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The birth of the one-day international

Poor weather, the threat of another draw and the fear of financial losses conspired to bring the limited-overs game to the international arena in 1971

Martin Williamson

June 22, 2010

Comments: 11 | Text size: A | A

The opening credits of the first-ever one-day international, Australia v England, Melbourne, January 5, 1971
The opening credits of the first ever one-day international © ESPNcricinfo Ltd

On Tuesday, at the less-than-glamorous setting of Southampton's sterile Rose Bowl, the 3000th ODI takes place. It took 24 years from the first match in 1971 to reach No. 1000, another eight years to get to No. 2000 and a little over seven to reach the current landmark.

Given the current torrent of ODIs, it is surprising to note it took eight years from the launch of the first one-day competition in England in 1963 for the format to be tried out internationally, and even then, when it did, it was unplanned and all rather low key.

While England had embraced the one-day game with considerable commercial and public success from the off, there was less enthusiasm elsewhere given the then popularity of Test cricket. In Australia, a domestic tournament had been launched in 1969-70 and proved equally popular, but it was to be another decade before the subcontinent awoke from its slumber.

There were no plans for any ODIs when England visited Australia in 1970-71, but as the sides headed to Melbourne for the third Test there were widespread concerns at the unadventurous tactics and reluctant approach of both captains. "One more draw on the pattern of the first two," wrote Brian Chapman in the Guardian, "could place the whole of international cricket as we know it in question."

But even before the squads assembled for the New Year Test at the MCG it had started raining and temperatures lingered around 50°F. The scheduled first two days were called off well in advance, and a suggestion they could start on a Sunday to make up for lost time was rejected by both boards with spluttering references to creating dangerous precedents. Heavy rain over the weekend meant the match was abandoned on the third day.

With the Melbourne authorities facing losses of up to £80,000, both boards agreed to arrange an extra Test - the seventh - at the end of the series. The England players were furious and demanded extra money in a dispute that rumbled on until the latter stages of the tour. Laughable as it might seem to today's players, they argued it was unreasonable to expect them to play four Tests in 40 days; this summer Pakistan play six Tests in 48 days in England.

As a short-term measure to give the public something to watch, it was also agreed to play a match "on Gillette Cup lines" on what would have been the fifth day of the Test. There was still a reluctance from the establishment to completely endorse the game, and the sides were named as an England XI and Australian XI. Tobacco company Rothmans was a last-minute sponsor to the tune of £5000, and the Man of the Match stood to earn £90.

"They called it the first one-day international which rather surprised me years later. I thought, 'Gee it's part of history'. That game we thought was a bit of a joke." Ashley Mallett, the Australian offspinner
There were doubters in the media about the match and some predicted it would not prove popular, especially as it was on a Tuesday. The day before, the MCG had instructed caterers to prepare for a crowd of around 20,000; as it was, 46,006 turned out.

England captain Ray Illingworth was less concerned with his place in history and more with stretching his legs. "We'd spent so long in the dressing room that we were just grateful for a game," he said in 1994. "It was obvious it would be commercially successful, but I couldn't say we played with the same intensity as today."

Before the start Don Bradman called the players together and standing on a bench, gave them a short speech. At the end he addressed the crowd and told them: "You have seen history made."

ABC, covering the match in Australia, felt the new format needed a gentle sell to an unfamiliar audience. "It's a splendid game," commentating stalwart Alan McGilvray, said at the start. "It's different to a Test match or state game … there's more involved. There's more tactical operations, there's more alertness in the field, better running between the wickets. Generally, it's a spectacle that I've enjoyed in England very much."

On a pitch rendered slow by the rain and with the closest boundary measured at 85 yards, the scores were low even by the standards of the day. England XI made 190 in 39.4 of their allotted 40 eight-ball overs, with John Edrich anchoring the innings with 82, including five of the seven fours managed throughout. The spinners, to the surprise of many who saw one-day cricket as the domain of dull seamers, proved the most successful bowlers.

The scoreboard at the start of the first-ever one-day international, Australia v England, Melbourne, January 5, 1971
The scoreboard at the start of the match - with limited-overs matches a relatively new concept, the board was still set up for two-innings games © ESPNcricinfo Ltd
Keith Stackpole, an occasional spinner at international level, took 3 for 40. "We played badly," England fast bowler Peter Lever said. "He took three wickets and he can't bowl, can't Keith. You could play him with a stick of rhubarb in your hand, he's no problem."

It was a surface heaven-sent for Derek Underwood, but as 12th man he was reduced to fielding for Edrich who had strained a muscle while batting. Australia maintained a steady pace, and all but sealed their six-wicket win when Basil D'Oliveira was clouted for 21 off an over. They strolled home with 42 balls in hand and the large crowd went home happy.

