January 31, 2014

Forty overs is one-day cricket's future

It's the ideal amount of time to pack in plenty of action while also giving players a chance to construct innings and making for a better spectator experience

Crowe: Time for the ODI game to evolve

As we all consider the changing nature of the game's hierarchy (or should that be oligarchy?), the future of Test cricket and the effect of T20 globally, should we not stop to consider the middle sibling, the one-day game? The evolution of one-day cricket needs to continue to march on, and to the right beat. At present it looks as though it's pitching a touch, droning a little, gasping at times. It's not always sure of itself. Of all the formats, the one-day game has been constantly battling a personality crisis.

Internationally it started in the early 1970s (following initial success in county cricket) with contests of between 35 and 55 overs, all in one long day, using up all the daylight available. Then it moved to 60 overs a side, and after about a decade, dropped to 50 overs, a duration it has held since, covering seven World Cups.

For the next World Cup, to be held in Australasia, the format will remain the same, yet from that point on, the game should consider another natural evolution. First, this constant tinkering with the rules must stop. The present 50-over version (number 2387, by my count) is out of control. The Powerplay rules and field restriction are utter madness and soul-destroying to all kinds of captains and bowlers, spinners especially. The constant tweaking and searching has to cease.

It is one thing to react to a bad idea, of which there have been many wrapped around the one-day game in recent times; it's another to throw insanely bad karma into the mix as well. As T20 has removed the fiddle in the middle, so has one-day cricket tried to remove the often boring drag by adding funky Powerplays (at one stage, a few years back, bowlers were grudgingly forced to choose when to have a five-over Powerplay), and limit field-setting options, only to destroy courage and skill for the sake of more jolly entertainment, or for committees to be seen to be clever. Sorry, but it's a bloody dog's breakfast. Just ask every single captain in the game today, starting with MS Dhoni.

One of the great premises for introducing one-day cricket in England in the late '60s and T20 in 2003 was allowing time for fans to watch the spectacle in the late afternoon and twilight, in particular at the ground. As television started to broadcast the 40-over Sunday League in the '70s, a bigger audience was found watching from home. This has grown astronomically since. Yet we must continue to encourage spectators to go to the venues, for without those bums on seats, the players in the middle feel incomplete. When that happens, we start to defeat the purpose of sport.

Year after year, time on the clock became more and more precious, while cricket stayed more and more difficult to follow throughout its duration. So it evolved, and rightly so. As the 21st century beds in, it is time to ensure all is right again.

Having three formats is a great strength of cricket, as well as a complication, yet it works as it caters to different tastes and markets and covers all demographics and cultures. But the 50-over match is fast becoming a cricket design that doesn't fit, like the 60-over version before it. A normal 50-over game lasts seven hours, with a 40-minute interval. Throw in the time taken to travel to the venue, get seated, and the slow after-match escape, and overall we are talking a lazy nine hours or more of committing oneself, from go to whoa. That is not sustainable for honest, hard-working folk anymore, in duration, or even style. It definitely doesn't suit a young family outing.

What is the new ideal time frame for one-day cricket to keep itself relevant, and distant enough from T20, retaining a cultured game in which innings can be built and spells can be prolonged, yet catering to the fans' attention span? If a T20 match is nearly three hours, plus the before, the break and the after-match - around four and a half hours in all - then perhaps a 40-over match is the best duration: under six hours of compelling play to satisfy all.

As I watched the second ODI, in Hamilton, the other day, a rain-reduced match of 42 overs, I saw it clearly. It was the perfect amount of entertainment: plenty of action, a period of building, a blazing finish to each innings.

Then I went to the third ODI, in Auckland, and worked in the commentary box. Despite the fact that it was a pulsating match, ending in a remarkable tie, it was an exhausting, draining day, finishing late into the night. I would have preferred to arrive at 4pm, when the heat was out of the day, and enjoy a marvellous extended evening session of fun cricket. When I finally got home, after 11.15pm (having left at midday for a 2pm start), I was absolutely spent. The adrenaline of the last-ball drama was quickly consumed by the utter enervation of it all. Without question, in my tired mind, the 50-over game is out of date and ripe for the picking.

Let's see the one-day game settle into 40-over mode. Remove the gunk in the middle, keep it simple, stupid, and hey presto, every captain will be positive about the format that is still the life blood of our fine game

Ultimately here is the crux. By knocking off ten overs per innings, we remove the unnecessary Powerplays and field restrictions, the crap, the not-required, the needless scaffolding. As we aren't reducing the number of wickets that need to fall, the game automatically speeds up, removing the drag and exhaustion. The benefit of going back to an extra fielder outside the circle is restored, and so is the bowlers' confidence that they are competing on an even playing field. Oh, and we can go back to one ball per innings.

As I posed this notion (I also did so in my book published last year) to a friend and top player, he challenged me with: "But what about the records?" Good question, that. Without hesitation I replied that in the 43 years of countless versions of the one-day game played, no records have been adjusted. Clearly those playing now enjoy scoring at a faster pace. Hundreds are easily completed in 35 overs these days due to ground size and incredible bat technology, so in essence this reduction of overs should equal it up to the game we adored in the 1980s. One-day records? A side plate, surely, to the long-form statistics. It's not an issue.

