the captain had to spend most of his time considering the way he was controlled by the playing conditions, was the first person to ask for fewer rules rather than more.
Of all the people described as “the best captain Australia/England/India never had” Warne is probably the outstanding example. I remember a young Ricky Ponting’s gratitude when Warne asked him to bowl in his first game back from a ban. “It immediately made me feel part of the team once again,” Ponting said, recognising, perhaps for the first time, that there is more to leadership than setting a field.
There will be plenty who will see such a move — and don’t hold your breath, by the way, it is not going to happen this week or next — as a highway to anarchy and so it might be.
What cricket people tend to forget is that there are thousands who have only a vague idea of the restrictions faced by cricketers and who are already often puzzled by the way the game has to be played.
(There are also hundreds of keen club cricketers who understand cricket theory as well as Test players and I have every reason to be grateful to those Bradford League players who have in the past shown me the finer points of field settings and much more.)
What I am advocating here is the removal of many fielding restrictions in one-day games in particular and a general ICC statement of intent which encourages all captains to attack, to forget PowerPlays and to declare an intention to find a ball which does not lose its shine, its hardness and its seam late in a 50-over match.
Of course I am writing, as Iain Banks was writing, of an ideal world and I guess he knew, as I know, that ideal worlds don’t continue forever.
Meanwhile, India continues to demonstrate that it can win whatever the restrictions on its fine opening batsmen, its powerful middle order, the batting, bowling and fielding of the admirable Ravindra Jadeja, while nothing inhibits M.S. Dhoni, who has all the qualities needed by a high class cricket thinker.