Opinion: West Indies vs India ODIs is a series that signifies the format's existential threat
The Indian players were seen doing a jig to the DJ's beats as the rain began to gain strength. It seemed like the only thing to do with the first ODI heading towards an inexorable washout.
By the time the umpires gave up on the game, the West Indies had trundled to 54/1 from 13 overs. The crowd at Providence had been treated to some yawn-inducing cricketing action till that point. Chris Gayle, the Universe Boss and the terror of bowlers had been the sol batsman dismissed after scoring an absurd four runs off 31 deliveries.
These are the moments in contemporary ODIs that signify why it might die a slow, existential death unless some sort of revamp, some force of rejuvenation makes it come alive again.
Yes, the World Cup in England and Wales was a blockbuster in terms of both the action and the commitment of the teams involved; however, bilateral engagements such as the current WI-India ODI series remain the format's bread and butter, and more often than not, they suffer from inherent problems that need urgent addressing.
What's the issue?
The issues are manifold, but primary among them seems to be a lack of ability of the matches to generate interest among fans for some of these games, especially post the high of the World Cup. Yes, for most players, especially in the Indian team, motivation doesn't seem to be an issue; Virat Kohli, in particular, caressed his way to another well-made century as India got past the Windies in the second ODI to record their fourth victory in the tour.
However, that seems to be more a case of well-tuned professionals beating opponents some notches below them in terms of quality. And that is one huge problem for the profile of this series, in particular, and unequal competitions that plague bilateral engagements such as these, in general.
Already, the talk is about whether a disjointed and clearly demotivated West Indies can prevent a 5-0 whitewash; but, will a 5-0 crushing of the Windies really give the fans the kind of joy that can make them forget the heartbreak of the World Cup semifinal loss? Therein lies the main problem.
Firstly, the competitive quality of most international teams have gone down, barring the elite. The failure of ICC to expand the game to newer shores and even to sustain the quality of traditional powerhouses such as Windies has led to us reaching this stage. The recent debarring of Zimbabwe due to internal issues was another nail in the coffin of the global game.
Secondly, the 50-over format for bilateral series is itself going through a crisis of relevance post the advent of T20. It looks good when the stakes are high during a World Cup or a Champions Trophy match but seems to meander towards meaninglessness in large swathes of bilateral engagements.
The World Test Championship is a great move that can potentially reinvigorate the oldest format. Maybe, more focus on multi-nation tournaments or even a World ODI league played over a long period can add more purpose to bilateral engagements. A breath of fresh air is the need of the hour for the game, there is a crisis looming on the horizon.