We cricket pundits are a funny beast. We like to sook and cry about the smallest things.
‘Flat pitches are killing cricket’
‘The DRS isn’t accurate’
‘The IPL is bad for Test cricket’
However, my personal favourite is that ‘ODI cricket is dead.’
Since the dramatic onslaught of T20, those with an opinion on the game have jumped on a specific bandwagon. The one that is heading to All Three Forms Of The Game Can’t Co-ExistVille.
The rationale is that Test cricket is for the purists and T20 is for the current generation. ODIs, using a classical marketing term, are ‘stuck in the middle’. Neither one nor the other. It has no unique selling proposition. It is cricket’s equivalent of elevator music.
Yet, the recent World Cup in Australia gave us glimpses of what the game could be. Although most games were lopsided, moments of joy and intrigue still appeared.
The World Cup taught us that 350 or even 400 is the new black. The days of putting up 260+ are gone. The game is now more productive. More efficient. It is like a Japanese six sigma factory – it continues to improve.
Even England, in ‘New Era version 355*’ are managing to compete with the big boys. Yes, even England.
The marvellous Richie Benaud taught the theory that a team should aim to double its score after 30 overs. That figure has now drifted out to 33, 34 or even 35 overs now. Batsmen are brutal. Bowlers are fish in a barrel.
The crowds are back. TV audiences are back. Kerry Packer is smiling from the heavens. ODI cricket has rediscovered its mojo.
T20 is clearly the instigator of this resurgence. Its peculiarities have ensured that batsmen are not afraid to hit out or lose their wicket.
The current ODI rules are heavily stacked in the favour of the batsmen. 20 overs of powerplay per innings means plenty of gaps in the outfield. Players can hit lofted shots without fear.
Two new balls, while giving the bowling team a better chance to breakthrough early, also ensures that runs flow easier. The ball retains its hardness and shape. At the end of the innings, it is still only 25 overs old.
The ODI format can get even better.
Shane Warne has suggested removing all fielding restrictions, powerplays and bowler over quotas. This puts the strategy of attack and defence clearly in the hands of the captains.
It makes sense.
To balance out the run making, bowlers need to believe that that can still attack and have a chance to take wickets. No matter what the format of the game, wickets win matches.
For all the good in the recent ODI renaissance, the boring middle overs still remain. Batsmen just hit harder at the end of the innings. Instead of 6 runs an over, they aim for 10 or 12. Removing fielding restrictions should help end that. The bowling captain will have options. He can change the game just like in Test cricket.
At the moment he is limited. The boring middle overs are therefore hard coded into the ODI DNA. This is a major problem.
However, there are other risks with this resurgence of the One Day game.
Under the current system, ODIs allow a non Test-playing nation to aim for something. Four of them qualified for the World Cup. Many others tried and failed. However, the fact that they tried at all logically ensures that the ODI format has a strategic place in the sport.
But can Afghanistan or The Netherlands seriously dream of competing against a team like England who has just hit four consecutive scores of 300+ against World Cup runners up New Zealand? If they can’t, why bother investing resources into chasing ODI status? The ICC don’t even want them at the next World Cup. Is it not better to develop a T20 team and allow your players to chase an IPL or Big Bash dream?
Perhaps ODI cricket, through its re-found place in the the minds of fans, is actually on a faster path to oblivion? Perhaps, rather than differentiating itself from Test and T20 formats, it is actually morphing into a longer, more boring version of the twenty over game?
Maybe it is the cricketing equivalent of a dying star. It will suddenly shine brightly, before rapidly shrinking and exploding, leaving behind it a black hole of emptiness. Its greatness only known by those old timers who were around to see it in its heyday.
ODI cricket no longer produces the heroes that Test cricket forgot: Simon O’Donnell, Michael Bevan, Clint McKay and Jonty Rhodes.
Instead, that role has been assumed by T20. ODI cricket still tries to, but these heroes don’t last long.
Chris Gayle is now T20s mistress. Mitchell Starc and David Warner now belong to Test cricket. Perhaps only AB de Villiers has managed to straddle multiple duties. But there has never before been a bloke like AB de Villiers.
ODI cricket is back. ODI cricket is sexy again.
But how long can it last?