September 21, 2009

A fortnight of Walkmans

The Champions Trophy has hardly been what it's cracked up to be, but now, with ODIs in terminal decline, it might show there's hope for the format yet

On Tuesday begins the first major ICC-hosted 50-over tournament since the 2007 World Cup (which Jonathan Agnew once memorably noted might still be running in the Caribbean somewhere). In those two-and-a-half years, a big change has come. There have been two wildly successful World Twenty20s, two loud, glittering IPLs, and many ICLs. There have been many ODIs too, though precisely none springs to mind.

The run-up to this Champions Trophy has felt like the run-up to a funeral - there have been so many obituarists of the 50-over format. Less morbidly it is like going to the great school nerd's party. It is a party, but really…

Lately the balance has been redressed a little with men belatedly leaping to the defence of the format. But at the very least, it must be conceded the next fortnight will feel like a switch back to Walkmans. Even Walkmans, however, often have fine retro appeal.

If this turns out to be the last Champions Trophy ever, the surprise will not be at its demise as much as at the tournament having survived six editions. It's difficult to remember a time when it was a good idea, apart from perhaps when it was first mooted: it would provide the ICC with a handy bit of revenue between World Cups, and by having the first two staged in Bangladesh (not a Test nation then) and Kenya, also spread word of the game further.

But deterioration settled in soon. In 2002 the tournament didn't even produce a final verdict. In 2006 it came too soon before a World Cup, the big brother. All the while, the number of teams - and useless matches - was increasing: nine in 1998-99 became 12 by 2004. There were fewer teams in 2006, but there was a redundant, forgotten qualifying phase before the tournament proper. It has never been about the best of the best, as it was meant to be.

Prospects appear brighter this time, however, and the ICC knows it. They've finally got the format right: short, sharp, and between the best teams in the world, even if England and West Indies appear to be this season's associate makeweights. It isn't the ICC's fault that England are so poor at ODIs, and the situation with West Indies is a delicate one.

As compensation Australia's dominance has eroded and the gap between everyone else is much narrower than rankings show. Those two teams apart, none of the other six, were they to win it, would be a surprise. Very few matches will have nothing at stake and very few will be easy to call.

The location is ideal, for rare is the occasion when a sporting event in South Africa turns out to be a dud. The 2010 football World Cup, understandably, is a bigger deal and one veteran journalist says many people are wondering whether the Champions Trophy isn't in Twenty20 vision. But crowds, as always, are expected to be good, helped by the tournament's restriction to two venues, Johannesburg and Centurion. South Africa's fate and history at such events, predictably, is on many minds.

If they get the pitches right, as they did with the IPL earlier in the year, then an even better spectacle can be imagined. And with less celebration, the tournament also marks the end of the ICL battle, with the return of men such as Mohammad Yousuf, Shane Bond, Daryl Tuffey, Rana Naved-ul-Hasan and others. They were cricket's loss, and it can be no bad thing to have them back.

It is foolish and misplaced to pin so much on the tournament because it overlooks why ODIs are in such a funk. There are too many of them, most of them played on ghastly, unfair surfaces, all melting into each other, into one, indistinguishable, colourful but soulless mess


Supposedly much rests on this tournament, to some no less than the very future of ODIs. The ICC believes the Champions Trophy will prove that the format has a space in the modern cricket calendar. It is foolish and misplaced to pin so much on this, if only because one poor tournament should not consign an entire format to death and because it overlooks why ODIs are in such a funk.

There are too many of them, most of them played on ghastly, unfair surfaces, all melting into each other, into one, indistinguishable, colourful but soulless mess. Why should there ever be a seven-ODI series, that too after such a fraught, intense Test series? Why shoe-horn into any available week, a quickie tri-series? Like this tournament, more matches should have more meaning; the ICC is gently nudging members to remember to keep a balance among the three formats in the next FTP. Many of cricket's problems would be resolved were the ICC not a nurdler and nudger but an enforcer.

Tinkering with regulations, rather than the format itself, might be the way. The batting Powerplay has pushed captains to break from patterned, formulaic thinking. Lifting the 10-over cap on bowlers might mean that the middle overs, that much-detested period of jousting and sparring, liven up. Force better pitches to be prepared. None of this is new of course, but repetition does not make it any less attractive or sound.

In any case are we sure that fans mind ODIs much the way they are? Judging by the healthy crowds who turned up to watch six kinds of crap beaten out of England, or parts of the Sri Lankan ménage a trios, maybe not.

Remembering recent ODIs may be difficult, but recalling empty stands at an ODI is more so. And the modern kings of cricket, the broadcast honchos, maintain that in Pakistan and India ODIs pull as many eyeballs as they did before Twenty20s came around. The Champions Trophy shouldn't only confirm that ODIs have a place. If we're fortunate it might pave a way for them to thrive once again.

Osman Samiuddin is Pakistan editor of Cricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • imran on September 24, 2009, 19:39 GMT

    Lets do this: 50-over matches to be played with 2 innings for both teams. First team bats for 25 overs and then the other comes in to bat and play 25, if they chase the score in first innings, they go on and build lead. Second team comes in to bat and chase the target. This way loosing or winning toss will have lesser importance b/c losing toss may not always mean you are chasing always. To make it more interesting, if the team coming in to bat second can choose to continue to play their next 25 overs if they chase the first 25 over target in lesser overs and may want to continue.

