Cricket World Cup: With ODIs on life support, can India save the format - again?

Innovation is required as the 50-over game has become increasingly outdated in modern cricket

India, as a team and host nation, will have a major role to play if ODI cricket is to be revived at the Cricket World Cup. AFP
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Here come India to save one-day international cricket. Again.

We have been here before. Probably more than once, actually. But seeing as we are on the eve of another subcontinent World Cup, this is the most obvious parallel.

Back in 2011, this format of the game – 50-over cricket – seemed all set to be pensioned off. Many would have been happy to see it go.

It had had its time. It was outdated in a world in which T20 was sweeping all before it.

India and Pakistan had just taken turns to win the newly minted 20-over version of the World Cup. Even England had had their go at winning that, too.

So, all the main powerbrokers were happy with the shortest format, even those (read India) who had to be persuaded to join the revolution – presciently, because of the effect it might have on the ODI game.

The 50-over version of the game was long and fusty, overblown and boring in comparison.

Remedial measures were proposed by the well-intentioned. Dean Jones, the free-thinking former Australian batter, suggested splitting 50-over games into two innings per side, to minimise the advantage for the side winning the toss and thus limit the number of one-sided games.

A South African businessman trialled an even more fragmented version with the MCC, including in matches in Abu Dhabi.

In his game, 50-over matches were split into five-over segments. His reasoning being that tennis players don’t serve 300 balls at their opponent before swapping round, as it would take all day to work out who is winning.

The proposals were a tacit acceptance that 50-over cricket could not survive in its present guise. Unless something seismic was to happen.

Then MS Dhoni belted Nuwan Kulasekara 10 rows back at the Wankhede Stadium. He dusted off his sleeveless jumper for the trophy presentation. Sachin Tendulkar was paraded around the ground shoulder high. And all was well with ODI cricket again.

In winning the job lot in front of their adoring fans, India provided the shot of adrenaline straight to ODI cricket’s heart that has carried it through to this day.

Now, 12 years on, the march of T20 has become even more irresistible and the 50-over game is back on life support.

No longer is it driven by the international game, either. T20 franchise cricket has mushroomed in the intervening time.

No longer are national boards able to push back when their players ask to be excused to go off and play in the Indian Premier League. The fact Kevin Pietersen was rebuffed when he asked if he could skip England duty to play in the IPL seems quaint now.

The IPL? Boards have difficulties keeping their players from going off and playing in leagues in the United States, Canada, and here in the UAE now, let alone India.

ODI cricket is already diminished as a result. MCC’s world cricket committee this summer called for it to be “significantly reduced” outside of World Cup years.

“We think it's difficult bilaterally now to justify them,” Mark Nicholas, the new MCC president, was quoted as saying this week.

It is a fair point, too. If only there was some way of organising a competition between World Cups in which sides were pitted together for a purpose, and play with some sort of jeopardy.

The ODI Super League is being dispensed with. OK, so it might have been meh, but the tournament that was set to feed it – Cricket World Cup League 2 – was a triumph.

Cricket World Cup 2023 venues

It was for that reason that sides like Scotland and Oman were so competitive at the World Cup Qualifier, and part of the reason why Nepal are an advancing force. The ODI cricket that the elite see might be an average spectacle, but the same does not go for all of it.

If cricket was interested in developing beyond its established borders, it might preserve bilateral series solely for fixtures between Test nations and aspiring associate ones. But those would only ever be loss leaders, so it is highly unrealistic to expect it to happen.

Is there any feasible rescue plan? Well, India winning the World Cup did the trick in 2011.

But would a command performance by Virat Kohli dispatching all the other pretenders and fuelling a title win in front of a world record crowd in Ahmedabad on November 19 be guaranteed to do the same? Would that be enough to safeguard the whole format? It is impossible to say for certain.

Updated: October 04, 2023, 11:54 AM