June 16, 2010

The farce that is one-day cricket!

A few weeks ago Geoffrey Boycott was as straight-batted as ever in claiming that nobody, save Asians perhaps, is interested in the Asia Cup. But seeing the crowd, or the abundant lack of it, at Dambulla for the One-day International between India and Bangladesh today, one wonders even if the contingent of Asian fans is interested. Perceptively, the point that the hosts were not playing could be invoked as a case in point but the general state of one-day cricket is one which needs serious reassessment if it needs to survive as an independent format. But before I go on further, looking at insipid pitches, the abject batsman-friendliness  of the affair and the inconsequential nature of a lot of games, even tournaments (like the recent one in Zimbabwe; and I do not say this because India lost!), I would say I would be happy with Tests and T20s as the only formats of the game. More of that though for later.

Before we look at the slump of the one-day game, we need to comprehend the simple fact that nations like England and New Zealand have never been highly keen on the once shortest format of the game. While countries like Australia and South Africa have stood at the middle of the divide, playing a good deal of test and one-day cricket, it is the teams from sub-continent which used to, and continue to play, a surfeit of one-day games whose numbers are often inflated by the number of bi-pronged series played in India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan (till the Lahore blasts) and even Bangladesh. And all too often absurd scheduling in the name or pretext of giving all cricketing venues their share of matches resulted in series which had two tests and five to seven one-dayers. Cricket-crazy crowds used to throng to many of these games given that some venues especially in a mammoth country like India get matches only once in a couple of seasons despite the jam-packed nature of the calendar. Frankly, much as fans are stakeholders (in an emotional sense and as ticket-buyers), scheduling of cricket must be sensitive to the views of those who play it rather than the watching public or the coffers of a cricket board.

What has happened now though is with the advent of T20 Cricket the balance has tilted, rightly or wrongly but in one-fell-swoop seemingly, towards the three-hour format from the one-day one. While I have not watched any one-day series held in India in recent memory, I am pretty sure that reception for these games, especially if they constitute just academic purpose – after one team has already won the series midway through it – is likely to dwindle slowly but surely even in a place like India. Around the world, like in Sri Lanka currently and in Zimbabwe in the series recently which very few knew was happening, the warning bells for the format popularised in Australia, by Benson and Hedges and later coloured clothes are already tolling.

To blame the rise of T20 alone for one-day cricket’s starting to recede in popular imagination is to miss the point. While twenty-20 has taken world cricket by storm over the last four seasons, the seeds for the descent of one-day cricket, I believe, were sown a while ago in the decade. The advent of T20 has if anything only exaggerated the impact given that the crowds now have an option – every series now has at least a couple of T20 games over a weekend – to choose where they formerly did not. Let us review just a little bit to make the point clear.

One of the reasons for the decline in popularity could be the senseless scheduling of one-day cricket matches. If bi-pronged series in the subcontinents led to a cloying, almost choking, overdose, then ICC did not help the cause one little bit by bringing in tourneys like the Champions Trophy. Until the 1996 World Cup, if memory serves me right, there was only one international tournament where all recognised one-day teams came together to match talent, namely the World Cup. After 1998 all that has changed. We now have a Champions Trophy every two years, a World Cup every four years – have the T20 World Cup splice this ‘impressive’ array of international tournaments showcasing ICC’s organisational ability, you have about an international one-day tournament every year. Take that for a committed sporting body trying to promote the game throughout the year every year! And if by accident a year has no such tournaments, there are enough tri-angular, quadrangular and pentagular tournaments, whether or not they form part of ICC’s FTP (Future Tours Programme, which I believe nobody, save the ICC, ever talks about!), to make up for the ‘seeming’ void. Let us not even get started about the Indian Premiere League! While veterans like Dravid and Tendulkar have said that travelling so much is part of the modern game, I am sure given a choice most cricketers worth their salt will call for a serious (read "sensitised and sensible") reassessment of such inept scheduling of limited over games which have, among other things, the harmful potential of cutting short wonderful careers on account of injury and/or jadedness. Shane Bond’s premature retirement may be a case in point. Breet Lee's bowing out from test cricket could also be added to the list. Had it been an earlier age both these fast men could have, and would have, gone for at least three to four more seasons. 

The slow but inevitable loss of ground that one-day cricket is suffering could be imputed, as mentioned earlier in passing, also to the one-sidedness of the game, stacked heavily in favour of the batting team. As an example let us look at the scores displayed on newspapers: in the last four years 400-plus totals have not only been set, which in itself torments a bowler with his sense of relativised mortality vis-à-vis batsmen, but have been matched – once, and almost matched another time. There was a time when high-scoring thrillers used to be fun because they were the exception rather than the norm; teams chasing over 300-needed to bat out of their skins to win games but now no score is ever a challenging one. While augmenting run rates -  in chases as well as first innings – could be traced to the T20 mentality which enables batsmen to believe that anything at all is gettable, the very mentality is prodigally bolstered by atrociously batsman-friendly, or bowler-killing, conditions, specifically pitches (which again are seldom left to the discretion of the curator alone!) , reducing even class bowlers to a containing job. Anyone who believes that this is the way forward for the game has got to be joking and/or a batsman, a batsman’s parent or an aspiring batsman. If this trend continues, not only will one-day cricket suffer adversely but we will soon see genuine bowlers playing only test cricket, which is unfortunate. I may be a little too radical in stating my clairvoyance but I do not see why it should not happen given the way the game is headed.