  • Arosha on September 23, 2009, 8:38 GMT

    I'd prefer 50 over ODIs over 20-20s any day. To me, it provides more balance. In tests, batmen's capability to attacking strokeplay is not tested, you'd find quite a dozon of players in history of test cricket who had accumulated thousands of runs mainly based on occupying the crease for longer duration. Surely this abaility to concentrate in a longer duration is itself a capablility, but this longer 5 day tests provided a larger chance for the players who played the game merely for stats thereby leading the game to become so much boring. On the other hand, this new 20-20 format doesn't test the ability to occupy the crease at all. A team has 10 wickets to throw away within 120 deliveries to collect as many as runs possible. The lower middles order wouldn't get much chances for batting at all. A slogging of 20 ball 30 would have been ideal in this format, doesn't matter how runs came.In this context, 50 overs ODIs provide the ideal balance. To me, this is the best format.

  • Chrishan Julian on September 23, 2009, 4:06 GMT

    With regard to the-anti-mule's question: 1. 99% of the time ODIs will provide us with a winner and a loser, unless there is rain or a tie. It gives you a chance to enjoy one day of cricket as opposed to five days of a Test. 2. Yes T20s gives us the same result, but would you prefer to see a batsman scoring 30-40 runs rather than a century. I wouldn't. Take yesterdays match for example, Dilshan and Sangakkara put on a 150 run partnership at a rate of 6.5 rpo. The mere skill and concentration that took to achieve this feat was incredible. Hence, if you are scoring this quickly in ODIs why play T20s. If you "retire" ODIs then you would have to retire stats such as centuries, 4-fors, 5-fors and a batsman's average would be meaningless as long as his strike-rate is high. Yes T20 is entertaining, but does it reflect the true potential of a player, no it doesn't.

  • Siddhant on September 22, 2009, 22:03 GMT

    In my suggestion all 12 nations in the current ODI ranking should earn future test matches by playing in the ODI format. Test matches should be the prize of having done better than others in the ODIs. Only the top 6 should play test matches while the bottom half works on improving its rankings. That way, there will be a lot of interest in both formats of the game. Bilateral test tours should not exceed 3 test matches, while a Test Championship for the top 6 ODI ranked teams [from the previous year] can be a biennial event full of glitz and glamor as we happen to see. This will enable cricket governing bodies to free up the calender and generate more interest on a global level. There is just no point of playing 5 test matches for the sake of a century old tradition. I believe a series can be won in 3 tests, and if not then its nearly impossible to come back and win in 5. ICC should look into standardizing bilateral tours, be it Ashes or Border-Gavaskar or others.

  • Siddhant on September 22, 2009, 22:01 GMT

    what's the difference between the Champion's Trophy and World Cup when the objective of both tournaments is to find the best ODI team in the world? How does inclusion on non-inclusion of minnows like Bangladesh, Kenya, UAE, Ireland and Zimbabwe really make any difference? What is ICC thinking?

    Not the ODI format, but the way ODI calender is set up is an utter failure. There is no point in Aussies playing and thrashing England 6-1 and comeback to Champion's Trophy to lose to Poms in the finals - who knows? Would that make England a better team than Australia? Or if India play Aussies in the final of CT to decide the better team of the two, why would they play another 7 in India again right after the CT? ODIs look much better the way they are, and not make it an elongated T20. Soon, we will then be talking about "Death and Life of T20s." Essentially, to look better everyone is trying to restructure the bones and the anatomy and not change the outfit.

  • Suman on September 22, 2009, 17:56 GMT

    lets see if this helps- Ask yourself these two questions: 1. what do ODIs offer that Tests don't? 2. for the answers to the question 1 does T20 do it better than ODIs?

  • Dimuthu on September 22, 2009, 16:46 GMT

    i completely agree with 'Chrishan.' I think can definitely be a 3 course meal. Test cricket being the main course, of course. The ICC will do well to limit T20s to a maximum of 2 per tour. But somebody PLEASE put an end to these inane money spinning 6-7 match ODI series. The world T20 is a superb tournament and should be used for associate nations to compete with the big boys without being embarassed. I think they've got it right with having only 8 teams for the C.T. and give perhaps the BEST associate team the chance to play in the world cup (perhaps fight against the 8-10 rank teams for a final place in the "Super Eights" for the WC? Leaving the top 7 countries only the S8 matches to play?) I've grown up watching 50 over matches, it gives the same intensity as T20 but with the consolidation and time management skills of a good test match. Only cricket has this luxary. Don't kill it!

  • lucy on September 22, 2009, 11:01 GMT

    I hope the tournament does point the way ahead - to a wonderful, sunny, happy future unpolluted by ODIs. Who wants to watch those annoying middle overs anyway? Being a fan of bowlers and wickets and catches, I much prefer T20s. Sure, there are more sixes, but that's just a byproduct.

  • lucy on September 22, 2009, 10:13 GMT

    I do hope South Africans do the right thing and not bother turning up to watch this dead format - the faster ODIs are confined to history books, the better. Alas, South Africans would watch chingololo wrestling if the words 'international tournament' were involved.

  • Arif on September 22, 2009, 9:26 GMT

    I agree that ODI should now reduced , & ICC should introduce a twenty 20 Test i.e. 2 innings of per team , there should no limit on T20 matches, but ODI should be Limited , ICC should eliminate ODI champions Trophy & should introduced Test Champions Trophy every 4 years, on the same format as for ICC associates Intercontinental Cup, I think Top six teams can easly compete for Test championship, ICC should also made Future tour pro-gramme more realistic , Now some countries plying more creckit than other Like Australia- England are playing about 14 games ( 5 Test , 7 ODI & 2 T20 ) on the other hand countries Like Pakistan , New Zealand , Bangladesh are getting less games .

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