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Wishlist 2019: From exciting Test championship to softer rules on sledging

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Here’s a list of things we wish to see in 2019:

Jofra Archer to be more than just an on-field success for England – Vithushan Ehantarajah

From March, England will have a 90mph all-rounder available to them – a 23-year-old who has proven himself in high-level competition in terms of skill and his ability to thrive in pressure situations. But in the longer-term, Jofra Archer could have a positive influence on the country’s game far beyond his exploits on the field. With international cricket, specifically Tests, continually searching for new narratives and exciting protagonists, the 23-year-old represents a fresh wave of franchise-honed stars, along with a number from emerging nations, who can provide the longest form with extra impetus after an engaging 2018 for the format.

Indeed, the administrative fine print around Archer’s residency which was changed in November – the qualification period reduced from seven to three years, in line with other ICC nations – may cause the ECB to look at other rulings in place that restrict the game’s growth. At present, their domestic policy on work permits requires overseas cricketers to have played a certain volume of official status Tests, ODIs or T20Is, thus preventing talents like Nepalese leg-spinner Sandeep Lamichhane – currently running things in the BBL for Melbourne Stars – from turning out in county cricket. But perhaps more importantly, Archer may be able to provide English cricket with a prominent and visible black role model. The dwindling African and Caribbean numbers at the top and bottom of the game desperately need addressing even if many feel the battle to engage those communities has already been lost. Though the issues around a lack of representation are matters of class rather than race, Archer’s success could, at the very least, remind young black kids that cricket is still there for them.

The return of Steve Smith and David Warner – Kritika Naidu

As we enter the new year, the countdown to the return of the banned Australian duo of Steve Smith and David Warner begins. While much has been said and written about Smith’s run of scores and form for the various teams that he has been a part of in the interim, the same has been said about Warner too but with a fair share of unwanted glare.

In the absence of their two best batsmen, Australia have evidently lacked firepower at the top, in what seemed to have been a weakened batting line-up. With the World Cup approaching, for which they will be in contention for selection, the pair will fancy their chances of a straightforward return. But will it that straightforward?

While Cameron Bancroft served his nine-month ban, towards the end of which, he came out and threw Warner under the bus, as did Smith. However, Kevin Roberts, CA’s Chief Executive, assured that nothing will affect Warner’s integration into the team. And Australia’s capitulation in the Boxing Day Test only strengthens anticipation for the return of the duo.

The duo, or trio, may never be whole-heartedly accepted back by the Australian public. Not just yet at least given that the wounds are still raw and the saga continues. Yet, the best way to heal them seems to be out in the middle, despite their differences, with a hunger stronger than ever to prove their worth. And if they standout for all the right reasons in Australia’s World Cup campaign, their value on the acceptance scale may rise sooner than they would’ve thought.

ICC going softer on sledging and send-offs – Aayush Puthran

Cricket is innovating rapidly; sometimes just for the heck of it. In the last few months, the attempts have ranged from T10 to the Hundred to the Bat Flip. Before it reaches to dance offs for runs or jumper suit races to decide winners of drawn contests, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to go a bit vintage.

If the ongoing series between India and Australia is anything to go by, Virat Kohli is struggling to walk the line of ‘I’ve matured now so I’ll talk less’ as much as Australia, who are finding it difficult to play the good boys in a desperate attempt to revamp their images. Somehow, in all their banter, both parties have so far managed to see that invisible line and stayed clear of that. And in that, they have shown how much fun sledging – if within limits – can be as a part of cricket consumption.

While on the one hand, the ICC has talked so much about making cricket more consumable for a wider audience, on the other they have come harder on the talks and send-offs on the field. It is with keeping in mind what the spirit of cricket demands – the gentleman’s behaviour, one that doesn’t appreciate anything but the ideal conduct. But honestly, not only is that practice very English and very boring but also dishonest to the game itself. If indeed the game was so much about celebrating its spirit, two of England’s finest – WG Grace and Ian Botham – among many others, wouldn’t have been regarded as greats.

One of ICC’s biggest concerns has been leaving wrong role models for the coming generation. But by pushing something idealistic is never a good source of attraction, because it is not realistic. By allowing players to express their styles, it adds to the character of the game and also its appeal. The audience can decide for itself who they can relate better to – Kane Williamson or Virat Kohli? Ellyse Perry or Harmanpreet Kaur? Because we all are different and sports without a human touch is robotic. It needs characters and colour.

One of the important reasons the India-Australia series has become exciting, apart from the contest between bat and ball, is because it has left the viewers with talking points and cued them in every time Tim Paine or Kohli are batting with the ‘keepers up to the stumps. In a day and age when discussions are revolving on the interest levels of Test matches combined with efforts to expand the market, going softer on the sledging rules wouldn’t be a bad idea.

A cracking start to the Test Championship – Kaushik Rangarajan

It’ll be hard at first to find takers for a format so convoluted but why take a new step with a cloud of uncertainty?

Test cricket’s in a good place. Believe it. Teams are conquering overseas frontiers in traditionally alien conditions, there are four genuinely outstanding batsmen at the top of the pyramid and some fascinating young fast bowlers – the Rabadas, Bumrahs and Cumminss – setting a high benchmark for the others to catch up.

But for the commercials to follow, these stars doing battle will have to be followed on television and in the stadiums over five days. The ICC hopes to address this by adding context to games and series. This problem of relevance has plagued cricket by large and put the sport in desperate need of solutions, most of it requiring administrative leadership and foresight.

One big solution offered was the ICC Test Championship, that’ll get underway in June 2019 with the first two-year cycle of fixtures involving the top-nine teams. On the face of it, it may seem hard to co-relate context and all those empty seats at the Optus Stadium. Which is why my big wish for 2019 is for this Championship to get into vogue with a cracking start, where even a dead-rubber clash makes for an absorbing contest because of the championship points on offer.

And as with any league format, one team’s table position will be closely tied to how their competitors fare in simultaneous games. So India and Pakistan may not be playing each other in this cycle but a result for one could mean the other slips away from the Top-2. A bit like how Eden Hazard’s goal against Tottenham can give Leicester the league title. And who knows, that may even force India and Pakistan to play each other in the next cycle.

If teams can be withheld from unreasonably pushing home advantage by tailoring pitches, this Test Championship could be the harbinger of all the good that is to come from Test cricket in the future.

One ball per innings in ODIs – Ahsan Iftikhar Nagi

Ever wondered what keeps Test matches in South Africa, England or Australia riveting? It is the conditions allowing bowlers to have their fair share in the match and dominate the batsmen in different phases.

Despite ever-growing commercialisation attached to the limited-overs cricket, it is becoming too predictable, due to the imbalance between bat and ball, and boring. One-Day cricket can be said to have suffered the most.

To make 50-over cricket great again, I want the format to revert to using one ball per innings, starting this World Cup.

With the reverse swing returning to the game and pacers having their say (duly) in the last 10-15 overs, there will be equilibrium between bat and ball. This is certain to make the one-day format an exciting prospect once again.

With bats becoming thicker and pitches having truer bounce than ever (in ODIs), it is about time bowlers get their fair share.

This post originally appeared on www.cricbuzz.com.

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