Does one-day cricket have a future, especially after the smashing success of the Indian Premier League and the chests of cash Allen Stanford is ploughing into the Twenty20 format? The Kitply Cup - a tri-series between India, Pakistan and hosts Bangladesh - was the first 50-over competition that had to answer the hard question: Can it hold its own against the thrills Twenty20 provides every over? The week long tournament showed why one-dayers are in danger of becoming obsolete, before a tightly contested final between India and Pakistan proved that the format can still be gripping.
The USP of Twenty20 cricket is the close finishes the condensed format promises. A spectator expects nearly every Twenty20 match to go down to the final over and, on the occasion that it doesn't, there are still plenty of fours, sixes and wickets to soak in. The three league one-day games over the last week in Mirpur were hopelessly one-sided with the end result being a virtual certainty early into the second innings: Pakistan beat Bangladesh by 70 runs, and India beat both of them by 140 runs and seven wickets respectively.
The mis-matches and uncompetitive victories are the primary reason that one-day cricket has attracted so much criticism. Over a 50-over format the gulf in quality between the two teams - India and Bangladesh for example - is more severely exposed. Bangladesh are currently focusing on batting through 50 overs on a consistent basis, and their bowlers are working on sustaining a disciplined performance throughout an innings. They were competing against far more developed teams and hence the gulf in quality translated into no-contests. The shorter Twenty20 format needs them to perform to potential over a shorter span of time, therefore increasing chances of being competitive, and of victory.
Pakistan too played below par in their league game against India but the crowd remained entertained only because India batted first and steamed to 330, their openers adding 155 at over seven an over. The game as a contest, however, was finished once Pakistan lost three wickets within the first five overs of the run-chase. Such an early end to the competition allows the spectator's mind to wander. A mis-match in a one-day match could take seven hours to finish, if a Twenty20 game is hopelessly one-sided it's over and done with in three and a half hours, or sooner.
The final of the tournament, though, showed that one-day cricket, if played by two well matched sides, still makes for a gripping contest. Just like Test cricket has infinitely more levels of intricacy compared to one-day cricket, the 50-over version offers more variety than Twenty20. Fans come to a Twenty20 match expecting to see a flurry of boundaries and wickets and there's only so much strategy that is visible, even for the most educated watcher.
The first 20 overs of the final were dominated by India. Pakistan had scored only 75 for 1, a pedestrian run-rate by modern standards. Younis Khan and Salman Butt, not hassled by the paucity of boundaries, bided their time and cut loose against the part-timers after the 20th over. The period between the 20th and 40th over in an ODI often meanders but Younis and Butt raced along at over seven an over to push Pakistan over 300. They could do so only because they took their time to get settled, an approach which is not an option for Twenty20 batsmen.
Younis and Butt's approach was in complete contrast to that of Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir's but on both occasions their teams posted 300-plus. One-day cricket offers a bit more variety than Twenty20 does for if a team has to score 200 at ten an over there's pretty much only one way to go about it.
The longer format also tests batsmen in more ways than the Twenty20 format, which is primarily a test of power, improvisation and quick running between the wickets. Batting through 50 overs in hot and humid conditions, such as those in Mirpur, demands extraordinary fitness levels. Both Raqibul Hasan and Butt battled cramps towards the end of their long innings and Younis said he lost four kilos during his century in the final, hurdles that batsmen don't have to encounter during a one-and-a half-hour thrash.
Bowlers too have greater scope for creativity in one-dayers. Their priority in Twenty20 matches is to bowl dot balls and wickets often result from batsmen taking a risk rather than the bowler's ingenuity. Batsmen aren't looking to constantly score at eight or nine and over in one-dayers so bowlers have to be more enterprising. Pakistan's top order took risks and collapsed against Praveen Kumar while they were chasing 331 to win the league game. In the final, however, they played cautiously against the new ball and the Indian bowlers failed to create many wicket-taking opportunities thereafter.
However, had it not been for the quality of the final, the Kitply Cup would have been remembered most for Nasim Ashraf's stinging email to the Pakistan team. The outstanding one-day matches such as Edgbaston 1999, the NatWest series final between India and England and the 400 run-chase, are too few and far between. A reduction in the quantity of one-day games could lead to an increase in competitiveness, if not, perhaps the format needs tinkering.
George Binoy is a staff writer at Cricinfo