The future of international cricket has been an issue almost as long as the international game has existed. There have been many proclamations that Test cricket is doomed, that ODIs should be abandoned, that T20 (or even T10) is the Format of the Future. Even the existence of the ODI World Cup is being called into question.
With the emergence of franchise leagues, modelled on and to a degree fuelled by the IPL, threatening the traditional system of contests, cricket’s future has never been more uncertain. The ICC seems powerless to find a consistent, coherent way forward.
Most of this discussion focuses exclusively on the interests of one or more ICC Full Members, and much of it takes place in a vacuum of ignorance about the true state of the global game.
That’s why Emerging Cricket has decided to hold a virtual Round Table, bringing together a range of our experts and contributors to canvas a future in which all the world’s cricketing nations have the opportunity to maintain and develop the game in conditions which are fair to all.
Three days before the World Cup, incoming MCC president Mark Nicholas audaciously announced his arrival by declaring “We believe strongly that ODIs should be World Cups only.” Certainly this kind of talk raises hairs on the backs of many, including those of us who care about Associate Cricket. Reacting to an opinion from the MCC almost seems like giving power and attention to the gerontocracy that represents cricket’s protectionist and near-sighted history. Not reacting seems frustratingly more consequential.
The most powerful Full Members have fought tooth and nail against context at every turn. Good sport is meritocratic.
The fact that this World Cup in India has been fairly shambolic doesn’t help things. Reports from fans regarding problems with the ticket portal for opening games grays the matter. Are fans not showing up because they don’t care about the games? Or have the BCCI and ICC dropped the ball? Either way, this is embarrassing. Combine these things with ramped up apocalyptic rhetoric, and it suspiciously looks like manufactured consent to axe One Day International cricket. Cricket has a history of shooting itself in the foot. Sometimes that’s by accident, and sometimes it’s to make the other foot more attractive by comparison. Either way, this amounts to austerity from the Associate Member point of view. ODI is supposed to be the Associate pinnacle, after all. It’s been the carrot that the ICC has told Associates to pursue.
It was always inevitable that one format would be left behind while cricket looks to capture the dollars that match the professed popularity of the sport. I feel like the “solution” has to be flexible, because every format has its place by now. At the same time, we can’t afford to shoot the franchise cricket foot in an effort to make us shift weight to the international foot.
New frontiers don’t have the same robust systems and traditions that England, Australia and India have that sustains the game domestically. International cricket is nothing without a domestic foundation.
Sixty domestic Major League Cricket slots provide some security for players who aspire to play for USA Cricket, or who desire to simply be professionals, for example. Major League and Minor League Cricket in the USA are our domestic system. Finally, a cricketer can be a professional here. So it makes more sense in the USA to emphasize franchise cricket first, and international cricket second. My point is that if we look at “what’s best for cricket,” we need to change how we think about the “international vs franchise” cricket debate, and we need to change the “format vs format” debate too. Take away the fact that USA Cricket receives more funding from the ICC because they have ODI status, and it would make more sense for USA Cricket to focus on T20i instead of ODI. That might bring more harmony to our ecosystem and more bang for our buck, as we play more T20 cricket here in the USA than virtually anybody else in the world. Yet we’ve played only one T20i series that isn’t a World Cup Qualifier since 2019.
Read More: Why Mark Nicholas is absolutely wrong
The bigger issue, to me, is that each format needs regular context. The most powerful Full Members have fought tooth and nail against context at every turn. Good sport is meritocratic.
Why not have an international league for each format and let teams subscribe to the league/format that they want to for each cycle? If England don’t see value in ODI, let them only participate in Test and T20i. I know it’s more of an issue of a crowded calendar than it is that teams don’t want to play in a certain format, but we absolutely need leagues with context.
Too many ODI bilaterals? Ok, keep the league schedules relatively short. If you want to play more ODI bilaterals, go ahead, those are called friendlies now. I also liked some of Jarod Kimber’s suggestions for ways to change ODI to make it more unique and appealing; in particular, the suggestion to take away the over limit for bowlers.
Personally, I find the talk about the impending death of ODI cricket to be exaggerated, premature and grossly irresponsible. It is certainly true that interest in ODIs have waned for the casual cricket watcher; the format no longer attracts the large crowds that it once regularly did up until the early 2010’s. However, vested interests mean that the discourse around ODIs are being conducted in bad faith.
The recent comments by incoming MCC President Mark Nicholas as well as cricket podcaster and journalist Jarrod Kimber have been quite alarming in that context. Basically, Nicholas is in favour of scrapping ODIs completely outside of World Cups. Kimber on the other hand went one step further and called for the cancellation of all ODI and T20 bilaterals outside of world cup competitions.
