ICC Champions Trophy October 6, 2009

Staying alive

The Champions Trophy has shown that ODIs can still be a format in which many things pleasing and surprising may happen
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One refrain through this tournament from the various captains has been about how one-day matches are won and lost on the day, about who plays the day better. The cliché has nothing fresh about it and as captains go, it is a standard line. But in this Champions Trophy, the line has had its essence reborn.

The very idea of one-day cricket had in it the lure of the unknown. Five days is enough time for the team with better skills and disciplines to, broadly speaking, show just that; over 100 overs not only is the gap in skills and quality between two sides naturally reduced, but different skills are created and rewarded and a winner cannot be so convincingly named. But over the years that core has become diluted. The very criticism of ODIs now is that they are predictable, patterned and thus dull. For many reasons this has happened, chief and simplest among them a glut of matches and the sick pitches in most of the subcontinent.

But this tournament has tried its honest best to subvert that predictability. At the very highest level, the argument is redundant of course, for Australia won it and they still win everything; four of the last five global 50-over tournaments in fact. But six results out of 15 went against the grain of common expectation; there was England's unexpected run to the semis and New Zealand's own mauled run to the final; if there was only one really close finish, there was at least some valour in West Indies' games against Pakistan and Australia. Whoever has played better on the day has won, but it has not been as easy as before to place the identity.

The reasons are easy to see. The format of the tournament, as everyone has agreed, is just right. There was always something at stake in every game, from beginning to end. There has been no irrelevance. One loss for any side made every subsequent match almost a must-win, yet mathematics were such that on their last group days, India and Sri Lanka could both have gone through with just one win: always tight, always open. Restricting the whole affair to just two venues was also smart, cutting out the ennui of travelling back and forth, practicing and playing in between and making the whole feel tighter, more coherent.

The Champions Trophy has reminded us that ODIs, essentially, can still be a format in which many things pleasing and surprising may happen. If that was the yardstick before the tournament, then it has been a success

And for once, one-day cricket has been played on surfaces with a little itch in them, to ensure that batsmen - increasingly the military dictators of ODI cricket - have not been able to entirely rule over the land of cricket. The pitches at Centurion and Wanderers have varied drastically and occasionally they have been unplayable: Ponting called one surface at the Wanderers dangerous and not fit for cricket, but even that, for the viewer if not participant, held some fun.

Over the course of the tournament, spinners and fast bowlers have had good times. Five hundreds have been scored, which doesn't sound too many or too little. Low-scoring matches have been tight, high-scoring ones competitive. It is a fair, even balance and it should - but probably won't - nudge the ICC towards trying to better ODI surfaces the world over.

This was also the first ICC event since the introduction of the batting Powerplay and at least in the debate it has created on what conditions enable its best use, there has been keen interest. Teams have mostly sparred with the innovation, nothing too radical in using it after 40 overs generally: 16 of 27 Powerplays before the final came after 40 overs which doesn't say much unless we look at the context each time it was used. But we know that some teams, like Pakistan, struggled to use it best, while others, like Australia and New Zealand, mostly got it right. It is a useful, worthy innovation because it adds to the unknown for both captains.

So everything is hunky-dory then. Administrators are pleased, captains across the spectrum have loved the format and the surfaces and presumably players have too. Broadly, the press has been decent about it too. The only ones in this wonderful spin who haven't been entirely on-message it seems are the spectators. Crowds have been healthy only at select games; South Africa's games, the Pakistan-India tie and the Pakistan semi-final. Otherwise, it has been poor, sometimes even dispiriting. On days the Wanderers has resembled less a bullring and more an ice-rink in the Antarctic.

Even here a qualifier can be nudged in. The belief is that locals, even as sports-obsessed as South Africans, are fatigued this year. In this year alone, there has been the Australia series, the British Lions tour, tri-nations rugby, the Confederations Cup and the IPL, for which crowds were definitely better. The true success - or failure - of it will not be known until TV viewing figures also emerge. But it still might be worth the ICC spacing out its flagship tournaments a little better: this was the second big event this year and next April there is another before the 2011 World Cup. Money has to be made no doubt, but some sense has to be used in making it; if every event is the biggest one since the last one, then viewers and spectators know it becomes less big each time. And is it a coincidence that in such busy times so many big-name cricketers were missing injured from this event?

The Champions Trophy, on balance, has shown that it has a future, as does the format itself. It has reminded us that ODIs, essentially, can still be a format in which many things pleasing and surprising may happen. If that was the yardstick before the tournament, then it has been a success. But it is one thing laying out a path for the future. It is entirely another to get on it.

Osman Samiuddin is Pakistan editor of Cricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • SpottedHyena on October 7, 2009, 20:21 GMT

    I suppose I'm the only one that thinks it was a complete waste of space - well thanks to Shane Watson Australia pulled it out of the fire to at least let a decent side win. Else it could well have been England lifting - what is still the most senseless trophy on earth - a depleted side like NZ makes the final and 3 of the top 4 don't make the second round. This was a desperate attempt to revive a dying golden goose and although it might have fooled some, I surely wasn't. You have T20 if you want a narrower gap between teams, unpredictable results and entertainment - hopefully we are not soon going to be fed 40 over cricket just to let them make money. The only thing I ask for is good cricket, with the best players fit and games that matter - not 365 days of senseless "entertainment".

