Back in 2009, India’s batting master, Sachin Tendulkar, sensed One-Day International (ODI) matches - which ensured the financial growth and popularity of the game for almost five decades - were beginning to lose importance.
A prescient Tendulkar argued ODIs had become too predictable, with the first and last ten overs being the only tantalising hook for most spectators.
The match in between, especially the middle overs when field restrictions are relaxed, hung in limbo, failing to engage neither fans nor players.
Fast forward to 2022, the future of ODI cricket came into question again after South Africa canceled their ODI tour to Australia to make way for a domestic T20 league.
The cricketing world hadn’t yet recovered from the aftershock of Cricket South Africa’s decision and its implications on the game, when England Test captain Ben Stokes jolted the cricket fraternity again with his sudden retirement from the 50-over format.
Arguably the world’s premier all-rounder currently, and the man behind England’s maiden World Cup win in 2019, Stokes said playing three formats had become "unsustainable" for him.
These developments left experts and critics searching for answers and triggered a debate on the sustainability of the 50-over format.
What do cricketers think?
Interestingly, many cricketers rallied against ODIs.
Speaking at a podcast hosted by former England players Michael Vaughan and Phil Tufnell, Pakistan’s all-time bowling great, Wasim Akram, supported Stokes’ decision, and agreed that “ODIs had become a drag.”
The former Pakistan captain believed that three formats of international cricket are "unsustainable" and that 50-over one-dayers might have to be scrapped as they no longer draw crowds to stadiums around the world.
Before him, Indian spin wizard, Ravichandran Ashwin questioned the relevance of the format in the game, going so far as to say that he would switch off the TV during a match.
“It’s a question of relevance, and I think ODI cricket needs to find its relevance. It needs to find its spot,” Ashwin, who himself has 151 wickets in 113 ODIs, said on the ‘Vaughany and Tuffers Cricket club podcast’.
So, are these concerns over the future of ODIs legit? The ICC doesn’t think so.
In a recent statement, the cricket’s governing body played down threats to the game’s 50-over format, saying that a “healthy” number of one-day internationals will be played in the 2023-27 cycle.
ICC chief executive Geoff Allardice said structuring of the game’s three formats was discussed at the governing body’s annual general meeting in Birmingham where the Future Tours Programme (FTP) 2023-27 was finalised.
“I think at this stage there is some discussion, not specifically about ODIs, but about the mix of formats within the calendar,” Allardice said in a video conference.
Contrary to Geoff’s claims, the fact is that ODIs have been under pressure for almost two decades.
The rise of T20 cricket, especially leagues sprouting all over the world has reduced the appeal of ODIs, which could slide further in the years to come. T20s have a greater fan following and are far more lucrative. For players to choose between the two white-ball formats becomes a no-brainer.
The increasing popularity of the T20 format has impacted the number of ODI games played every year. Given below is a comparison of how many Test, ODI, and T20 international matches have been played over the last ten years.
The statistics say it all. Between January 2017 and December 2021, over 800 T20I matches were played, as opposed to just over 500 ODI matches. Whereas, from 2012 to 2016, the number of ODIs, 879 was much higher than the number of T20s, 357. The figures clearly show that the ICC has begun to favour T20s over ODIs.
The number of games in the Test format, however, remained constant.
The way forward
The ICC will always support Test cricket it’s the traditional format.
However, one-day and Twenty20 formats require cricket's highest regulating body to make a sensible decision.
The one-day format was primarily designed to increase the game's popularity. The success of ODI cricket over the past 50 years demonstrates that the mission was achieved. However, the audience’s taste has evolved lately as more people now want entertainment that is more condensed and less time-consuming.
From both a commercial and popular perspective, T20 cricket should be the ICC's preferred brand.
The one-day format has begun to lose its appeal since the introduction of T20, and in the future, this trend is likely to continue. Additionally, it's challenging for players to remain consistent and fit for all formats.
Hence, in order to keep the format relevant for the audience as well as players, the cricket’s governing body should take Tendulkar’s advice and reduce the game to 25-over a side, or split it into a four-innings match, as previously suggested by Tony Greig.
Pakistan’s star all-rounder Shahid Afridi’s suggestion to reduce the game to 40 overs is another option on the table.
Now, the ball is in ICC’s court.
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