No. 25 June 27, 2010

The one-day international

A format that is criticised today for being unwieldy and dull, was for three decades cricket's biggest bread-winner


Before Twenty20 came along, the one-day game was cricket's biggest agent of change. Without doubt, it has been the lesser game to Test cricket, but it has made the most difference. At one level one-day cricket can be accused of debasing some of the core values of cricket; at another, it added robustness and dynamism to the sport and helped keep it contemporary.

Traditionalists squirm at its corrupting influence, yet it is undeniable that it made the most traditional version of the game, Test cricket, sharper, more competitive and more appealing to new audiences. By a distance the one-day international was the most significant development in cricket in the 20th century. Incredible, then, that the first match of this kind was a chance happening.

Though the idea of one-day cricket was conceived in the late 1950s by a committee instituted by the MCC to arrest the decline of attendances at county matches, and the Gillette Cup, a tournament comprising 60-overs-a-side matches was born in 1963, it was not until 1971 that the first ODI was played. Like the first Test, it was played at the Melbourne Cricket Ground between England and Australia. It was even meant to be a Test: the match had been washed out and a 40-over game was conceived to compensate the spectators, but it took several meetings between Don Bradman, then the chairman of the Australian Cricket Board, and Cyril Hawke, the president of the MCC, to agree on official status for the game. Forty-six thousand spectators watched Australia win by 40 runs, and cricket's most powerful idea took concrete shape.

The most radical departure from time-honoured norms was immediately obvious: one-day cricket had no place for a draw. For generations of players weaned on a steady diet of one-day cricket, the draw became, if not entirely dishonourable, an increasingly unappealing proposition. The pace of the game quickened considerably; players became more athletic; they ran harder, between the wickets and after the ball; they leapt and they dived; they gave up pristine whites for bright team colours, and the sun for halogen lamps. Cricket, a connoisseur's preserve for more than a century, became a spectacle for Everyman.

It wasn't without cost. One-day cricket was blatantly discriminatory against the bowler, and a series of restrictive measures - a fixed quota of overs per bowler, fielding restrictions in varying degrees, a cap on bouncers - seriously undermined his potency and made run-making relatively easy. Hearteningly, though, one-day cricket hasn't turned into an unqualified haven for mediocrity: barring the odd Bevans, the greats - the Richardses, the Tendulkars, the Akrams, the Pontings - have dominated both forms with equal majesty; and despite fears that spinners might be belted out of the game, bowlers like Warne, Murali and Kumble not only survived, but were match-winners.

But over the years, and mainly because of a mindless surfeit of it and the gradual shift towards batsman-friendly pitches, the 50-over format has grown jaded, and after the success of Twenty20, the clamour has grown for further tweaking, and in fact even abolishing it. If the worst-case scenario came to pass, it would be the unkindest cut: for at least three decades, the ODI has been cricket's biggest bread-winner.

Sambit Bal is the editor of Cricinfo. This article was first published in Wisden Asia Cricket magazine in 2003

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on June 28, 2010, 18:58 GMT

    They keep saying 50 over cricket is dying. I think that's totally baseless. 50 over cricket still draws very good response. Alleged greater popularity of T20 is not because 50 over cricket is dull but because you cannot pack as many 50 over games as T20s in a given period of time. For example proliferation of franchise based tournaments wouldn't have been possible with 50 over format. But that's got nothing to do with so called (and non-existent) "predictability" of 50 over games

  • Mark on June 28, 2010, 18:53 GMT

    @lucyferr, Love your suggestion of an ABBA style T20 double innings game! Who wouldn't want to watch a double innings game to the tune of Waterloo!

  • AJITH on June 28, 2010, 17:44 GMT

    @ankush, Billyblue is only reiterating the fact that there can only be one Richards, Tendulkar, Akram or Ponting in the history of the game. But there will be a zillions Sreesanths, Pathans. Sambit's way of framing that one sentence could have been better.