"We didn't realise at the time what was going to happen," recalled Lever. "But obviously that was the first of any international one-day cricket, and we went and bloody lost."

Greg Chappell, who made an unbeaten 22, said: "I think everyone sort of saw one-day cricket as being an add-on and a bit of fun to be had on the side occasionally in a situation like that, basically. But I don't think anyone really had any idea of what might grow out of it."

"They called it the first one-day international which rather surprised me years later," said spinner Ashley Mallett. "I thought, 'Gee it's part of history'. That game we thought was a bit of a joke."

The Australian newspapers immediately welcomed the "overwhelming success" of the game, while David Clark, the England manager, said he could see a week being set aside for a short one-day series when Australian visited in 1972. Even the English papers could see the potential, with the Guardian headline of "One-day Tests may well be here to stay" summing up the mood, although Wisden Cricketers' Almanack sniffily opted not to bother carrying any report.

"As a result of today," wrote John Woodcock in The Times, "I would wager that on the next tour to Australia there will be a series within a series. Three or perhaps four one-day matches between the sides could well form a part of the programme in addition to the Tests themselves."

The ultra-conservative nature of the boards meant it did not taken off as quickly as Woodcock predicted, and it was not until Kerry Packer showed the world how popular ODIs could be that the establishment finally woke up to the money to be earned.

Martin Williamson is executive editor of Cricinfo and managing editor of ESPN Digital Media in Europe, the Middle East and Africa

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Posted by   on (June 27, 2010, 3:33 GMT)

@RaDin In those days overs consisted not of 6 balls, but of 8. It was shortened mostly for use in TV so that advertising could be shown more frequently, and for some other reasons. This means that off 40 overs now the run-a-ball score would be 240 as there are 240 balls bowled per innings, whereas then the run-a-ball score would be 320 as there were 320 balls per innings. In today's 50 over ODIs there are 300 balls per innings. John Edrich scored 82, anchoring the innings. England, however, only hit 7 fours over their innings, of which Edrich hit 5 of them. By today's standard you would expect there be 3 batsmen in the top 6 that hit 7 fours each, not as a complete total. Things really have changed. I believe ODIs were a positive change, where as I believe Twenty20s will be negative. It won't be long until people get bored with T20s, cricket was not originally made for such a small amount of time, it just doesn't work.

Posted by RaDIN on (June 23, 2010, 11:31 GMT)

England XI made 190 in 39.4 of their allotted 40 eight-ball overs, with John Edrich anchoring the innings with 82, including five of the seven fours managed throughout. What does this mean?

Posted by nauman421 on (June 23, 2010, 9:55 GMT)

T20 is doing to ODI what it tried to do to to Tests......but couldnt much succeed. Tests are still the pinnacle of cricket and ODI's status is in danger itself.........cruel world this :). I hope ODIs survive.

Posted by Vivek.Bhandari on (June 23, 2010, 7:39 GMT)

nice article...and really, how times have changed as is evident from the English players' reasoning that it "was unreasonable to expect them to play four Tests in 40 days"...

Posted by   on (June 23, 2010, 7:22 GMT)

Hope T20 will change the face of cricket again...

Posted by   on (June 22, 2010, 23:08 GMT)

great article. ODI definitely changed the face of cricket.

Posted by krajeev on (June 22, 2010, 20:59 GMT)

Interesting story. Very nice. Funny too.

Posted by Robski on (June 22, 2010, 20:58 GMT)

Splendid stuff, but the Sage of Longparish was the conservative one. The next Ashes series, 18 months later, was followed by the inaugural Prudential Trophy, a three-match one-day series.

Posted by   on (June 22, 2010, 17:32 GMT)

T-20 is all set to make one day a history hope 3000 is not the last ODI hope for the best

Posted by Sidhanta-Patnaik on (June 22, 2010, 12:59 GMT)

cricinfo, the bible of cricket.

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Martin WilliamsonClose
Martin Williamson Executive editor Martin Williamson joined the Wisden website in its planning stages in 2001 after failing to make his millions in the internet boom when managing editor of Sportal. Before that he was in charge of Sky Sports Online and helped launch and run Sky News Online. With a preference for all things old (except his wife and children), he has recently confounded colleagues by displaying an uncharacteristic fondness for Twenty20 cricket. His enthusiasm for the game is sadly not matched by his ability, but he remains convinced that he might be a late developer and perseveres in the hope of an England call-up with his middle-order batting and non-spinning offbreaks. He is now managing editor of ESPN EMEA Digital Group as well as his Cricinfo responsibilities.

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