Cricket. It's an epic battle, "played between two sides, each of eleven players" as the Laws state clearly.
That needs to change.
It's time to consider that cricket can - even should - be played by fewer than the magic eleven. It's mostly tradition that keeps us there anyway. So, I propose a new normal: eight a side cricket.
The format already exists with the Last Man Stands competition. However, this is not designed as serious or developmental cricket. It's a game for pick up players to have summer fun. While this is valuable to bring new people to the game, so is helping people in the club game enjoy and develop.
Eight each is a simple way to reach that development aim.
Think about a typical experience in a club match. It's easy to find the game boring: If you don't bowl, then get out for a low score and spend 20 overs in the field hoping a hard ball is not smashed at you, how will you feel Chances are you won't spend too long trying cricket and look to head back to your Xbox.
A better cricket experience
If you are not entrenched as a cricket lover, eight a side makes things far more interesting. You have to bowl, you get more gaps in the field when you bat and you have to cover a bigger area when you field. You are in the game more often and can gain the simple joys of cricket much easier: feeling bat on ball, hitting the stumps and taking a catch.
If you are interested in developing as a cricketer beyond simply having a go, then eight a side gives you more chance to shine in more areas: Every run and wicket has just increased in value by 28%, you have to have at least two strings to your bow, and you get more time on the ball. There is no down side.
There is also the case for selection. Most club and school sides don't have the perfect number of players. If you don't have enough to get a decent eleven you either have "make up the numbers" players who end up doing nothing and feeling rubbish, or you play with 10, or nine, or...
Meanwhile, places with an abundance of players find that eight in a team raises the quality dramatically. Fringe players can join the 2nd XI and the quality cascades down the teams. You have to work much harder to get back up into a higher team. Standards are raised.
Who should play eight?
Of course, this idea is not for everyone. I'm sure you are already thinking of exceptions. I would suggest that it's simple: Junior and development teams play eight a side. Established senior teams play 11 a side.
Here is a typical example from the UK: Professional cricket remains at 11. The top tier of adult club cricket - Premier Leagues - also stay at eleven. Club teams in lower leagues can decide on a basis of standards and availability. However, all junior club and school cricket becomes 8 a side as standard. As do senior development teams (such as Academy teams and the lowest XI in a club). Where there is a grand tradition of eleven a side (Eton vs. Harrow), and standards are high there can be exceptions.
Time for a simple change
This kind of flexibility is great for the game's development in so many ways. And time is ripe for change.
The world is becoming more instant and convenient. Twenty20 is normal cricket and Test matches are dying at the top level. Across most of the world, the number of people getting into cricket is dropping. The game has a perception of being too long, boring and out of date. Eight players might not be the ultimate solution, but is sure is a simple one that will make a difference.
We don't even need a change in rules as the Laws even account for eight by saying "a match may be played between sides of fewer than... eleven players".
The problem is that we look at elite cricket and want to play the same game with the same format. If India play England with 11 each, so should our team in the local competition. Yet the fact is with TV replays, longer games, different rules, and far, far less need for retention, the professional game is a different game.
My appeal is to make this a powerful statement of change: The MCC can change the Law itself to include "eight or eleven". Leagues can introduce this as standard practice. Professional teams could hold an eight a side competition to inspire. Once you are open, the ideas can flow. By switching more cricket to eight a side we have a simple, effective way to make the club and school game relevant, exciting and fresh in the eyes of people who are fast turning away from the game.
If not now, when? If not this, what? Leave your comments below.