When one considers that T20 is the ICC’s global growth vehicle and the only format where all associates have official status in, it makes Kimber’s comments particularly boneheaded. As one ICC press release from 2020 states, the decision by the governing body to award international status to all T20 matches has directly led to a 110% increase in Associate Member Women’s T20 matches. Furthermore, 49 men’s and 29 women’s teams played their very first T20 international with official status, meaning their stats actually counted for something. And those participation numbers have only grown since!
Even though the above facts are in the context of T20 cricket, the same facts are relevant for ODIs as well. The three tiered ODI World Cup qualification structure consisting of the Super League, Cricket World Cup League 2 and the Challenge League provided valuable opportunities for twenty Associate teams to play regular, competitive cricket in the last 3-4 year cycle. The results were evident in the World Cup qualifier earlier this year, where sides like Netherlands and Scotland impressed, beating established Full Members and in Netherland’s case shocking the world to qualify for the ten team ODI World Cup against all odds. It even caught the attention of ICC Chairman Greg Barclay who was forced to acknowledge that the exposure gained from playing top teams regularly in this structure made Associate teams more competitive.
But after all, the decision making power in cricket really lies with the Big 3 boards! And unsurprisingly they conspired to get rid of the Super League. Why bother playing against less commercially lucrative nations like Netherlands, Ireland, Zimbabwe and others when India, Australia and England can just schedule multiple 5 match ODI series against each other?
Sad how some influential people in #Cricket are determined to kill of ODIs without fully understanding the repercussions. And worse he refuses to acknowledge the existence of Super League which helped provide plenty of context for ODIs; ONLY for the BIG 3 to bin the concept. https://t.co/i66CF1cMW0
— Shounak (@Shounak_WA) October 2, 2023
This is exactly why Nicholas’ comments are particularly infuriating. The Super League provided a coherent structure, context and a narrative to meaningless bilaterals, but at no point did he acknowledge its existence nor did he mention any of the constant rule changes that have afflicted ODI cricket. Instead he attributed his doom and gloom musings about ODIs almost entirely to the “supernatural power of T20s.” To be fair, yes it is true that the advent of T20s and the proliferation of franchise T20 leagues which take up more and more space in an already congested cricket calendar have contributed to the devaluing and decline of ODI’s. But in reality, the situation is more complicated than that.
It should be noted that T20 Leagues do actually provide plenty of context and meaning to every game. Because every win or loss affects a team’s position on the points table and ultimately determines whether that team makes the playoffs or not. ODI cricket is desperately crying out for something similar and this is exactly why the axing of the Super League was a retrograde step. You can reduce the number of meaningless bilaterals by capping ODI series at three games maximum and actually making those games count for something important, like a pathway to World Cup qualification. Consider football’s Nations League and World Cup qualifiers, where everybody including previous World Cup winners have to play and win games to qualify for the main event. Unlike cricket, nobody gets an automatic entry on rankings!
In order to survive, ODIs must bring back the balance between the bat and the ball.
Then there’s the constant rule changes which have tilted the balance of the ODI game far too heavily in favour of the batters. While ICC have implemented a series of powerplay changes to ODIs since 2005, in my opinion the most damaging has been the introduction of two new balls from both ends in late 2011. As Indian spinner Ravi Ashwin observed in a 2022 interview, ODIs have become very formulaic and increasingly batter friendly. He advocates a return to the use of one ball per innings in ODI cricket, as was the case in the “golden age” of ODI popularity.
“I’m an absolute cricket badger, a nut, and I switch off the telly after a point of time, watching the one-day game. Those ebbs and flows, when they go missing, it’s not cricket anymore, it’s just an extended format of T20. I think one ball [per innings] is something that would work and even the spinners would come into play. You’d have a lot more spinners bowling at the back half of the game. They are bowling right now but you might see a little more slowing of the pitch or whatever it is, and the reverse-swing might come back into play which I think is very crucial for the game,” Ashwin said.
Sachin Tendulkar and Trent Boult have also made similar observations. I cannot agree more with the above three. In order to survive, ODIs must bring back the balance between the bat and the ball. Then there’s also the atrocious ten team World Cup format we have had for two successive editions; 2019 and now in 2023. Not only is the tournament elitist and exclusionary, its extended group stage format (teams play a total of nine league games) removes much of the jeopardy that makes tournament sport so exciting. While we do see a return to a 14 team event in 2027 with a Super Six stage, frankly the administrators could do much more to improve the tournament structure and format.
However, once again the need to have India play endless amounts of games before facing the risk of getting eliminated is likely to prevent the adoption of a common sense format. $$$ rules and broadcasters want that giant Indian TV audience tuning in to as many guaranteed games as possible. However, to ensure that ODIs don’t face a bleak future, urgent compromises and common sense decisions need to be urgently made by all stakeholders.
Continued on the next page