What the future could possibly hold for ODI tri-series and bilateral series
In the official circles and fan forums of the cricket world, a debate is beginning to take shape on the viability of bilateral series and tri-series and whether to conduct them in T20 format vis-à-vis the 50-over format. If there is a scope for bilateral series then it begs the question whether to have equal number of T20Is and ODIs, more ODIs and less T20Is or vice versa. Concerning tri-series tournaments, there is an apparent observation of the withering away of the old school two month long ODI tournaments in favor of snappier T20I tri-series.
Tri-Series is one of the unique and enduring concepts which came into existence around 1978-79 during Kerry Packer’s era when ODI cricket was in its infancy, being just one world cup old. The format back then was known as the World Series Cricket (Professional Cricket Competition), where Australian media tycoon, Packer revolutionized cricket in many terms and presented an offer that a player would never decline. It included several novel features - colorful dresses donned by players, day-night matches: a far-sighted dream for any cricketer and inevitably a better pay package.
For some reasons, Australian Cricket Board shelved WSC but carried forward its legacy in terms of Tri-series till some years back. It was basically a tri-nation series which was played between December and January usually, in peak cricket season in Australia when summer starts flourishing there. Following the same steps, other cricket playing nations also adopted the policy of accommodating tri-series or multi-nation tournaments like the Asia Cup or Australasia Cup in their cricketing calendars.A little jog of our memory will reveal that the tri-series concept was never dead as such. In 2014-15, a tri-nation series was played between Australia, India, and England in Australia just prior to the World Cup. The very next year in 2016, it was played between Australia, West Indies, and South Africa in the Caribbean. In consonance with the continual rise of the T20 format, cricket boards are now forced to accept the change and shift ODI tri-series into T20I tri-series. Nidahas Trophy 2018 and Trans-Tasman trophy in 2017/18 are couple of examples of this recent development.
There could be several reasons of less popularity of Tri-Series and Bilateral series in the T20 format as against the 50 over format. Few of them I believe are:
The Rise of Franchise-based leagues in the T20 format
The inception of various T20 cricket leagues like Bangladesh Premier League (BPL) in Bangladesh, Pakistan Super League (PSL) in Pakistan, Indian Premier League (IPL) in India, Big-Bash League in Australia, Caribbean Premier League (CPL) in the West Indies, and the recently introduced Global T20 league in South Africa means that it is highly unlikely to find a window for organizing a one and a half month long tri-series among three nations as most of their players would be playing in various league across the world. These leagues are like a carnival where fun and frolic overcomes the followers. So, the lack of time and the huge amount of cricket makes shorter tri-series in the T20 format as a practical solution to keep the once popular tri-series tournament concept afloat.
In the ODI tri-Series in Australia, the norm was that three teams played 8 matches each, with 4 matches against both the other teams; this was followed by a best of three final series. It is really an interesting format as far as ODI cricket is concerned but lack of intent in the teams in a tiring tour makes it jaded and long-drawn on occasions. Time to time amendments were made in its scheduling, but it still proved ineffective to attract crowds to the stadiums when their nation was not playing. Shortness of T20 makes it more lucrative and fascinating to the spectators. A three-match bilateral T20I series would bring more colors to the ground than a long and tiring ODI tri-series.
In any case, a three-hour action-packed game brings more money to the coffers of the boards and excitement to the fans.
Length of the series
In the ODI tri-series in Australia, the norm was that three teams played 8 matches each, with 4 matches against both the other teams; this was followed by a best of three-final series. It is really an interesting format as far as ODI cricket is concerned but lack of intent in the teams in a tiring tour makes it jaded and long-drawn on occasions. Time to time amendments were made in its scheduling, but it still proved ineffective to attract crowds to the stadiums when their nation was not playing.
Shortness of T20 makes it more lucrative and fascinating to the spectators. A three-match bilateral T20I series would bring more colors to the ground than a long and tiring ODI tri-series.
Tri-Nation series could possibly still attract crowds if the length of the series is reduced down and involves more competitive nations. The experimentation process has begun wherein the boards have started shifting attention to organizing T20I tri-series. Trans-Tasman Twenty20 series played between England, Australia, and the Blackcaps down under, being a case in point. It was a huge boost for New Zealand cricket in terms of crowd attraction and usage of new stadiums.
Bilateral series also holds its own importance but it is more suited to few series like India-Pakistan in particular, where viewership overpasses the population of most of the countries. The historic rivalry between Australia and England too holds promise for bilateral limited overs competition. But in effect, a five-match bilateral series is losing its charm as most of the time it ends before the fifth game is played. So, reducing bi-laterals to snappier three-match series or even best of three series could give a leeway to accommodate few exciting bilateral encounters.