March 30, 2015

Fifty-over cricket, I was wrong

This World Cup gave us driven, vibrant, electric ODI cricket, played at the limit of current ability, and it was magnificent
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In an increasingly batsman-dominated game, the spark the bowlers brought was heartwarming © Ryan Pierse/Getty Images

It is the first over of the World Cup final, the biggest game of your life. You are playing your greatest enemy on a ground where they never seem to lose. You are facing a man bowling very accurate, late-swinging yorkers at more than 90mph from left-arm over the wicket. There are 93,000 people watching you do it, and a few million more on television, on the radio and online. All of those ephemeral thoughts about the meaning of the occasion to you, your family, your team and your country must be dealt with.

What do you do next?

Well if you're Brendon McCullum, you run down the wicket and try and batter the ball into next week, or judging by the blur of bat speed, maybe even next month.

No retreat, no surrender.

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Cut back eight years. The 2007 World Cup in the West Indies lasts from March 13 to April 28 and ends in darkness and farce. US$301 million is spent on stadium building and reconstructions. An average of 8500 people attend each group game. Pakistan's coach Bob Woolmer dies a day after his side has lost to Ireland. India are eliminated after playing three matches. As the final between Australia and Sri Lanka grinds to a halt in bad light, Australia celebrate their win while the umpires insist that the game is only suspended, not complete. Following the tournament the ICC distributes $239m of surplus revenue to its members.

"How much longer can this go on?" you wonder.

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Cut forward five months. The first ICC World T20 tournament runs September 11-24. Yuvraj Singh hits six sixes against England. India beat Pakistan in the final to become the inaugural champions. The first season of the IPL begins seven months later. Brendon McCullum scores 158 from 73 deliveries for Kolkata Knight Riders against Royal Challengers Bangalore in the first match.

"Now," you think. "Here is the future…"

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Cut forward four years. MS Dhoni fires the ball deep into the Mumbai night to win World Cup 2011 for India. Eleven months later, in Dhaka, Sachin Tendulkar makes his 100th international century, in an ODI against Bangladesh, and two days later he plays what will be his final match in the format, later retiring as the highest run scorer of all time. It feels like the end of something, the completion of a cycle that began in 1983.

"This," you think, "could be the perfect moment to finish."

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Yes, 50-over cricket, by 2011, you felt worn out. You had gone through your natural life cycle of growth, boom and bust. All of your records had been set. There was a new, futuristic format to play. You had become ominously predictable. The players understood every nuance and variation you could throw at them. Why not just leave it here and move on, before it all got too messy and spoiled the memories we had? After all, Tendulkar's last match was ODI number 3263. There have been a thousand more ODIs than Tests, and you only started in 1971.

You seemed to exist for commercial expedience as much as anything else. Quite often the major argument for you seemed to be, "there are more ad slots than in a T20 game", or, "the calendar is set for the next four years".

I realise I was probably in a minority thinking that way, but the minority wasn't small, and its arguments were gaining traction. During the first decade and a half of the new century, Test cricket kicked forwards into a new era in terms of how it was played. We had T20 to heighten and concentrate the kind of action that had set ODI cricket apart, and it fulfilled not only the on-pitch brief but the off-pitch requirements too: T20 was reshaping the finances of the game.

You still seemed trapped in your thinking, your format impervious to the constant tinkering we designed to bring back the thrill.

In 2011, it felt as if ODI cricket had come a full circle, 40 years on from inception © Getty Images

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And then you did this.

World Cup 2015 was perfect in its moment. There were few close games, and perhaps only one that you could call a classic, but all of a sudden the clouds had parted and the sun shone on a brave new world, filled with power and beauty. The players were fearless, their horizons extended. What was really renewed was the sense of what was possible. McCullum, de Villiers, Gayle, Maxwell, Guptill - just the names are enough. Those innings, and others, live on in the mind.

And in a game necessarily loaded towards batsmen, the tournament was won by bowlers. Here was more bravery, more extremism, showing itself in Imran Tahir's looping googly bowled slowly under fire, or Wahab Riaz trying to bounce Australia out against impossible odds, or Mitchell Starc and Trent Boult bringing the yorker back to prominence as a searing, guided missile that wrecked dreams along with zing bails.

You gave us electric, driven cricket, played at the limit of current ability, and it was magnificent. We can debate long and hard why it has happened, but it has.

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The mindset of players may have shifted, but so has that of spectators. McCullum tried to whack the hell out of Starc in the first over of the final and lost his off stump. No one will be too outraged about it, because we understand that this is now what it takes. Fifty-over cricket is alive again, and it is alive with risk and reward. It is alive with this new edge and new danger.

It didn't work out for Brendon at Melbourne, but it has before and it will again.

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Fifty-over cricket, I was wrong. Forgive me. That was bloody wonderful. Let's do it all again. I don't know how we resolve the problem of the calendar, but we will. Let's make sure that the Associates are with us. Let's try and convince England to let go of the past and join in.

Brendon M, Brendan T, Mitch, Mitch, AB, Shapoor, King Kumar, Wahab, everyone - it's been a blast.

Sometimes it's great to be wrong.

Jon Hotten blogs here. @theoldbatsman

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Coenraad on April 5, 2015, 6:11 GMT

    It's OK, Jon. For some reason English commentators assumed they knew that 50 over cricket was dead. T20 had eliminated the boring 30 middle overs, right?

    But built into that call was a long-standing prejudice against the 50 over format. 50 overs is long enough for an even contest, long enough to allow the better team to take control of the game, most of the time. It is also short enough to allow us non-professional cricket watchers to watch the whole contest, and too short to allow local conditions to determine the outcome.

