Over the last three weeks, we cricket addicts have been able to indulge in three separate One Day International series’: England in India; the Sri Lankans in Australia and New Zealand in South Africa. That only one of these head to heads has ended in a relatively passive defeat to the touring team seems to contradict with the widely held view that 50 over cricket is a dying form.
The advent of T20 cricket has further disenchanted viewers from the 50 over format. No longer is it Test cricket’s flash, impatient little brother; now it is the jealous middle child, looking down on the crass headline grabbing new-born.
Here in England, 50 over internationals have always been viewed upon in a disdainful manner; seen as an arena in which to blood new players and break in potential captains for the Test job. This view is probably as much due to decades of grinding English failure in the format (constantly harking back to a World Cup final loss as the ‘glory days’) as it is disillusionment with the format.
The administrators have hardly treated ODI cricket with much respect either: the constant tinkering with power-plays and super-subs, new balls and fielding restriction, have only served to confuse the viewer. The years of scheduling seven match series’ and World Cups that take a month to gain any momentum, has thrown up more dead rubbers than the Indy500.
The result of boardroom negotiations and 5 year plans led to a saturation of 50 over internationals that lost the viewer’s and crowd’s attention. The Boxing Day Test this year drew in sixty six thousand; the concluding rubber of the Sri Lanka – Australia ODI series only brought in a third of that.
Lacking the bombastic, sensation-for-the-sake-of-it, nature of T20 cricket and the five day majesty of a Test Match, ODI cricket has been in terminal decline; why then must it survive?
50 over ODI cricket must survive because the premier event of cricket is the World Cup. Ask Jacques Kallis the one thing he wants from the remaining years of his career; ask Murali what is his proudest cricketing achievement. The World Cup remains one of the defining moments of a cricketer’s career. In lieu of a functioning Test championship, it is the best we have.
ODI cricket has the room to allow cracking narratives to unfold. In a T20 we wouldn’t have seen the drama of the ’99 World Cup semi or a sparkling innings such as Kane Williamson’s century a week ago. The hustle and bluster of T20 has neither the scope nor time to encourage such events.
A lot of stuff happens in T20: Players come and go depending on the highest bidder; we see simulacrums of emotion in the bullshit of a Warne-Samuels conflict or simply a lack of grace and dignity that contradicts with the many beauties of this classical sport.
ODIs are a necessary part of cricket. If we are to have T20 cricket we need it more than ever; we need it to serve as an efficient compromise between the bean counters and the traditionalists. The way to keep it alive is to do what we’ve seen in the last few weeks: send it on the road to Kimberly and Paarl, to Ranchi and Dharamsala. These venues were sold out and infected with an atmosphere hardly witnessed in the IPL or BBL (ah T20, the land of acronyms). The new fielding restrictions of no more than 4 outside of the inner circle at any time have led to more exciting batting and forced bowlers to adapt. My plea to the administrators is to maintain consistency and keep these new regulations; abolish the monstrous seven match series’ and bring back the method of three-five match battles before a Test series, this way the emphasis will be shifted back onto the 50 over game and a semblance of balance could be restored to all three formats.
Do you want 50 over cricket to die and lose out on all the Chris Harris’ and Michael Bevan’s that have blessed – and could bless – the sport? I don’t and in the last few weeks I’ve seen a glimmer of hope. Let’s just hope those who run cricket have also.