Preposterous, almost asphyxiating, scheduling, inconsequential matches, the batsman-centric nature of the game and abysmal cricket pitches coupled with the rise of T20 are only some of the main factors that have contributed to one-day cricket’s slowly going out of sync as a format  but these are critical factors the ICC needs to look into if it needs to – if it thinks it needs to – rescue the format from dying a natural death.  As ever, change cannot, or is not likely to, be proposed on the international scene but efforts are being made in domestic competitions. For instance, Tendulkar suggested some time ago that one-day matches could be broken into four innings – two apiece for each team – and at least the ECB has listened. I read somewhere recently that even the Australian Cricket Board is thinking in the direction. These are surely positives; the ideas may or may not work but it is in the interest of one-day cricket and cricket in general that novel ideas, especially when they come from people who have great standing in the contemporary game, are tested before they are discarded if they do not work. Ricky Ponting too has aired his views on one-day games whose results do not have any value. There must be a way to work around the drudgery and the impasse, and if there is not, new ones should be found and quickly.

 With the one-day World Cup in the subcontinent scheduled for 2011, the ICC will be busy supervising allotted venues, reviewing security, assessing finances and be busy with a thousand other things but a roadmap of what comes, or needs to come, after that for the format has to be put in place or at least thought about. Haroon Lorgat, the President of the ICC, is a nice professional man from South Africa who has given the the Council a stable stewardship at the top but his optimism that the one-day game is still on safe waters seems rather misplaced and contrary to present-day empirical fact. If the optimism needs to translate into daylight, the ICC should not think twice about proposing some serious revamping plans for the one-day game which include, if nothing else, broad guidelines on everything from playing conditions to Power Play issues to the number of individual series a board can accommodate outside of the ICC charter. The ICC can set the trend itself by slashing the so-called mini world cup (a.k.a the Champions Trophy) and think about just one global tournament apiece for T20 and One-day cricket which is still too much but at least gives the impression of things heading in some direction. After all FIFA does not hold a World Cup every third New Moon and an example can be taken from that!

Whether ICC has the strength to take a stand even if it means defying authoritarian and notorious boards like the BCCI only time will tell. But if the game’s international governing body wants to save the one-day game, which as I said at the start is frankly not worth saving, I am not too sure if it even has the choice of dallying let alone not deciding. I do not know how many know; there used to be a tournament called Australiasia cup and it is close to a couple of decades since it went out of the calendar. Tourneys like the Asia Cup and such inexplicably mind-numbing one-day series need to follow suit in order to uproot the weeds to leave the soil for one-day cricket’s sane and justified continuity.

Having said all that the next ICC-Prez Elect is a certain Mumbai politician, more caricature than character - even if not a patch on Laloo - by name Sharad Pawar? What's the game coming to? Apocalypse? I hope not!         


vEnKy said...

I beg to disagree

Test cricket receives far less crowd than a ODI does. Does that mean we should stop it?

The teams like ZIM cannot develop unless quality oppositions if not half quality sides play them.

There is a wrong impression to the world that India loves cricket. The fact only a handful love cricket the others love either the Individuals or at max anything that is concerned with team India.Frankly not many care about cricket being played elsewhere.

NZ plays only ODI cricket and nothing else. Just look at the number of tests they've played.

And I don't think Shane Bond's retirement has anything to do with scheduling cause NZ hardly play any cricket compared to other 7 teams.

I don't think separating into 2 innings is the way. It may sound interesting it may also work out. But I feel it would become too much batsmen friendly if you do that.

Yeah I do agree that ODI's need to be scheduled in a sane manner. ICC needs to scrap Champions trophy and need to open windows for domestic cricket ( not only IPL) That way the star players will play, so young people get to watch cricket matches of high quality.

The main reason for 400 plus scores is the added 5 over power play. Moreover these bird brains gave a choice to batting team to choose in the name of strategy.

The main reason it was introduced was to spice up the middle overs. But they take the power play only in the death overs. wow! isn't that purpose served?

They should not let teams take power plays beyond 30 overs and shorten the format to 40 overs.

Power plays should be ----> one mandatory set of 5 overs and another 5 each for the batters and bowlers.

If you go by the way of viewer ship and money, test cricket is the one which needs to be axed. Sadly or happily things don't work that way and all 3 formats should have their place.

