October 2, 2007

Too much of a dull thing

Don't kill ODIs, but let's have a balance

England stumbled from middling to hopeless in their first ODI against Sri Lanka © Getty Images

Sri Lanka's game against England yesterday went exactly as you would have expected. Sri Lanka were efficient; England were middling early on, then hopeless. They had some new faces but no new script.

Phil Mustard made a Matt Prior score and got out to a Matt Prior shot, though to be fair he scored faster than Prior and promised more. Graeme Swann returned Monty Panesar figures, one for 47, though to be fair he did what he was picked for, making more runs than Panesar would have - in fact, one more than Panesar has made in his one-day international career. And still England collapsed horribly and failed to use their last 15 overs.

So in most ways, this game was just like all the other games England have blown overseas in the past umpteen years. But in one way it was different. It came hard on the heels of a highly successful global tournament, the World Twenty20 in South Africa. The climate has changed.

We shouldn't read too much into one game. This series could yet catch fire the way England's home series against India did: that too began with a failed run-chase and an easy home victory. What was significant yesterday was not how the match went, so much as how it felt. It felt like a non-event. It felt like a wedding where someone has just made a great speech and then someone else insists on getting to his feet to make a dull one.

England and Sri Lanka were two of the bridesmaids in South Africa, so no meeting between them would have been mouthwatering. It's just too soon. But a Test match would have been better than this, and so would a Twenty20 game.

The idea that 50-over internationals should now be dropped altogether, robustly advocated here by Andrew Miller, seems to me to be going too far. It's unrealistic, because the ICC and several national boards are addicted to 50 overs. And it's unwise, because nobody yet knows whether Twenty20 will work in bulk.

My guess is that it will. It should lend itself beautifully to series of five matches spread over two weeks. The scheduling will be easier, as Twenty20 can fill a ground any night of the week. But so far, nobody has held a five-match series: the ICC won't let them. It has set a limit of seven Twenty20 games per nation per year, "excluding [of course] ICC events".

That decision, ratified by the chief executives just before the World Twenty20, has been reiterated since by Malcolm Speed, the boss of ICC. Speed - who deserves great credit for finally presiding over his first satisfying international tournament - has now reverted to type. He wants 50-over cricket, "the financial driver of the game", to carry on happening four times as much as Twenty20, as well as taking two and a half times as long. But this position, too, is unrealistic and unwise. The demand for Twenty20 is there. It's hot; its elder sister is not.

In the long run, 50-over cricket may indeed die out. Twenty20 will always draw a bigger audience, other things being equal, because it fits in with work and school. It has the most reach of any cricket, and so, although it has fewer slots for adverts, the TV companies will be able to charge more for them. It is only a short format in the eyes of the more blinkered cricket lover. To the rest of the human race, it's a full two and a half hours - longer than a football match, longer than most films, longer than a double album.

In the long run, 50-over cricket may indeed die out. Twenty20 will always draw a bigger audience, other things being equal, because it fits in with work and school. It has the most reach of any cricket, and so, although it has fewer slots for adverts, the TV companies will be able to charge more for them

The ICC is being blinkered too - or rather dazzled, as ever, by the glint of the dollar signs. It makes no sense for teams to play 30 conventional one-dayers and only seven Twenty20s. Fifteen of each is about right for now. If contracts need renegotiating, so be it: broadcasters who are prepared to pay good money for 50-overs cricket, with all its tiredness and predictability, are sure going to be in the market for its sexy little sibling.

Speed also said, "We need to make sure the pie gets bigger rather than [remaining] the same size." Why? What's wrong with the present pie? Speed and his colleagues have pursued a policy of pie-enlargement for too long. This is a chance to introduce some sanity. Fate, or rather the former ECB marketing man Stuart Robertson, has handed them a magic wand. They can have less cricket, watched by more people, and eventually make more money. They might just have to take a small financial hit for a while. This appears to be beyond them.

Above all, they must make sure the players get more time off. (They too might have to settle for a little less money.) When a tournament is dropped into a breathing space, as the World Twenty20 was, the breathing space is still needed: in fact, it's needed even more. If Sri Lanka's series against England had been shunted into late January, would anybody have minded? Something has to give. As things stand, that something is the players' well-being, and the sense of occasion which is vital to every sporting format, short or long.

Read Andrew Miller's take on the same theme here.

Tim de Lisle is a former editor of Wisden Cricketers' Almanack. His book Young Wisden: A New Fan's Guide to Cricket is published this week by A&C Black. His website is timdelisle.com

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • josh on October 5, 2007, 14:09 GMT

    I still love ODI cricket. Certainly more than T20- it takes so much more skill, and yes it may be a little predictable at times but in T20 every single ball is predictable! You know the batsman is going to try and hit a boundary every ball! The small number of overs means that wickets in the game are almost meaningless. Tim, many of your arguments (such as length, excitement, close matches, and convenience) all backfire because Test Cricket is not good for these either. I think that there is room for all three forms of the game. I am also starting to wonder if this whole T20 hype would be anywhere near as big if Australia had won the tournament instead of India. Much of the hype seems to be derived from the fact that it makes it harder for the world's best team to win.