  • CliffM on October 7, 2009, 15:49 GMT

    Why did the players enjoy this tournment? Because it was short and to the point not dragged out over several weeks just to maximise revenue. There were sufficient matches to identify the best team and nothing more. It is no coincidence that the format was identical to the first World Cup which was played before commercial interests were paramount. The only danger in a tournament of this length is bad weather. They got away with it this time (just) but scheduling reserve days would be wise.

  • fanofteamindia on October 7, 2009, 14:44 GMT

    It was indeed a good tournament.It showed us good 50 over cricket.I always felt 50 overs better than T20 because of the innings building skills in the mid overs,especially during a chase.ICC,please continue having the 50 over format,please!!!

  • Navin84 on October 7, 2009, 12:57 GMT

    The Champions Trophy was indeed as success. It was short and sweet, all tournament should be like this. I think and know the 50 over format and test cricket would be around for a long time and be successful. If we are to change the format of the 50 over format or even reduced the amount of overs it would loose its' true meaning of being and "ODI" (one day cricket). If it wasn't for test cricket and ODIs, where would have the world seen so much talent as we are seeing today...the likes of Pointing, Kallis, Tendulkar, Dravid, Hussey, Smith etc. So you see we still need Tests & ODIs to show the true talent of players around the world.

  • shramiac1 on October 7, 2009, 8:47 GMT

    Well done Aussies!Well done NZ! Great umpiring and nice to see an understrength Windies play so well. Still, does it ask the question, has T20 already started to influence the skills of the players already? The Aussie team could hardly be compared to the teams that won the last two world cups and the last C/Trophy! Yet they still won! And remember that those strong teams had trouble even reaching the semis of the last few C/Trophy tournaments!? Maybe I'm just underestimating the skills of the new Aussie players!

  • popcorn on October 7, 2009, 7:31 GMT

    The Champions Trophy proved that 5o over Cricket is absorbing, exciting, skillful. Plenty to test the skills of bowlers and batsmen. In the Finals, Shane watson and Cameron white diusplayed immense skill on going on Test match mode,patiently negotiating Mills and Bond.before launching an assault. Twenty20 will NEVER test Skills.it is a lousy slapstick affair for those who have time to waste, and no mind to fill.

  • kichu17980 on October 7, 2009, 5:08 GMT

    This format will live forever.Champions Trophy was all about the beauty of limited overs cricket.Even contest between bat and ball,display of class and how the young men have stood up to raising their arms saying that we can fill in for the amazing talents that have left the game.The final was a true display of talent from Shane Watson.Neagting the initial spell from Mills and Bond and then stepping on the accelarator when the other bowlers came in and the delivering the knock out punch...it all showed that the magic of 50 over cricket still lives on.You cannot see this in a 20 over game or a split format of the 50 over game(4 innnings of 25 overs each).Long live the 50 over game......

  • CustomKid on October 6, 2009, 22:48 GMT

    Nice article Osman, a very good read. South Africa has to be the best country to play cricket in the world. For my mind the pitches they produce are second to none. They have something for the quicks, quality spinners will get drift and turn, and batsmen with application will score runs. Can the ICC please send out a directive to all test playing nations to put some life back in the pitches for a fair contest all round. Even here in Australia we only have one decent pitch in the GABBA which offers the bowlers anything. Long gone are the days of the WACA being a batsmens grave yard, or the SCG spinning side ways. No days its all about playing 5 days on dead pitches where 1000 runs are expected in the first two innings. This game needs to be a contest between bat and ball, all too often it is simply bat dominating. The recent SA and AUS test series in SA had it all. There was something for everyone, runs wickets, broken bones, spin. Kudos to SA and the grounds staff keep up the gr8 work.

  • chokkashokka on October 6, 2009, 20:56 GMT

    The format could have been better - when a team plays all of 3 games, how can there not be a reserve day for weather? Why don't we just flip a coin and decide the outcome than share the points. That's what we do currently for all games.

  • krs_spidey on October 6, 2009, 17:25 GMT

    i found this mini world cup as the best since 2000 edition..no meaningless matches,tight,compact,small and fortunately played on pitches of south africa providing even bat ball contest like the two t20 world cups in sa and eng(not the usually flat, slow and dead tracks of subcontinent)..its gud to have 1 match in a series on a flat 300-350+ score kind of track but when every match offers same thing, it gets repetitive and so boring..it was very exciting and gripping to see depleted nz side defending a small total with bond and mills troubling australian top order with the new ball in final..icc shud take cue from this tournament for wc2011(considering last wc was a disaster) and keep it to max 12 teams and finish inside 30-35days else wc 2011 will also prove to be another disaster even in cricket crazy indian subcontinent if it would have too many one sided and useless matches(read sa vs canada, aus vs holland, ind vs bermuda or pak vs uae etc.)

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