Owing to the plummeting TRPs and tepid crowd turning up at stadiums to watch stretched out ODI games that take anywhere between 8-10 hours to finish, Cricket Australia chief executive Nick Hockley on Wednesday dropped a proposal in front of the cricketing world to ignite the passion for the second-longest format of the game. Hockley suggested that Australia is open to hosting a tri-series involving India and Pakistan, stating that matches between the two teams are something that “everyone wants to see in world cricket”.
Hockley said, “Personally, I really like the tri-series concept. It’s worked well in the past. We’d be very open to hosting … matches. There are really big communities of both India and Pakistan living in Australia. It’s a contest that everyone wants to see in world cricket and if we can help support further opportunities we would love to do that.”
ODI cricket’s dying popularity
While India playing a series outside any ICC tournament is highly unlikely and the proposal is doomed to fail, the proposal shows how desperate the cricket boards across the spectrum have become at the moment. The 50-over format — once the crown jewel of the sport has seen a steady decline in its popularity over the years.
ODI cricket generally lacks in importance, barring the World Cup where it is still the pinnacle of the sport. It’s not to say that players do not take it seriously but there is not enough at stake for the players to be motivated.
— Aakash Chopra (@cricketaakash) September 1, 2017
A certain Virat Kohli or Rohit Sharma is not going to lose his sleep for losing, say, a Paytm trophy or a Pan Masala Khaini Khaini Cup. Chances are, both the stalwarts of Indian cricket will still be ruing the chance of not winning the Test series in South Africa, despite going one up in the first match itself. Virat Kohli has single-handedly made Test Cricket, the Holy Grail for cricketers across the planet. However, the same cannot be said about ODIs.
T20 international and its sister – the franchise cricket has eroded the share of 50 over format. The first T20I was played in 2004 between England and New Zealand women’s teams, with the latter winning the historic match by nine runs.
The tipping point
However, the tipping point for ODIs came in 2006 when Australia squared up against South Africa in the Pretorian backyard. It was the 5th match of the series at the iconic Bullring in Johannesburg.
Batting first, Australia piled up a mammoth 434 runs on the board – the first 400 plus total in the format. Ricky Ponting led the line with an innings of cultured slogging that realized 164 runs of the highest class from just 105 balls. Useful contributions from Michael Hussey, Simon Katich, and Adam Gilchrist ensured that visitors posted the daunting total.
At the halfway stage it looked like a game comfortably in the bag of the Australians. However, the South Africans plans who were reeling after busting a 2-0 lead in the series and staring at a 3-2 defeat, had other plans.
Skipper Graeme Smith ambled out with his partner Boeta Dippenaar for the chase, with determination to at least give the Australians some competition. While Dippenaar departed without contributing much to the team’s cause, it was a blessing in disguise as Smith was joined by a destructing Herschelle Gibbs.
Together, the pair launched South Africa’s response with a scathing stand of 187 from 121 balls, to send the first frissons of anxiety through the Australian dressing-room. Smith made 90 from just 55 balls, overshadowing Ponting’s blitzkrieg.
Even after his departure, South Africa kept pegging back as Gibbs turned the beast mode on and imploded. The swashbuckling right-hander smashed a mighty 175-run knock and brought his team closer to the victory shores. He departed with the team still needing 136 runs.
However, the South African lower order held its nerves as Mark Boucher and Makhaya Ntini in the last over pinched 7 runs off Binga and ensured that one of the greatest games in ODI history had its grandstand finish, it so richly deserved.
Bullring changed the ODI format
The pyrotechnics at Bullring showed that the future of cricket lay in slam-bang cricket. The spectators enjoyed the thrill of sixes and fours being pumped with routine frequency. Previously, ODIs used to be a slow burn with the action only coming at the fag end of the innings.
However, it wasn’t possible to have games that produced a 400-run fest every single series. The bullring was a statistical aberration that has rarely happened ever since. The only close contest that came to rival the epic at Johannesburg was the 2009 ODI between Sri Lanka and India at Rajkot. The visitors nearly chalked out the deficit of 415 runs but eventually fell short by three runs.
T20s became the staple diet of cricket enthusiasts and families
Thus, the onus shifted towards the T20s. The acceptance of T20s was only accelerated after India crashed out of the 50 over WC, won the T20 WC and a certain Lalit Modi birthed the IPL. The innovation, uncertainty, and intensity that one sees in T20s have made viewing so much more interesting and absorbing.
The simple slam-bang cricket has made it easier for every age group of watchers and therefore, it has filtered into becoming a family sport to sit together and enjoy. It’s a 3–4-hour extravaganza that brings families to the grounds and it all came to fruition on that eventful evening at Bullring.
It is poetic in a haunting sense that one of the best advertisements for ODI cricket also led to its decline. Perhaps, the 50-over format peaked that day and since then, it has been trying to emulate the same high, only faltering with long periods of mediocrity and boring cricket in between.