A game of cricket is known for its unscriptable drama, sudden bursts of excitement and suspense. The pace of a match can fluctuate from being a slow-burner to a gripping contest. As the plot thickens, the complex interplay of emotions on display leaves everyone on the edge of their seats. However, for the game of cricket to thrive and produce thrilling climaxes, it needs a contest between bat and ball, where the bowler puts all his skills to out-think the batsman and dismiss him.
Unfortunately, cricket is going through a phase where limited-overs matches are mostly played on flat tracks. The point can be encapsulated by the fact that flat tracks have been the norm during the various ICC tournaments held in the last decade.
Even during the ICC Champions Trophy 2017, batsmen have largely ruled the roost. In the first game of the tournament, Bangladesh compiled 305 for 6 and England chased it down for the loss of just two wickets. New Zealand followed it up by accumulating 291 against Australia (46 overs) before the match was abandoned due to rain. India notched up 319 for 3 in their allotted 46 overs against Pakistan and aggregated 321 for 6 versus Sri Lanka. Their Asian neighbour, however, overhauled the target for the loss of a mere three wickets.
England themselves scored 310 in their game against New Zealand, while South Africa amassed 299 for 6 versus Sri Lanka. In most of those matches, pacers were able to extract only a hint of seam movement and there was hardly any swing on offer. Yes, during the course of the tournament, bowlers have occasionally stolen the limelight from the batsmen. For instance, on slightly slower abrasive surfaces, Pakistan triumphed against South Africa and England by utilizing the helpful conditions to the fullest. But such games have been too far and few between.
If we take a stroll down the memory lane, English pitches comprised a decent covering of 'live' grass and moisture underneath. But with time, tracks have flattened out. The flattening out of the surfaces could be due to the changing characteristics of all the pitches in England. The new drainage system in place at various grounds has resulted in moisture disappearing much faster than ever before. There is also an inkling that limited-overs cricket is mainly about runs and more runs. Hence, the groundsmen are instructed to prepare flat surfaces.
Over a period of time, there have been growing concerns about the imbalance between bat and ball in limited overs cricket. The abridged versions of the game have been mostly reduced to an exhibition of batsmen thwacking fours and sixes. It is high time that administrators rejig the rules to make it more of an even contest between bat and ball.
If there was a constant presence felt throughout the Champions Trophy 2017, quite in stark contrast to that of the anticipated swing, it was that of the Duckworth-Lewis-Stern method as rain added to the gloom in the British isles following the early strike of terror attacks. Rain, though, seemed to continue to haunt the Champions Trophy, once again playing a vital role in the tournament, after having been a feature since as early as 2002 - where there was no crowned winner despite a repeat game, due to washouts.
In 2004, three games were hampered by rain. In 2006, the DLS method came to the fore in the final between Australia and West Indies. In 2009, two games were rain-affected, but in 2013, as many as seven games were disrupted with one washout, one tie and a win for India in the final banking on the DLS method.
In 2017, the story hasn't been very different with most games marred by rain interruptions at various stages that resulted in drastic shifts in momentum along with two washouts. One team that particularly felt the pinch was Australia, that had a cent per cent strike rate of rain-interrupted games, which eventually led to their premature ouster from the tournament. With two washouts, the one against Bangladesh in which they were coasting towards victory, and their one against England, in which the break turned the game on its head handing England the momentum, Australia found rain as their nemesis in this edition.
The USP of the Champions Trophy was, in fact, touted largely to be the abridged version which spanned across three weeks, but rain left it in danger of turning into a damp squib. Training sessions were washed out and a host of games threatened to be dampeners. With the Champions Trophy surviving solely on the proposition of having the top-eight teams contesting in what is perceived as a mini World Cup, spectators should have been keener factoring in the virtual knockout format of the tournament. If only the component of weather was factored in.