All i would say is don't overkill T20 like ODI and find a T10 to kill the former and never succumb to viewer ship and crowds. They are foolish and only go by emotions. They only stand behind in you success exactly where you wouldn't need any help.

Anonymous said...

Counterpoint @ Venky::D

"Test cricket receives far less crowd than a ODI does. Does that mean we should stop it?" - not really. You're looking only at the subcontinent. In British Isles, Aus and even SA and Windies, there is reasonable reception for the game!

"The fact only a handful love cricket the others love either the Individuals or at max anything that is concerned with team India.Frankly not many care about cricket being played elsewhere."- too true!

"NZ plays only ODI cricket and nothing else. Just look at the number of tests they've played."- right again but their test-ODI ratio is not as lopsided as ours or Pakistan's!

"The main reason for 400 plus scores is the added 5 over power play." - agree, but only partly. If pitches are still 'sporting' Powerplays can contribute to wickets as well rather than just runs. But you're right, there should be a restriction that the Powerplay should be taken before some amount of overs are over. Plus 20 overs is too much; yes it was envisioned with a good cause but as you say the point is becoming lost!

"If you go by the way of viewer ship and money, test cricket is the one which needs to be axed." - not really again. Refer my first comment. Even in Australia, which has been the world champ forever now, it is test cricket which is viewed more favourably. Boxing Day tests at MCG still run full-house, for example! :D

"All i would say is don't overkill T20 like ODI and find a T10 to kill the former and never succumb to viewer ship and crowds. They are foolish and only go by emotions."- agreed!

vEnKy said...

Srini you are just looking at exception with boxing day. They havent played a boxing day ODI or T20 so you compare that.

Brits watch Test because they win only in Test matches. Believe me that will change with Eng winning more matches.
The point is NZ doesnt play a lot cricket.

All the test playing teams have more spectators compared when they play each other. The ODI gets less viewership only lesser countries play them.

The fact is Test cricket generates far less money than the other 2 formats.

As I said you cant go by these things
and stop playing them.

Anonymous said...

Admitted, revenue is required but if that's the only thing required there are several - even sidey - ways of bringing it to the game as we all know in the IPL fever. So I have little to say.

I do not understand why you take examples as generalisations (and there you want more examples here there are). The last two South Africa Australia test series were virtually sold out weeks before the tourneys began. The recent test series between India and SA - a farce by the way because a two-test series is a no-contest - attracted crowds (if nothing in compared to ODIs and T20s but it still attracted crowds). Why? Can we say only because India are no. 1 (which was why the test series was chalked in the first place)? Maybe - considering the madness that BCCI is in its hunt for stats and money, I would even say that's the case and everyone knows it too. Just the same as saying England play more test cricket because they win in it. Far from the point.

Look at the English team in the later nineties and early oughties they lost much more than they won. Plus I am sure as my name is Srinivas that even if England wins more tournaments in the limited-overs formats, they will not host or participate in meaningless triangular series which happen six times a year! Paul Collingwood has played ODI cricket for just about the same time as Yuvraj Singh but has 74 games less than Singh - and Colly has missed precious few tournaments. You cannot have that much of a gap being attributed to a team's winning and losing; and series are not scheduled knowing some team would lose. Then some teams would 'never' play some formats!

As for Boxing Day ODI or T20 - I personally cannot envisage that because Boxing Day is a tradition (just like Pongal tests at Chepauk!), not just a day. That was also why I referred to it! Test cricket is a tradition and if we wanted to do away with it, might as well not crown sir Donald Bradman as world's finest cricketer!

I am not sure if I put through my views clearly because this is becoming some kind of test versus one-day status debate!

Lastly, I am fixated with the point: where did I ever refer to revenue at all? I once again repeat, revenue is required but if that's all the game holds (I am not saying you say that but thinking aloud) - well we can create even flatter pitches because it gives batsmen like Sehwag chances to score 400 runs in a one-day innings (and the crowd will go bananas at that! :D), remove even the one-bouncer-per-over rule, take off LBW out of the equation, have no fielder outside the circle during the Power Play overs and do all that. Sorry to be so passionately overboard but the revenue argument is just one facet of the game, little else!

As regards viewership, my point is simple as stated in the post: there is less and less of it vis-a-vis T20 in particular and that has to do with the fact that a lot of ODI cricket being played (like the Asia Cup, now) is becoming abundantly and pointlessly meaningless in a number of ways!

Finally a Shane Bond stat: he played 18 tests in 8 years - that's about a test every 2 years. While his just 82 one-days in the time proves your point that NZ play less cricket (in general) as opposed to any other team, I do not think the Kiwis play just 2 tests per year. Anyway, I was wrong tho' - in Bond's case there is little ODI strain to recommend retirement. And btw, just came to know the guy is 35 - so one can understand the retirement :D - I was wondering if he was 32 or something. ;)