In a strange sort of way, One-day cricket has died two deaths in a space of six months. The World Cup turned out to be a birthday that reminded it that it was older by four years rather than the tournament being a cause for celebration; and the ICC World Twenty20 has injected new life into cricket which, at last, might realize its long-cherished dream of seducing non-cricket countries.
The old bore
The 50-over, 8-hours game, which had thought of itself as a pleasure drug, had become an ineffective pill. If it had to be so batsman-friendly, what was the point in having those “middle-overs”? It is a crucial factor because the action during these overs dipped alarmingly; like in some action films of ours.
Most of the audience smoke and chat during the time the hero is a really nice family man, who is living happily with his parents, younger sister and is wooing a girl, singing family songs, and who probably works as an honest auto-driver. The moment all of them are killed and he opens his proverbial third-eye, the smoking and chatting stops and everyone rushes back into the theater. This is what they had bought a ticket for, the real action; the power-play and the slog overs. In the 50-over game, bowlers are like those parents and younger sisters; they are there to make the numbers and the middle-overs are their happy-family scene.
Twenty20 will also be a game where the batsman is the hero, but it doesn’t pretend to be anything other than it. Bowlers will be excused an economy of eight-an-over. At least, they have a chance of getting wickets with batsman attacking them all the time, and if you get a pitch like that in Durban under lights, you have a runaway hit.
(The top three wicket-takers in the ICC World Twenty20 have taken, at an average, 1.85 wickets a match. In the World Cup of 2007, the top three wicket-takers had taken 2.25 wickets a match.)
The itch was long there, wasn’t it, to find a more exciting brand of cricket than the ODI. Martin Crowe endorsed the fast, but highly contrived, Max cricket. But the need for him to look for a change had come because New Zealand cricket hardly has an audience. The Test match is cricket’s intellect, its art. But it doesn’t sell in New Zealand. It had stopped selling in England, South Africa, Pakistan and some parts of India. One-day cricket acted as a pacemaker for the marketing of Test cricket to an extent. However, the time has come for a change.
Three’s a crowd
There is no way that all three forms should co-exist, it would be highly chaotic. It seems improbable that the ODI would survive the assault of Twenty20. The Indian board didn’t recognize it for this long (another endorsement for the concept) and now that it has happened, the money plant will follow.
It also affords Test cricket a great chance for growth. It has been craving for good contests and more importantly, good scheduling. In no bloody way should India’s tour of England have ended after just three Tests. Had it been seven Twenty20 internationals and not seven ODIs, there would have been place for another Test. Logistics are fine, but surely a best-of-five Test series can be accommodated when featuring two of the top eight teams, given Twenty20’s versatility.
Three games of cricket on the same channel in a day? It is an absolute boon for cricket especially when it wants to woo newer audiences. The one big problem with Twenty20 is clearly the impending overkill of the format (ICC, ICL, IPL, Stanford, Champions League). ODIs could not get people organized in the same way as Twenty20 can afford, officially or privately. But it still seems a better format to go with. The future looks exciting, but only, they need to retire the ODI.