SREELATA S.YELLAMRAZU | 30 MAY, 2019
A Brief History of ODIs – While They Last
Once more the ICC is blinded to limited-overs overkill
Even as the cricket community the world over is currently consumed with euphoria over the ICC Cricket World Cup in England, it is easy to lose sight of the fact that the one day internationals format, the integral bridge that marries tradition with evolution, is fighting an enormous battle.
ODIs are being shunted aside yet again by the International Cricket Council, curtailed by the reduced scope of World Cup participation, their aura dimmed further by the ill-thought out, ill-timed truncating of the ICC Champions Trophy.
The ICC is inflicting an identity crisis not only upon the fifty-over game, but on the sport itself as an integrative, multi-faceted, self-sustaining entity, capable of expanding and drawing to itself a diverse spread of the world’s sporting contingent.
On the eve of the World Cup 2019 the ICC issued a press release wherein Dave Richardson, its chief executive, expressed the hope that the event would be the ‘greatest celebration of cricket ever’.
But never was the chasm between words and action so wide or deep. The ODI format struggles to find context, space and a sense of continuity after years of overkill and having been tampered and tinkered with, and with tournaments like the Champions Trophy facing the axe at least three times in the past decade alone.
It is hard to imagine coloured clothing and numbered uniform kits, and white-ball and day-night cricket without its triggering recollection of the time in which these changes were considered no less than revolutionary.
One-day internationals were the vehicle that launched cricket on its present course. The limited overs format wrought Test cricket’s evolution towards a more result-orientated sport, particularly because of ODIs’ abridged avatar, Twenty20. It is also the gateway for the ICC’s hundred-plus associate members to ultimately playing the game at the highest level.
This was unimaginable before 1971, when a rained out Ashes Test spawned the rise of one day internationals. These began on a small expedition in England in the early 1960s, gaining credence only in November, 1978, when the idea of a limited overs match under floodlights came alive with Kerry Packer World Series Cricket, at a rather stormy time in cricket’s history, revealing a new market for the game.
Thereafter the commercially viable ODIs gave rise to the memorable tournament known as the Cricket World Cup, which has since 1975 been producing winners as diverse as cricket’s changing history.
The current twelfth edition of the World Cup returns to the 1992 format wherein every team plays the other. But the number of participating teams has shrunk rather bizarrely, putting paid to the ambitions of some teams. More so those who see their qualifying for the tournament as a way to announce their readiness to play Test cricket.
Since the first World Cup, one-days have become the road map that balance old ideas of temperament, endurance and pacing an innings, with producing fast-paced results, greater innovation and quick thinking. Because key policy and planning decisions have not evolved in keeping with the times, that balance has been out of order, causing the ICC to adopt stopgap measures when it would have been better to put long term scales and measures in place as far as adapting the cricketing calendar is concerned.
The ICC last year announced changes that virtually put paid to one-day internationals as a relevant format. There has been widespread condemnation for the manner in which the ICC snipped opportunities at this intermediate level, with Zimbabwe’s Sikandar Raza making an emotional appeal upon Zimbabwe’s exit from the qualifying tournament, and Scotland’s former captain, Preston Mommsen, going as far as to call this year’s tournament “not a World Cup but rather a tournament of ten teams.”
Judging by the current direction set forth for the future of ODIs, it appears that the world’s leading cricket body has lost perspective. Not for nothing has it been said that ODIs became a burden unto themselves by the sheer amount of overkill, in the name of making the game more commercial.
There is now a similar scenario brewing as far as Twenty20 is concerned, and the ICC is blinded to it by its own ambitions. The powers that be seem unable to consider the repercussions of promoting one format above all the others, at the cost of maintaining the ecosystem that perpetuates and harmonises the space and scope for a coexistence of cricket’s various games.
In April 2018, ICC chief executive Dave Richardson announced that despite the revamped format of the ICC Champions’ Trophy to make the tournament more competitive, it was going to be cancelled. The explanations provided by the governing body were exasperating: they lacked credence and exposed hypocrisy and contradiction.
Here is what Richardson had to say, “The Champions Trophy, in a way, is was too similar to the World Cup. It was difficult to differentiate.” Perhaps the ICC should ask some of the winning teams of the ICC Champions Trophy or the ICC Cricket World Cup if they could not tell the difference between the two tournaments.
