ODI – A dying format?
One Day cricket changed the way cricket was being played and watched. But has it's time finally run out?
One Day Cricket changed the face of cricket and brought together so many elements into the otherwise simple and ordinary game. It changed the very way cricket was being played with aggressive batting, inspired captaincy and the advent of World Cups. Of course it also brought about plenty of other changes namely cooperate sponsors and television rights. Bigger viewership, bigger sponsorships, and bigger money made cricket a more spectator friendly sport and professional sport. It was viewed as a global sport for perhaps the first time and new countries started showing interests in the sport. It was all the rage in the nineties and early twenties and brought about a revival in cricket.
Now in 2010, it's that very format of the game that is dying. It is no secret that the 50 over format is dying. Meaningless tournaments, matches, coupled with the monotonous and rigidity of the format are the main causes. But it is the birth of T20 cricket and various leagues such as the Indian Premier League that has actually acted as the final nail in the coffin.
It must be strange to say ODI cricket is dying because cooperate sponsors are still very much behind it. They support the format, despite falling attendance and viewership. It still remains the favorite for television broadcasters. ODIs generates the maximum money in terms of television revenue as maximum commercial breaks are available. This is one of he main reasons it's still alive. Even players prefer the 50 over format more than the T20 format despite the latter's more lucrative financial advantages. The ODI format gives a quality player a better platform to exhibit and express himself. Plus there's little in a T20 match for the bowlers. As a batsman, unless he's an opener, he'd prefer the ODI format. As a middle order batsmen in T20 cricket, you seldom get the opportunity to bat, and even if you do get the chance it is near the death when a high percentage of risk has to be taken. Big partnerships, and centuries are seldom seen in the T20 format because it is too small. ODI is the perfect format for this without being too long. Also as a bowler, you don't have to worry about the batsman coming at you all out and hitting you for sixes over a 55 yard boundary. You get a more balanced game and a battle between the bat and ball with ODIs.
This is where the positives stop and the negatives start. With all the money involved, there has been an excess amount of ODI cricket played. Specially in the 1900's and early 2000's, almost every other day hosted an ODI match and with series after series, cricket has become over saturated than ever. Now we are seeing the effects of it with player exhaustion and drop in viewership ratings. More and more meaningless matches are played for the sake of sponsorship money and I strongly feel that the cricket boards have betrayed their players and the game by giving into the sponsors, broadcasters and their ideas by stringing together meaningless ODI tournaments. A perfect example would be the Asia cup that took place a few weeks back. Also long series such as a seven match series kill the game, with the result of the series being decided more often than not before the final match. Match fixing is also one of the effects of this I feel. With meaningless matches played, I'm sure weaker players when showed huge amounts of money gladly accepted the green bills and underperformed in a few 'meaningless' games. Hansie Cronje remains a witness for this. Match Fixing has left a permanent scar on the game.
This combined with boring cricket and formulated playing styles added to the causes of the death. With batting teams more than willing to go at an easy pace for most part of the game and then stage a big assault at the end, became the strategies generally employed. Risks were taken in the powerplays to make the most of the fielding restrictions but after that the nudging game of gathering 4 or 5 runs per over started while taking limited risks. This was a defensive tactic to preserve wickets for a final slog in the last ten. Also the bowling teams tended to defend rather than attack letting the batting team take those easy singles. The fielding team's captain sending all but 4 fielders to patrol the boundary even when the scoreboard read 100 for 4 was a common sight. More often than not this led to some very boring cricket. Plus with bowlers bowling to contain rather than pick wickets the game was slowly losing it's sheen. This defensive style of playing added to the monotonicity and with a fixed strategy for every match, ODIs got boring, stiff and eventually more lifeless. It became all too predictable.
In the past there have been various efforts taken by ICC to stop the rot of ODI cricket, but none of these 'gimmicks' as Ian Chappell calls them have really paid off in the long term. This was a positive response from ICC to preserve the game, but rather than to analyze and find a long term solution, small short time solutions have been implemented. This is like giving a man dying from a painful illness some painkillers to ease his temporary pain rather than to treat the illness. The first of these was the introduction of powerplays with fielding restrictions encouraging both the bowling and batting team to be more aggressive. This soon didn't work as most teams were aggressive in the 20 overs of powerplay and then tended to play defensively. A big failed gimmick was the 'super sub'. This enabled a team to play more aggressively as they could have an extra player. Sadly this experiment didn't even last a whole year. The batting powerplays, shorter boundaries, mandatory ball change and batsman friendly pitches were the other solutions, and most of these have worked for the worse helping the rot spread even more quickly.
Now with the future of ODI cricket in dire jeopardy, a huge discussion is taking place namely in Australia to change some of the fundamental rules of the game. Some of the suggestions are to split the 100 over match into four 25 overs innings. This is really not such a great idea from my view as it will only be the same old wine in a new bottle. It may work for a short while, but I don't see it as a long term solution. Players and viewers alike generally dislike breaks in the game, and with 3 more proposed intervals, all I see is more television time for commercials. Cricket Australia are involved in a big discussion with Channel Nine regarding this, and let's hope some sensible and practical decisions are taken.
If you ask me, the likely thing that can be done to preserve ODI cricket is to do what the English and Wales Cricket Board did with their domestic format. They abolished it and have only the 40 over format. This is a better option compared to splitting of the innings, but I'm cynical of even this. I don't really think it can be a long term prospect.
I like Sanjay Manjrekar's idea of holding a tournament where only the top four teams will play. This involves no tinkering wit the format and is highly practicable. The top four teams will be the four teams with the most points after a given period of ODI games. This is a very sensible idea where the 'meaningless' matches get some value of importance as winning it will not only help you win the series but also qualify for the tournament. So even the fifth match in a five match series will hold some importance even if the result of the series has already been decided. While, meaningless series such as the Asia Cup should be abolished. There are two tournaments that hold high importance in ODI cricket, and that is the World Cup and Champions Trophy. The rest are mostly meaningless and can be done away with. This is specially the case between India and Sri Lanka as the two teams play an ODI series every 2 or 3 months.
It would be a real shame to see the 50 overs format die. The 2011 World Cup in the sub-continent will have a huge say regarding the future of ODI cricket. Let's just all hope that the One Day International format survives and that the 2011 World Cup is a huge success.