    It will need to keep evolving, of course, but as you observe, the future looks bright!

  • Anupam on April 3, 2015, 17:05 GMT

    Good attempt to bring in positive light on what was an extremely boring and long drawn world cup with hardly any close matches. Ofcourse there were solid individual performances, but that much you can expect in such a long tournament. Overall hardly any close matches, playing conditions loaded in favor of batsman, and a glut of runs against mediocre attacks was what was served. Saving grace - players like Smith, AB and Maxwell with their freak and innovative batting, Australia's bowling attack, and refreshing brand of cricket played by NewZealand!!

  • andrews on April 3, 2015, 5:13 GMT

    you are badly wrong about McCullum. That methodology was never going to work against Starc. Not that he was particularly running down the wicket-you must have been watching a different game there (the back foot was well in the crease for 2 of the 3 balls he faced, and the middle ball wasn't much of a forward movement), but he should have pulled back. The argument that it has worked before is ridiculous, and to play that way every ball he faced was an utterly naive effort.

    20/20 cricket should now became a state/province based game. It is heading that way anyway, and should diminish so that 50 over cricket can increase.

  • jim on April 2, 2015, 21:00 GMT

    Totally agree Mr Author.Loved this world cup.I listened to most of it on a portable digital radio with headphones on frequently in the middle of a pitch dark field/woods out with my dog at 4 or 5 in the morning.Before going to work and listening on the car radio.It was a joy and brightened up a working life no end which is something the media will never understand and also half of the numpties who whinge on on the cricinfo site have no idea about either.They must be students.Long may the 50 over game and test cricket thrive.And long may fans like us continue

  • Andrew on April 2, 2015, 11:44 GMT

    Not sure what planet you have been living on. As someone who first got Sky in 1991 specifically for the world cup I always want a memorable world cup. Apart from one semi-final and NZ beating Australia in the pool match I won't remember anything else for the singular lack of drama in the whole tournament. Whether this is because I gave up on Sky years ago or England were so abject or the way it all dragged on I am not sure but it has become so run dominated and the uneven contest between bat and ball has made it dull. Basically a good bowling side should have just as good a chance of winning as a good team of batters - but they simply don't.

    Cricket is dying in the UK - the size of my Sunday league has more than halved in the last 6-7 years. This has coincided with fewer kids playing and Sky's domination of cricket on TV. This world cup needed to be talked about for something other than England's failure - I am pretty sure it won't be.

  • Dummy on March 31, 2015, 18:25 GMT

    I think what has made difference in this world cup is the quality of the pitches batsman and bowler both had chance. It's not like as a bowler you will get a dead pitches like in westindies or India you steam in and get nothing from the track even spinners enjoyed. As a batsmen you will get worth for your efforts pitches in previous world cups were just pathetic so intensity seeped through.

  • suresh kumar on March 31, 2015, 16:22 GMT

    most writers and so called cricket experts ridiculously biased towards test cricket. They are saying odi is irrelevant but the truth is complete opposite.Even so called meaning less odi attracts more than 20000 people but test test cricket watched by dozens in most part of the world. I don't why, cricket survive bcz of fans not by writers or experts. Fans wants shorter formats not test cricket.

  • randolf on March 31, 2015, 14:58 GMT

    Jon, if you revisit your premature ODI obituaries, you'd notice that while there was some dissent to your erroneous prognostications, there was ONE CONSISTENT OPPONENT (me). And, while you forecasted that the T/20 will eliminate ODIs, I continued to, and still predict that T/20 would run out of steam before ODIs; because, due to its brevity, T/20 LACKS DEPTH; and most importantly, it's grossly VOID OF THRILL - most critical to any form of human entertainment. T/20 cricket is Cut- and-Dry, "WHAM-BAM-THANK-YOU-MA'AM" sporting entertainment - with NO SHAKEPEARAN TOUCH to it - if there is, it's too short and infrequent. ODI cricket on the other hand is just long enough to provide human with the total entertainment package - evident on a regular basis in the WC - with the NZ-SA semi blossoming into an anomaly! Due to the social physiology of humans, ODIs must outlast T/20s? It's Shakespeare's peerless understanding of how to feed the human soul why he's the most brilliant man of All Time.

  • Salman on March 31, 2015, 13:18 GMT

    Should do away with bilaterals and adopt a world cricket league structure by designating a 4 year cycle of tri-series i.e. every country must host a tri-series with one minnow team and points for individual games and tournament winners. The champions trophy serves as a ranking boost with bonus points. At the end of the cycle the top-10 teams qualify for the world cup.

  • ian on March 31, 2015, 8:37 GMT

    No, Jon - you weren't wrong! This was the ODI World Cup! Results (esp.results at the sharp end of the comp.) actually mattered. All countries had focussed on reaching the WC in prime form with settled sides and players fully rehearsed in their roles. This was, as Brendon Mc Cullum called it: "The time of our[the players'] lives." It was the Lord Mayor's Show and the best matches certainly did not disappoint the true cricket fan. Unfortunately, something like 89% of all ODI cricket is not played in the course of World Cups. And outside WCs 50 over cricket is nothing more or less than an ICC money-spinner. The vast majority of players, once they've played their first few games for their countries, care little for them. One merges into the other six in a series. It's overkill: more is less. The seasoned cricketer across all the formats seeks to leave his imprint on the history of the game; he doesn't achieve that by playing 100 ODIs; he gets there by excelling in Tests - and World Cups!

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