  • Warren on October 5, 2007, 12:10 GMT

    i like the idea of splitting one dayers in to quarter with 2 innings per team. t20 is here to say but maybe you can keep your fifty over format with certain rule changes in the middle 15 over aka the snooze fest every 4 counts as 5 every six that clears the boundary is 7 every six in to the first 15-20 rows(depending on stadium size etc)is a 8 or a 10 if hit past the 20 row mark then reward bowlers by making every clean bowld -4 runs and every maiden over during that period -4 aswell then introduce free-during the entire game but every free-hit that doesnt make it to the boundary is -2 for the batting team and maybe even introduce supersubs so u can put an extra batsmen in the team and a bowler on the bench so when youneed that bowler sap him in although the supersub and the person to be subbed should me made before the game and the supersub should onle be able to bowl50% of the maximum amount of overs

  • Kieran on October 4, 2007, 21:16 GMT

    In reply to the absurd comments by drneilmukherjee, I would just like to state that the fundamental idiosyncrasies of your post are in fact inaccurate, and at times farcical. Firstly, if you can name three sports more popular than cricket in England than you are a better man than I. Football, admittedly is the nations preference, but it is closely followed by cricket. Also, I believe your comments about England 'simply not mattering' and the words regarding the subcontinent bringing in the bulk of cash in the game are bordering on laughable. If you simply examine the utter mess of the BCCI and PCB it is clear that with concepts such as the IPL they will drag cricket down into an even worse state than present. But perhaps the worst argument you put forward is the one regarding playing ODI's only against Australia. I don't even believe it is worth going into, such is the scale of the comments sheer ridiculousness. Prolong and preserve test cricket, by any means necessary!

  • laxman on October 3, 2007, 17:23 GMT

    No. ODIs are here to stay. But they can be made spicy. 1.They should be less in number and limited to a maximum of four. This can reduce boredom when it becomes one sided. 2.Toss can be made only at the beginning of series and if A wins the toss he will chose to bat or bowl and then in second match B wil decide and so on. 3.Wides should be penalised by runs rather than by extra deliveries. This will reduce time. In a over First wide-2 RUNS, Second wide-4 RUNS, Third wide-6 RUNS and Fourth wide-Terminate the over with 36 RUN PENALTY for the over. A bouncer should be considered as wide and should not be allowed as good delivery. 4.Rival Captains should announce 13 member teams at the beginning of the match. At the beginning of each innings the teams should announce their batting XI or fielding XI. This will allow the teams to play at thier fullest potential and allow the batsman and the bowlers to take more risks. 5. Even 2 innings of 25 overs each is not a bad idea.

  • Kathy on October 2, 2007, 23:27 GMT

    Why do so many English cricket writers (yourself excepted, Tim) overreact to everything? The players are either heroes or zeroes, everything is either fantastic or useless, and what happened last year or even last month seems forgotten. A little perspective, please. I've seen England play some great ODIs this year (one where they beat NZ to make the final of the CB series in Australia, and the matches against WI and Sri Lanka in the World Cup) and the transTasman Chappell-Hadlee series was a thriller.

  • Noman on October 2, 2007, 20:57 GMT

    Very well written Tim. I totally agree with you on T20's ability to make more money, it's so simple yet the ICC bosses cannot understand it, but then... Anyways couple of points:

    1) T20 can make more money by taking cricket to other markets as well (especially lucrative Far East and North America). I mean Baseball shouldn't stand a chance against T20.

    2) ODI cricket should remain (though in lesser quantity) as a graduating medium between T20 and Test Cricket...

    3) but it has to be transformed into something more interesting. How about splitting the innings into two blocks of 25?? Team A plays 25 overs then Team B plays 25 overs and then Team A 'completes' its innings: a) It will nullify the toss (and will satisfy those Lancashire professors who've demanded scrapping of toss)to an extent b) It will give teams a chance of redemption c) It's a perfect blend of T20 and Tests and d) Above all it sounds very exciting to me.

    Cheers!! NYD

  • Goods on October 2, 2007, 20:23 GMT

    I love T20. Fast paced, you don't have to waste the whole day. ODI is too freaking long.

    Come to think of it, the post requires to post something at least 100 characters long. Does this mean that I can't say something meaningful in a count less than that?

  • purushotham on October 2, 2007, 17:47 GMT

    reduce number of overs to 35 in ODIs; 15 overs in the middle are too boring anyway; and continue 20/20 as it is; each series should have ODIs, tests and 20/20 games;

  • Neil on October 2, 2007, 15:42 GMT

    Odicric is right in his comments about why the English hates ODIs and love T20. The point however, is that the English dont matter anymore....Their team is at most mediocre in all 3 forms of the game and cricket is the 4th popular sport there. The finances of cricket come from the subcontinent where the T20 format has brought considerable interest not only due to the exceiting India-Pak W.C final but also since most viewers in these nations play 5, 10, 15 or 20 over cricket in their backyard. Further, it has potential to attract fresh audiences from beyond the test world. South Africa seems exceited about the format as well.

    The only team which would have a genuine reason to be upset about the scrapping of ODIs is the Aussies who have made it their own. So lets play ODIs only in Australia. Face it, the money behind cricket comes from the subcontinent and they should be playing the game they enjoy and are good it. Sure, it's selfish, too bad!

  • Kumar on October 2, 2007, 13:08 GMT

    T20 world cup has changed it all. Everything was looking OK after nicely contested 7 ODI series between England & India. But after T20 World cup, public taste seems to be changing. 50 over ODI seems boring. Bring in more T20s. We love it!

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