Or even perhaps the participating teams, some of whom look forward to the World Cup, dreaming on the sidelines for years before another opportunity presents itself.
Ask the USA team who are celebrating their official status as a one-day international cricket team after finishing in the top four in the ICC Cricket World League Division 2 in Namibia recently.
For context, it is interesting to read Parrag Marathe, the chairman of USA Cricket, speak after the fact:
“Coming so quickly after our recent admission to the ICC as the 105th Member of the sport, the achievement of one day international status for USA Cricket is quite simply game-changing for the landscape of cricket in America. It allows Team USA to be seen as equals with the leading cricket nations in the world and we are looking forward to not just our upcoming 36 one day internationals as part of the ICC Cricket World Cup League 2, but also to the more challenging fixtures against the top nations in the coming years.”
As against this well founded hope, it is preposterous that the Board of Control for Cricket in India put up resistance to the move – not from the perspective of protecting the interest of ODIs, but motivated rather by the fear of losing millions of dollars in revenue at the cancellation of the event.
So the ICC, in a blatant move to appease the powerful boards, allowed the Champions Trophy to be replaced by another edition of the ICC World Twenty20 in India, even though there was an edition scheduled for the 2021 season in Australia.
The ICC buckled to the BCCI’s bottom line.
It was speculated that the fifty overs format was far from the minds of the ICC and the BCCI, and that the host broadcaster preferred another edition of the ICC World Twenty20 to the Champions Trophy simply because the former had sixteen teams to the Champions Trophy’s eight.
Is the ICC taking its cues? Apparently not because the ICC Cricket World Cup of just ten teams will run its course over one and a half months, while the Champions Trophy was an intense affair lasting just eighteen days!
The ICC went further to announce that the next edition of the World Cup, in 2023, would also be a ten-team affair.
If sameness were such a problem for the ICC, one would not know it by the fact that the World Cup in 2019 will be followed by a World Twenty20 held in 2020 in India, then another World Twenty20 in Australia the year after, before cricket comes full circle to the next World Cup in 2023, also in India.
Following the growing popularity of Twenty20, ODIs have been marginalised as a redundant format, labelled sedentary for the middle overs that call for tedious, laborious, temperamental farming of the strike, when in fact changes to ODI playing rules have been as much to blame as anything else for continuing to perpetuate the monotony – of skewing the game in favour of batsmen, instead of striking a balance between bat and ball.
One of the most glaring instances of oversight as far as understanding the one day game is concerned, is the introduction of two new balls, one from each end, at the beginning of every innings. This in particular has put paid to the contest between bat and ball, by taking reverse swing out of the equation for fast bowlers and making it harder for spinners to come into action, with the ball still hard and relatively new.
Sold as an attempt to make the white ball last and not become dirty and difficult to spot towards the end of an innings, this change in rules has only made the game appear even more one-dimensional and bereft of character.
The ICC is in danger of being responsible for breaking the vital link between modern machinations and traditional aspirations.
The World Cup, the Champions Trophy, and triangular series such as the one hosted in Australia until recent years, gave context to the fifty-overs format. When it was convenient, the ICC and the member nations exploited ODIs in a clear case of overindulgence, with as many as seven matches scheduled on a single bilateral tour.
Now with Twenty20 the flavor of the decade, the ICC’s myopic view is not unfounded. With the England and Wales Cricket Board coming under intense pressure for letting its own limited overs format languish, the England cricket team’s resurrection is an aberration, reduced as the domestic format is to forty overs, and now being stifled further as “a development tournament.”
Now as the ECB eyes the Hundred, its answer to Twenty20, one wonders how long the ICC can sustain its own avaricious plans before being forced to take to the axe again.
Most troublingly for the future of cricket, the ICC has forced the associate nations into a huddle wherein, given their meagre resources and lack of infrastructure, they may just decide to take their cue from the ICC and put all their eggs in the Twenty20 basket, shutting out their dreams of playing Test cricket altogether.
Even more dangerously, more and more teams may decide that pursuing the sport is just not worth their time, effort, or money.