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How to rescue ODI cricket? A 5-point program for ICC to save the format and make it prosper

New Zealand v England - ICC Cricket World Cup 2019 Final
ODIs are a wonderful format of cricket and they need to be treasured

Nobody understands the joy of watching an ODI cricket match more than millennial fans. This generation grew up admiring the exploits of Sachin Tendulkar in the 50-over format and regarding the 50-over World Cup as the summit of cricket competitions.

However, this format is now under fire and is facing a graver existential threat than ever before. The enchantment with T20 cricket has led a large number of ex-cricketers and analysts to demand the shelving of this format altogether from the international circuit.

With T20 leagues becoming increasingly important to players and Test cricket retaining its loyal fan base, the 50-over format seems forlorn. However, all is not lost.

The ODI World Cup will continue to be the most high-profile event in the quadrennial cricket calendar for some time to come. Also, despite the popularity of T20s, ODI games still manage to draw good crowds and generate decent viewership.

Still, a comprehensive program is needed to boost this neglected and least-loved format of the game. The ICC has to find solutions to its waning appeal and implement them quickly to make sure that people don’t continue deriding this version of cricket.

Here is a five-point program which can revitalize this game and take it back to the heights of the popularity it enjoyed in the 1990s and the noughties. These five steps, if taken promptly, can breath new life into the format and make it more appealing to fans and experts.

#1 Less is more

There has been an excess of bilateral 50-over series involving India and Australia.
There has been an excess of bilateral 50-over series involving India and Australia.

Due to its length and intensity, every Test match is a major event. However, the same cannot be said about ODIs. Unless an ODI series witnesses a memorable event, it is forgotten quickly by fans.

The 2002 NatWest tri-series is fondly remembered by Indian fans because of its legendary final. The 2006 five-match ODI series between hosts South Africa and Australia is inscribed in the memory of cricket fans due to the famous Johannesburg game where the Proteas stunned everyone by chasing down a target of 435.

However, most 50-over series are forgotten by everyone except hardcore fans due to their sheer volume. A good example are ODI contests between India and Australia. These two nations are, arguably, the most high-profile as far as the 50-over format is concerned.

India played an ODI series – bilateral or trianagular – in Australia five times between 2012-2020. The Australians returned the favor by coming to India four times for an ODI contest in the same period. A contest of this quality ought to be a memorable event. However, due to its high frequency, it has become a mere blip in the cricket calendar.

The number of one-day international contests between two nations needs to be reduced. If the same teams play each other every year, that contest loses all its value. It’s a good idea to ensure that one team tours another country for an ODI series every four years. This would make those contests highly-anticipated, rather than just another clump of meaningless matches.

It would also make it difficult for teams to win in alien conditions, similar to Tests. So, these series will be valued and awaited by fans.

Paucity increases the value of objects as well as their desirability. This simple logic of economics applies to cricket, too. So, the ICC should fix the number of bilateral ODI series a team plays in a year, say four (two home and two away). This would provide just enough 50-over cricket for fans to enjoy, without being turned off by a glut of matches.

#2 Christening of contests

The Australia vs New Zealand one-day international series is played for the Chappell-Hadlee Trophy. More such trophies need to be there in ODI cricket.
The Australia vs New Zealand one-day international series is played for the Chappell-Hadlee Trophy. More such trophies need to be there in ODI cricket.

Most bilateral Test series have been given distinctive names. The Ashes, Border-Gavaskar Trophy, Frank Worrell Trophy, etc. In the ODI arena, its only the Australia vs New Zealand series which has had a similar christening – as the Chappell-Hadlee Trophy.

Time has come for the leading ODI bilateral series to also be played for trophies named after the competing nations’ icons. The high-profile India vs Australia 50-over series can be played for a Tendulkar-McGrath Trophy, South Africa vs Australia series for a Waugh-Pollock Trophy, and so on.

The presence of these cricketers at matches and highlighting of their performances in such rivalries in the past can add luster to these contests. It will also make winning these contests seem more imperative.