The time factor benefits a huge majority, apart from the advertisers, who lose a bit of fat. That is the only downside, but frankly, in the long-term they will win anyway - the one-day game, refreshed and reinvigorated, will surge into the light with a bright new future. Less always becomes more.

So after the World Cup next year, let's hope the ICC shows a new version of itself: a smarter, wiser, mature version of its hopefully rejuvenated soul, thinking about the fans first and not its hip pocket. Let's see it settle the one-day game into 40-over mode, remove the gunk in the middle, keep it simple, stupid, and hey presto, every captain will be positive about the format that is still the life blood of our fine game. If not after the World Cup, then the one-day game will evolve within the next four years. It's inevitable.

Martin Crowe, one of the leading batsmen of the late '80s and early '90s, played 77 Tests for New Zealand

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Amit on February 3, 2014, 13:05 GMT

    This is possibly the only format BCCI will take initiative on. Its their second cash cow after the IPL. In a big country, they take the game to more corners and get people to see it live. Go back to the rules of the 90s... 10 + 5 overs of field restrictions (I hate the term powerplay) Make the grounds the right size again and bring back the one ball rule. There is a disconnect between what rules people play to all around the world and what the national teams play. All the tinkering is a result of abundance - something not all teams (besides national) have the luxuries of. Making the international game popular also needs to make it recognisable. When I was a kid and I went to a different place for 'box' cricket, you had to check the local rules. This is no different. Only people are getting paid to show themselves to be amateurs.

  • Android on February 2, 2014, 10:37 GMT

    The way T20 is going I think ODI itself doesn't have a future. lol

  • anton on February 2, 2014, 3:56 GMT

    Completely agree with Martin here. I have been making this point so many times over the last few months. The 50 over game is too long. It can go on for 8 hours from start to finish (including the break in between innings) and way too much nurdling around. Exciting passages are too few. Have 40 overs a side with each innings completed in 2hrs 30 minutes with an innings break of around 20 minutes. There is no need for a lunch in a 5 hour game; a sandwich and a drink/tea is enough. The 50 over game is played at too leisurely a pace. 40 overs will provide greater tempo but also enough time to offer subtelty and skill found in the 50 over game. Keep 10 overs per bowler, allowing better bowlers to bowl larger share of the total deliveries. Get rid of field restrictions, have longer boundaries. Having very short boundaries makes a mockery.

  • Sam on February 2, 2014, 0:39 GMT

    We can also have T20 test matches which can also be completed in one day, 20 overs per innings, instead of 40 overs or 50 overs one day matches, we have the excitement of T20 cricket without the 5 day drag of yesterday, due to economic and cost of living issues not many have the time or money to follow test cricket any longer. 5 days we would have had 5 T20 tests completed.

  • Rob on February 2, 2014, 0:26 GMT

    I couldn't agree more than 40 overs is the way forward. An excellent idea indeed. The game would fit into a shorter time period but there would be enough overs to have some ebb and flow and for games to take shape.

  • vishal on February 1, 2014, 19:36 GMT

    Completely agree with Martin crowe. So much tinkering with ODIs rules have led to its downfall... 9hr game, meaningless powerplays.. Every 2nd ball being send out of ground.. Its become more of a monotonous routine..plus i would like to add to stop playing unnecessary ODIs and playing evenly against all countries including Bangladesh m Zimbabwe...

  • John on February 1, 2014, 16:25 GMT

    Yes, I agree, nowadays 40 overs per side would make a better one-day game, and hopefully without all the Mickey Mouse gimmicks.

  • Chandra on February 1, 2014, 15:49 GMT

    Yes, Yes and Yes. When Do ICC or what ever we will call that in future, will have people like Martin Crowe in their innovation committee. I would say go one step further and say, play 40 overs, and if it rains, change that to 20 overs (T20I) and scrap all that rain rules. Play 40 or 20 or do not play. Get rid of 2nd batting power play at 35 to 40 overs. 20 overs 6 over power play, reduce to 5 overs. 40 overs keep 10 overs power play. Keep 10 overs per bowler, so the contest is even. Avoid all possible complex rules. Follow KISS (Keep it simple stupid) rule.

  • Salar on February 1, 2014, 15:02 GMT

    All of these points are mere speculations. No one can know for sure the effect of a 40 over game on the contest between bat and ball. It is indeed true that not many families watch ODI cricket but I feel this is the wrong solution. Reducing it to 40 overs a side just brings it more closer to t20/slogfest. Pretty soon we ll have tests and t20 which is just a BAD combination. There must be a middle groud for the players in a series.

  • Arif on February 1, 2014, 14:28 GMT

    ODIs must be reduced to 45 overs per side.But if one has to decide between ODIs and T20s then ODIs can be reduced to 30 overs and T20s can be eliminated totally.