The ODI World Cup ended on Sunday with Australia doing what they do. India were on the other end of the result. The stadium had over 92,000 people and over five-crore had tuned in on digital streaming at one point. To say the country wasn’t hooked would be an understatement. The six-week tournament witnessed some gripping matches, but maybe not enough. Afghanistan captivated everyone’s imagination despite their meagre means. New Zealand and South Africa played some incredible cricket to get to the semi-finals. Records were set for stadium attendance and digital broadcast viewership. Yet, one can’t help but feel – where now for ODI cricket?
The tournament started with question marks over its future and it persisted with dull contests for the most part of the 10-team tournament. The format didn’t quite help matters either. One could argue that the current format is rigged to favour the big teams. Even if the smaller teams pull off a couple of surprise wins, as Afghanistan did, there is stiff chance of them going forward. The 48 matches are divided into 45 league matches and just three knockout matches. If the objective is to draw continued eyeballs, the aim should be to have plenty of matches with something riding on them. Surely it is a concept ICC is aware of when they introduced the World Test Championship cycle with a final at the end of it.
Netherlands beat South Africa and it didn’t cause quite a stir. Australia lost two matches at the start of the tournament, New Zealand went down in four straight games and yet went through. All that changed, in the end, was the order of their progression towards the semi-finals.
By comparison, FIFA World Cup last year in Qatar had three group stage matches followed by knockouts. One could argue against that format too and football is guilty of overdoing it with number of teams. But if there was an Argentina recovering from a Saudi Arabia defeat to end their trophy drought. There was the also the monumental high of Morocco and Japan outperforming the likes of Belgium and Germany.
Stepping away from the format issue, the 50-over format does find the perfect balance between Tests and T20s. Supporters of Test cricket argue it offers strategic cricket and ‘real test’ of a cricketer over the course of five days. A test of mind and physical. T20, in comparison, offers a smash-and-grab opportunity with a quick result. ODI is the one sits in between. There is enough time for a team to make a comeback while offering the inevitability of an outcome in a single day.
T20 does produce its share of drama and magic while filling up the coffers of national boards, as is evident with the continued rise of the Indian Premier League and birth of numerous T20 competitions across the planet. But it is rarely able to offer them on a regular basis and is unable to produce clashes that remain etched in memory.
The ability to stage an epic comeback was most evident in Australia’s thrilling win over Afghanistan. On the brink of defeat, Australia were reduced to 91/7 with a massive 292 runs to get. On came Glenn Maxwell to score an incredible double century to secure a three-wicket win.
Pat Cummins, who was stationed at the other end of Maxwell’s smashing knock at Mumbai’s Wankhede Stadium, admitted to having mixed emotions after leading Australia to a record-extending sixth World Cup title.
“It’s hard to say. Maybe because we won, but I did fall in love with ODI again this World Cup,” said fast bowler Cummins, who took a superb 2-34 from his maximum 10 overs as Australia held India to a modest total of 240 all out.
The scenario of needing a comeback played out once again in the final but not as dramatically. Travis Head scored 137 runs from 120 balls from a point when Australia were 47/3 and had lost the top three batters rather meekly.
“I think the scenario where every game really matters, it does make it a bit different to just a bilateral (ODI),” said Cummins.
Australia have a rich history at the World Cup winning six in ODI format and one in T20s. It all began with a run to the final in 1975 where they lost to West Indies. The first trophy arrived in 1987 and more have come in 1999, 2003, 2007 and 2015. “The World Cup’s got such rich history, I’m sure it’s going to be around for a long time,” said the 30-year-old Cummins. “There’s so many wonderful games, so many wonderful stories within this last couple of months. So, I think there’s definitely a place (for it).”
But there’s still time between now and the next edition in South Africa in 2027. A regime change could play a part too with incoming MCC president Mark Nicholas calling for all ODIs between World Cups to be scrapped.
“We believe strongly that ODIs should be World Cups only,” he told ESPNcricinfo.
“They’re not filling grounds in a lot of countries. And there is a power at the moment to T20 cricket that is almost supernatural.”
He added: “In a free market, the most money wins.”
If things do go the way he suggests — without bilateral ODIs between tournaments such as World Cup and Champions Trophy — how will those teams maintain their standard or become even better at 50-over cricket? Additionally, it takes away the lure to play 50-over cricket for the Associate teams. With the sport making it to the Olympics in the shortest format, the move towards a more T20 friendly calendar, including the leagues, appears inevitable.