Junk the ODI, and do it now!
By Gaurav Kalra Cricketnext
15th June 2012 12:57 PM
Do you remember the audio tape? Or the floppy disk? The Maruti 800? There was a thrill to organizing your audio tape collection - The Beatles, Kishore Kumar, Michael Jackson, Jagjit Singh and those mixed tapes all placed in such orderly fashion that it becomes an ornament to the wall. How we panicked when the floppy disc gurgled for a minute longer inside those bulky personal computers. The squeals of delight when dad first drove a Maruti 800 (in my case it was a Deluxe, no less!) into the tiny parking space outside the house still resonate in memory.
The one-day game today is to cricket what the audio tape is to music, what the floppy disk is to data storage and what the Maruti 800 is to cars. Relics of a past fondly remembered but well beyond their sell by date. On occasion, the odd spectacle is produced. But in a sport that desperately positions itself as able to offer 'three distinct formats' to its fans, one-day cricket is an eye-sore.
The evidence of a growing disenchantment with the one-day format was all clear even before the Twenty20 revolution shook the core of the game. There was a sameness to the contest and an almost irritating regularity in its appearance. In its original design the one-day game was meant to entice the cricket fan in a hurry. Even as that started to fade, Twenty20 cricket arrived to cannibalize the best bits of a one-dayer: big hitting, sharp fielding, and swift running between the wickets, canny bowling and condensed it into a three hour offering.
So why then is a one-dayer relevant anymore? Why must those who relish the methodical construction of an innings make do with its miniature version in a one-dayer? There is Test-match cricket for the unabridged real deal. Why must those who subscribe to cricket for an explosive innings endure the lean middle over phase of a one-dayer? Tune in for a Twenty20, tuck in and have some fun!
It is only when a sport is battling for survival that its administrators hunt for tools to keep it alive. One-day cricket has been subjected to numerous nips, tucks and shock therapies. Powerplay regulations have been amended so often that now even the participants struggle to keep up. Two new balls, an extra bouncer an over, one less fielder outside the 30-yard circle in non-Powerplay overs are all cosmetic embellishments. They will do little to address the format's central issue: Can it engage a fan over an eight-hour period? Does it have the nuanced appeal of a Test match day? Does it have the thrill a minute connect of a Twenty20?
The 2011 World Cup created an artificial excitement about the one-day game. A World Cup, by the very allure it offers at its conclusion, papers over the widest of cracks. India's victory only added weight to the argument that the format was alive and well. But was it really? One-day series that followed the World Cup were met by dismissive yawns from fans. Empty stands greeted teams during England's ridiculous five-match tour of India and a majority of the games against West Indies that followed. The tri-series in Australia was played between three teams who faced-off four times each only for the top two to play a best of three-final series!
Cricket is a unique sport, designed such that it can concoct a gamut of scenarios. But there is a crying need for some clarity of thought. In a Test match, cricket has a rare and beautiful product. Not bound by the restriction of time, it offers a rhythm unlike any other sport in the world. I am convinced that for that reason alone, the Test match will survive every assault. Test results impact followers deeply. The investment in your Test team is unadulterated. It is the Holy Grail.
It is critical that the limited-overs format doesn't become a confusing basket of choices - 20-overs-a-side one evening, 50-overs on another or two innings of 25-overs each on another. As cricket engages with its audience, it must be aware of how other sports are snapping at its heels. Clamouring for the same eye-balls, seeking the same attention span, cleverly positioning its own superstars as alternative heroes. They are waiting for cricket to slip from its pedestal.
Cricket functions at the moment merely to service TV deals and draws up a schedule that decimates all common sense. The one-dayer is the chief culprit as it provides a prime time option to broadcasters desperate for content. So Australia will travel to England for a pointless one-day series soon. India will end this unusual break with five one-day games in Sri Lanka (again!) in July. In 2012, by a rough calculation 90 one-day games are scheduled. Pluck them out and you have a minimum of 180 days available for players to rest and recover, play additional Test cricket, be available for their domestic teams and turn up in Twenty20 leagues.
A correction is inevitable as the disdain of the viewing public towards ODIs will inevitably impact on attendances and ratings. In suggesting that teams play Day-night Test cricket the ICC's cricket committee has offered bold direction. If a Test match day can wander into prime television time, it is sure to enjoy an injection of support. Suddenly, compelling contests didn't take place when you were labouring away in an office. They are available to savour as you return home from a hard day at work. It is a delicious prospect.
Franchise-based Twenty20 cricket is now here to stay. Pontificating about its dangers will do little other than generate heated debate. But it is this vicious schedule, replete with copious amounts of one-day cricket that is the game's greatest challenge going forward. Rahul Dravid made a pointed reference to the idiocy of seven-match ODI series in his Bradman Oration last year. Kevin Pietersen's decision to walk away altogether despite an impressive ODI track record is a warning sign. With the choice to play franchise-based Twenty20 cricket, more marquee players will walk away from the game's least attractive offering. History will judge them as Test cricketers and bank accounts will be ballooned by Twenty20 employments. The one-day game has outlived its utility and must be shut down. Players are tiring of it as are large numbers of fans. Cricket deserves to be free of its clutches.
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