Administrators have diminished the game by greatly favouring T20s while the 50-over format has been reduced to virtually depending on a World Cup year for its importance; there’s so many ways to lift ODI cricket
Australia players congratulate India’s batsmen after their win in the first ODI on Friday. Pic/Getty Images
A well played 50-over match is a good game of cricket for both players and fans. It allows enough time for a team to recover equilibrium if it makes an early mistake, whilst also providing aggressive cricket and the players should feel they’ve earned their cheque after a decent amount of cricket. However, the administrators have diminished the game by greatly favouring the shorter T20 format. Players are also guilty for allowing this to happen.
T20 and hits
The T20 format attracts big crowds, many of whom are new to the game. The T20 franchises also accumulate income for teams and associations that desperately need the money. There is no doubt the T20 format has assisted the game financially but it tends to attract too much favourable attention at the wilful expense of other formats.
There is a viable place for T20 but it’s exalted role in the overall structure of the game is disproportionate. The 50-over game has been reduced to virtually depending on a World Cup year for its importance. That is what we have this year—a tantalising World Cup in India. Adding to the expected drama the draw includes a blockbuster match between those two fierce rivals India and Pakistan. Back in 1996 in Toronto I joined a group of Indian and Pakistani players who were happily chatting together. I was moved to ask, “Why is there animosity between the two countries—you both seem to get on well?” The answer was telling. “We understand each other and eat similar food,” replied a player. “The people mostly get on well but it’s mainly the politicians who like to maintain the rage.” This was a sad but generally true reflection and unfortunately the situation has deteriorated since those days.
The limited overs World Cup began as a 60-over affair back in 1975. The tournament ended with a brilliant late night victory for the West Indies over a fighting Australia. This was exactly what the format needed and seemed to indicate that the limited overs game had gained universal popularity. It became a 50-over game but was eventually undermined by the T20 format. The administrators short-sighted approach to 50-over playing conditions, their love affair with the financial benefits of T20 and the acquiescence of the players, has seen the longer format largely reduced to World Cup popularity.
The statement that rocked the 50-over game, “The middle overs are boring,” was believed by many people—including most administrators. The desire to fight for greater 50-over relevance wasn’t there and the rapid rise of the T20 game took priority.
Instead of looking to inject thoughtful competitiveness into the 50 over game, the administrators opted to utilise gimmicks. Instead of dangling the carrot to challenge the imagination of captains and players, the administrators opted to beat the game with a big stick. That meant the introduction of gimmicks like powerplays, fielding restrictions and shorter boundaries (generally punishing bowlers), which tended to dictate the way a team was captained.
As the former fine Australian captain Mark Taylor says, “You are virtually told how to captain a 50-over game.” Those playing conditions were applied rather than the captains being challenged by offering them more freedom in their choice of how to play the game.
A partial cap could have been retained in the maximum overs, but two bowlers could’ve have been rewarded by allowing them an extended number of overs. Any captain who prefers taking wickets to concentrating on containment should be encouraged, not deterred. And surely a team’s approach to their batting is guided by the chase they face. There were a number of ways the 50-over game could have been thoughtfully improved to aid the experience for a player and the fans. Unfortunately, they weren’t adopted and the 50-over game was allowed to wither.
ODIs still popular
It’s telling that the 50-over World Cup still attracts large crowds. Despite the lack of 50-over positivity, the 2023 version remains extremely popular, especially as it features a mouth-watering India versus Pakistan fixture.