January 21, 2022: The waning interest in Test cricket led to the emergence of the limited-overs version. Time became an important commodity and five days of watching cricket became a luxury. Furthermore, the world changed, as one wanted a result at the end and so a draw in cricket was frowned upon.
Cricket was missing a platform where the best teams could compete against each other in a short duration of time to anoint a world champion. The World Cup in 1975 in England became an ideal setting and the champion side West Indies winning it was just the icing on the cake.
West Indies was the top-most side in the world then and for them to win the Cup in 1979 as well, the World Cup, one felt, was an ideal indicator to hail a champion. The initial three World Cups were played as a 60-overs-a-side format and some matches went into a two-day affair.
India winning the Cup in 1983 was the best result for world cricket. The Goliath of cricket, the West indies, were finally dethroned by the David of cricket, India. A minnow Asian side beating the world champions was just the ingredient that brought millions of fans back into following the game. In 1985 the One-Day Champions trophy in Australia had the two Asian giants, Pakistan and India in the final. This resulted in diminishing the aura and superiority that Australia, England and the West Indies had held for over a century of cricket.
In 1987, the Cup was played in India and Pakistan and because of the constraint in daylight the matches were reduced to a 50-overs affair. The shorter format became the norm for all the future cups and various alterations to the rules came into force to make the One-Day Internationals interesting and exciting.
The introduction of the popular World Cup T20 cricket and the Test World Championship, one feels, is resulting in the ODI losing its sheen. The popularity of Test cricket has gradually crept up again to be recognised as the Holy Grail of cricket and cricketers are being measured seriously by their performance in it. The limited-overs versions have resulted in cricketers playing Test matches far more aggressively. The dreariness and the dullness that had crept into Test cricket have slowly given way to exciting stroke-play and lethal bowling performances. The conditions around the world differ and so the uncertainties faced by the cricketers have added that extra element of interest. A cricketer is now being judged on how good one is by one’s performance in the conventional form of the game, Test cricket. This is truly fabulous for the royal game.
The T20 format has taken over the glamour of the 50-overs version. The innovation, uncertainty and intensity that one sees in T20 has made viewing so much more interesting and absorbing. The simple slam-bang cricket has made it easier for every age group of watchers and therefore, it has filtered into becoming a family sport to sit together and enjoy. The added beauty is that one does not need to get into the nitty-gritty of the game such as technique and in-depth knowledge in order to follow it.
The 50-overs One-Day International has become quite a boring and unexciting game. The initial and the final 10 overs of the game are the only interesting periods. The first is because one needs to gauge the wicket and the playing conditions and how a team fares in the power play, whereas the last 10 overs for either a side attacking or chasing to win or notch a good score is the other interesting time.
The 30 overs in between have now become a boring affair. The team fielding has only one mission, at most times, and that is to give away the least amount of runs. On the other hand, the side batting is creaming the bowling to establish a good platform for it to launch into an attack later.
This cat and mouse or sparring duel between the bat and the ball has made the ODI into a tedious affair. The severe bowling and fielding restrictions have made the bowler a non-entity as one is only hoping for the batsman to make a mistake. As regards the batter, one can get a decent score without actually taking any unnecessary risks.
The ICC has to look seriously at making the ODIs more exciting and enduring to play and watch. With the introduction of the T10 and 100 balls-a-side, the 50-overs version is under serious threat.
One thought would be to reduce it to a 40-overs-a-side format. The other would be to have two innings of 25 overs each. Maybe the latter is a better option, as most fans want to see the top batsmen and bowlers in action.
If the ODI continues in its present way, it will definitely lose its sheen and peter out into a dull and drab format. It is now up to the ICC to pep it up. To do so, they need someone like Kerry Packer, who changed the face of cricket in the 70s.
His cricket innovations are what one is following since then.
(Yajurvindra Singh is a former Test cricketer. Views expressed are personal.)