  • Faisal on June 28, 2010, 13:24 GMT

    ODI cricket is one of the many possible forms of limited over cricket. Over the years test cricket and limited overs cricket both have evolved into shorter forms. While tests have evolved from 8 or 10 days (not sure) to five days, the limited overs format has evolved from 60 overs a side to 50 overs and now from 50 overs to 20 overs a side.

    T20 is currently the most popular form of limited overs cricket. Matches in the first three world cups were 60 overs a side. Then the overs were reduced to 50 overs a side and now is the time to reduce these further to 20 overs a side. ODI are not dying; they are just evolving into T20s. Please embrace the new format of the beautiful game called cricket.

  • lucy on June 28, 2010, 12:19 GMT

    If the ICC wants to keep alive the cash cow of 'some version of a cricket game that lasts the whole day and has space for lots and lots of ads' and still keep its audience, then it should make ODIs 2xT20, i.e. two innings of 20 overs each. But to lessen the effect of the toss, why not make the innings a sandwich ABBA format i.e. the team that wins the toss bats in the first and fourth innings and bowls in the second and third innings. And please, dispense with all that powerplay rubbish and allow bowlers to bowl bouncers again.

  • Shabab on June 28, 2010, 11:32 GMT

    I think the ODIs have given context to this game of cricket and so it is here to stay.

    In my opinion, T20s shouldn't be played at the intn'l level. It barely recognises quality cricketers and on the other hand brings rookies to the limelight. How can a player show off his talent bowling 4 overs or batting 20? With due respect to Macculum and his abilities, to me T20 makes him more attractive than Ponting! How funny can that be!

  • Dummy4 on June 28, 2010, 2:03 GMT

    Be it test / one day / T20 cricket, any game is good to watch when the balance between bat and ball is restored. Sometimes a good scrape to chase a 140 in a T20 game is good to watch like the 212 england scraped today to beat australia 3 nil. So how many ever formats of cricket there are, as long as there are helpful conditions for both bat and ball and the players good enough to take advantage of them, cricket is always and will always be great to watch.

  • cricket on June 28, 2010, 1:51 GMT

    I don't think One day cricket is going anywhere. It is here to stay. The 50-over format has its own charm. The different stages of the match-the first 15-the middle-and the last 10 overs have their own pace and strategies. The players specialize in different stages, and the toddlers and the sloggers are separated from the class acts. T20, believe it or not, does become boring after sometime. It's becomes too predictable, too "street like" when played too much. T20 does have a place in cricket and it is a good addition to the format, but ODIs have their own appeal. Where would cricket be without ODIs?

  • Billy on June 28, 2010, 0:15 GMT

    I see ODIs and T20s as pathways to change the way Test cricket is being played. It inspires innovation and changes the script in terms of who are seen as great players, which games are great games, and which strategies work and which don't. Some examples I would like to put forward: some great players today are great because of their attacking mindset and their freedom to score. In reality, they actually have poor techniques and in a pre-ODI era, they would have been eradicated from the game, or would have had to improve their technique significantly. Pietersen and Ponting are players that come to mind. Another thing that has become prevalent is a wicket falling due to a loose attacking shot in Test cricket. The concentration factor isn't as strong as it used to be pre-ODI. It may actually be counted against players if they score too slowly because they are viewed to cramp the style of other attacking players.

  • Dummy4 on June 27, 2010, 23:42 GMT

    @ Billyblue, seems like you don't even know English before criticizing Sambit/Harsha .. Try reading it again or learn from somebosdy, Sambit has praised and not insulted the greats by saying that the Richardses, the Tendulkars, the Akrams, the Pontings were in fact exceptional in both forms of game, and has stated that despite the cap of 50 overs in ODI cricket, unlike Test Cricket, ODI cricket had no room for mediocrity as we are seeing in T20 .. that even a mediocre like Yusuf Pathan is a star !!

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