#3 Discontinuation of T20Is

The #MenInBlue will face Australia and New Zealand in ✌️ warm-up games ahead of the T20I World Cup Down Under. 👊#PlayBold #T20IWorldCup #TeamIndia https://t.co/ir5Yqu4Qdq

T20 cricket is dominating the cricket world. However, that is mainly through the leagues that have mushroomed in all major cricketing nations. In this scenario, the T20Is seem utterly useless. Hence, it would be good to get rid of them altogether.

T20Is clutter an already overstuffed ICC calendar and they serve no purpose. Cricket fans get their yearly dose of T20 cricket featuring top stars through the leagues.

It may be argued that if there is no T20I cricket, how will teams prepare for the T20 World Cup. The fact is that T20 is a very volatile and inconsistent form of the game. No amount of preparation guarantees success. The form of a team going in to a tournament is completely irrelevant. The individual players get enough exposure and practice through the leagues.

The removal of T20Is would free up space for one-day internationals and add some novelty factor to 50-over cricket. Currently, ODI and T20I series are seen as a collective bunch of white-ball cricket and it seems excessive. Removing the T20Is would make it more appealing.

#4 Stop tinkering with ODI format

ODI rule changes:- no more batting powerplay- free hits for all no-balls- 5 fielders outside the 30-yard circle in the last 10 overs

For the longest time, the ICC has obsessed over the supposed dullness of ODI cricket. They have assumed that the game becomes very uneventful during overs 15-40 of an innings. Hence, there have been continual rule changes to ‘spice up’ this perceived period of stagnation.

The introduction of ‘power-play’, ‘super-sub’, two new balls, all were done to make the game more ‘happening’ in the middle overs.

It’s time that cricket administrators show some intelligence and stop looking down upon these middle-overs. They are far from uneventful and are the reason why 50-over cricket has more substance than T20 cricket.

A team like West Indies can win two T20 World Cups thanks to their hitting prowess. But they struggle in the one-day international format because they don’t have batsmen who can build an innings. For that, you need genuine quality.

The middle overs are where a team builds its innings. These are also the overs which give teams a chance to resurrect themselves if they have a bad start. In fact, it is these overs that add great intrigue to the contest.

The batting side has to manage its scoring rate without losing wickets while the bowling team has to figure out the right combination of bowlers to ensure that they are not left without options at the death. This is the beauty of the game, not a liability.

To constantly vilify the middle overs is to blight the very essence of the game. ODI cricket is much more than a slogging contest. It should be allowed to remain that way.

#5 Sporting pitches

Fair pitches lead to exciting contests, like the 2019 World Cup final.
Fair pitches lead to exciting contests, like the 2019 World Cup final.

One of the greatest, if not the greatest, ODIs of all time was the 2019 World Cup final between England and New Zealand. What made that match so good was the sporting nature of the wicket. It had something for all types of performers – batsmen, pacers, spinners.

Unfortunately, over the last decade-and-a-half, 50-over matches have become massive run-fests, with bowlers being side-shows. Like Tests, ODIs are also best when bowlers have a fair chance of picking up wickets.

We have entered an era where scores of 300 seem very chaseable. If a scoring rate of 6-an-over becomes default, it means bowlers can merely contain, not dominate. This reduces the intensity of the contest.

An ideal 50-over contest is one where even a score of 250 is defendable. That has been very rarely the case with ODI cricket in recent times. The very definition of a good pitch has become highly skewed against the bowlers. There is an urgent and desperate need for a pushback.

To make ODI cricket more wholesome, like Test cricket, pitches need to give every type of player a chance to shine. This would ensure that quality players survive in the format, making it a product of higher value.

These five measures can help 50-over cricket. Of course, this is not an exhaustive list and other measures can be taken. However, there is need for urgent action and this five-point formula can sort out many of the problems plaguing this beautiful format of the game.

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Edited by Akshay Saraswat
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