By Narayanan Subrahmanian
Cricket is a unique game in many ways. What makes it all the more trickier for a newcomer to understand the whole game is the simultaneous existence of three formats of the game: the traditional, the much revered and the most classical form, Test cricket, played over five gruelling days with two innings per side; the one-day game, with only one innings of 50 overs per side; and then the newest baby on board, the Twenty20, or T20 as it is called more fashionably.
One-Day Internationals (ODIs) have been around from 1971, but they have been questioned for their relevance for a long time now. With the advent of T20 leagues around the world and the crowded calendar, nowadays it’s the 50-over format that is under the scanner. The administrators have also been not helping the case with the scheduling and the constant tinkering of rules in ODI cricket. In the last decade itself, ODI cricket has gone through a handful of rule changes designed to make the game more interesting for the spectators and to sustain the format in an environment where T20 cricket is attracting more eyeballs.
From its very inception, one-day cricket has been seen as a format to try out new things and experiment with. When they first began in 1971, ODIs comprised 60 overs to be bowled by a side, with each bowler allotted a quota of maximum 12 overs. Subsequently, considering time constraints, the International Cricket Council (ICC) experimented with a quota of 55 overs and, then, later 50. The first three World Cups 1975, 1979 and 1983 were played in the 60-over format.
In the 1983 World Cup itself, the field restriction rules emerged. The 30-yard circle was introduced to cricket. Back then, the rule was that a minimum of four fielders must always be inside the 30-yard circle. But the biggest game-changer was the rule allowing not more than two fielders outside the inner circle for the first 15 overs of an ODI innings, implemented from 1992. Hard-hitting opening batsmen became a norm and batsmen who could score quickly by going over the top initially started to win matches for their teams.
In 2005, the ICC introduced two new major additions to the ODI playing rules, the Powerplays and the Supersub. The Supersub rule allowed teams to replace a player in the playing eleven with a substitute at any stage of the match. But the problem with it was that the rule heavily favoured the team winning the toss as they could take a decision best suiting to make full use of their Supersub. This rule was withdrawn within a season but they persisted with the Powerplay rules. Powerplays are basically an extension of the field restriction rules. More overs with field restrictions were introduced, allowing teams to choose blocks of Powerplay overs. This rule has gone through a cycle of frequent facelifts over the years. With each such revision, teams have been asked to constantly reassess their game plans in ODI matches.
A lot has been tinkered with the number of bouncers that are allowed in an over. Now it is fixed at two bouncers per over. Another major change has been the use of two new balls from each end to start an ODI innings. But still the question remains despite all these wholesome changes. Has all this tinkering made the ODI game any better as a spectacle? One has to doubt that. The reality is that ODIs are a massive revenue-generating tool for cricket boards through TV rights and as a result so many pointless matches are being played across the globe. When nothing is at stake, teams do tend to field weaker teams on the park and that doesn’t bode well for the health of the format.
That leads to the other bruising issue — the scheduling. The administrators could try to give some context to ODI matches by giving a proper thought to scheduling. The marquee series this season has been the Ashes. In both England and Australia, Test matches are still well received and they attract crowds who would flock to the grounds. The media coverage surrounding the Ashes Test matches is also surreal. So, it was not really surprising that the ODI matches that followed the Test matches failed to grab the public’s attention.
A straightforward solution to this is to schedule the ODI matches before the Test matches in a tour. What many people call as the greatest Test series of all time was the 2005 Ashes. That series was preceded by a highly entertaining ODI triangular tournament involving England, Australia and Bangladesh. For a big Test series, the ODIs could act as a build up that could help the players get into the groove and the fans could get into the mood of the series.
In a column published on ESPNcricinfo, Samir Chopra puts forward a slightly more innovative way to take forward ODI cricket. In this, he ponders over a qualification system for World Cup of cricket. He suggests each and every ODI match should practically act as a qualification match for the big event with points to be won and lost.
One-day cricket has given us some memorable moments and heroes. It still has its relevance in this ever-changing world of cricket. After all, the 50-over World Cup still remains the biggest tournament in the game. So it is up to the decision-makers in the game to make sure that the ODIs rediscover the lost mojo by showing some intelligence and commitment to improve the quality of the game.
(Narayanan Subrahmanian is a software engineer by profession. A boy from the 90s who has grown up watching a lot of cricket. Someone who gets nostalgic about even those dull draws from the past. Someone who is most at home when thinking and talking cricket. Someone who believes cricket is best enjoyed from the ground. Was once considered as a batting maestro by children of age 5, but later found out among the really good ones)