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ODIs – Reinvent or Retire?

Australia and South Africa are seen here contesting a one-day international, but will that become a rare occurance in the near future?

Too many cricket-related stories seem to start, “ah, back in 2005,” but I won’t apologise, a little tale I’m about to tell you stems from that vintage year. I was playing some darts (well, trying to) with a friend on an early summer afternoon, in a local pub. On the TV was some one-day cricket, England were facing Australia – I must confess that I don’t remember which exact match it was (which probably means that the Aussies were victorious) but as a series it got a lot of attention in the media and with the public. My friend, not exactly a cricket fan, said to me, “I usually prefer the one-day games, but when it’s the Ashes, it’s a bit like when England play a few friendlies in footy before the World Cup, isn’t it?”

It is a statement which has been coming back to me a fair bit over the past couple of weeks as England and Australia have played out some turgid one day internationals. Australia have been dominant without being the brilliant side of the past, but the main opinion resonating from within cricketing circles is that it was foolish scheduling to play the Tests first. Coming back to my friend’s analogy, imagine if the England football team went and played a couple of friendlies in the immediate aftermath of the World Cup. Nobody would give two hoots!

It is therefore tempting to think that all the calls for changes to the one-day game that we have heard in recent weeks are predominantly caused by questionable scheduling. But then I think back to the CB series in Australia in 2006-07. Although England won that series they were atrocious for the majority of it and there was no such apparent backlash against the one-day game, even though it had immediately followed an Ashes series and was longer than the one currently taking place in England.

So what has changed in this time? Well the first thing is very obvious; although Twenty20 was around back in early 2007, we were yet to see the first World Championship and the IPL did not exist. It was gathering momentum but was still a junior format that the cricketing world hadn’t fully decided whether or not to adopt. A couple of months later, one of the best one-day sides of all-time (Australia, in case you hadn’t figured that out) won the Cricket World Cup in the West Indies, a tournament which may in future years be regarded as synonymous with the decline of the fifty over game. Yes, Australia played some of the most fantastic cricket we have ever seen in the format in that tournament, but the criticisms of it have been covered extensively in the cricketing press; it was too long, it was poorly staged, the crowds didn’t care, I could go on, but you’ve read it all before. And yes, this tournament has been followed by two successful Twenty20 tournaments. In these, the cricket had people interested and the competitions were concise; short enough for the audience to want more.

In between the Twenty20 tournaments held in South Africa in 2007 and England earlier this year, there was supposed to be a Champions Trophy staged in Pakistan last October. It certainly has its critics, but when staged in India in 2006 it was widely regarded as a success; a similarly interesting competition last autumn might have reminded cricket fans why they once loved one-day cricket. Alas, the sad situation in Pakistan meant that it couldn’t be played, and so we had two successive Twenty20 tournaments with no chance for the fifty over game to take centre stage.

Domestically, one-day cricket continues to be played, although not necessarily over fifty overs. 2010 will see forty over cricket played as the sole List A format in England, whilst South Africa play 45 overs in their domestic competition. One suggestion that has been gathering a little bit of momentum is that, after the 2015 World Cup, the international game should follow suit and shave five or ten overs off per innings; in short, make one-day internationals a little bit more like Twenty20.

What is the point, though, you have to ask? The main problem one-day cricket seems to have is that it finds itself stuck in a chasm between the traditional long-game, and the hip and happening world of Twenty20. One-day cricket takes what your average viewer would find to be the worst aspects of either game, and combines them. The middle overs of a one-day international are much maligned because of the way the field is set back and the scoring contained. Of course, we occasionally get periods that are just as dull in Test cricket, like the scorefests between India and Pakistan in early 2006, or if you want a more recent example, the final session at Edgbaston in the Ashes when the game was clearly gone and Ravi Bopara bowled at Michael Clarke and Marcus North. Any sport, however much its fans love it, will have uninteresting moments and games, but one-day internationals seem to have fifteen overs in each innings that people who otherwise call themselves cricket tragics dread. It is why some are keen to suggest shortening the format, because by shortening the format you reduce the dead overs.

One can’t help but think, however, that if there is a problem you shouldn’t just think, “let’s make it shorter and then it’ll be boring for less time.” Why not eliminate the reason why such periods exist altogether? The slips are generally available as a scoring area in Twenty20, but batsmen are less keen to take such options than in the fifty over game because they have less time to score their runs and therefore won’t settle for an easy two behind the wicket on the offside. Cricket fans decry the lack of balance between bat and ball in all formats of the game so why not change the amount of time that fielding restrictions are in place for a one-day game? Why not have fielding restrictions in place the whole time? We would see better bowling and cricket that requires a little bit more thought from the batsmen, cricket that could potentially be more exciting. Run rates might well go up, but it is likely that so would the figure in the wicket column.

Of course, reducing the length of one-day games isn’t the only suggestion being thrown about. Another is to split the innings; have each side bat twice but split their fifty overs into two lots of 25 – but if you are out in the first innings, you don’t come out and start again in the second. It is perhaps not the worst idea in the world, but would it really be successful? One of the purposes of limited overs cricket should be that it appeals to the general public in a way which Test cricket cannot. Cricket is already a game which the average viewer finds complex, and having batsmen stop their innings to let the other team have a go, before starting again later would likely seem somewhat questionable to somebody flicking through their sports channels of an evening.

There is also a minority that would like to see one-day internationals increased in length. In these days of slow over rates it is quite something that we manage to see 100 overs on a regular basis, so upping this by ten or twenty would be incredibly difficult, and grounds would likely need lights to stage such a game. Even if we ignore the logistical problems, though, I have to ask, what is the point? If moving to forty overs is pointless because it is just making the game more like Twenty20, then isn’t making the game longer just trying to be more like Test cricket?

Therein, for me, lies one-day cricket’s problem. It co-existed with the Test game for thirty years because cricket could support two formats, but it now increasingly finds itself fighting for something that isn’t really there. Those who want to see batsmen build an innings and bowlers try and out-think them will instinctively turn to the Test game, not the one-day game. Those who want to watch batsmen hitting sixes and bowlers bowling all sorts of yorkers and variations will tune in to Twenty20. Of course, one-day cricket still has its fans but it sits in an awkward halfway house. Purists will always prefer Tests and the public will lean towards the brash world of Twenty20. One-day cricket can reinvent itself until the cows come home but I imagine it will all be in vein.


I think your last paragraph is the crux of it tbh. As I’ve said before, I really enjoy one-day cricket – particularly in terms of watching a game live at the ground – because you get to see a game from start to finish, but it’s a proper full day out unlike the T20. But I don’t see how time constraints are going to allow everything to fit in.

Probably, tbh, it will depend on the 2011 WC and how one day games continue to be received in India. Because at the moment one day cricket in India makes and absolute fortune so I can’t see them giving it up.

Comment by four_or_six | 12:00am BST 17 September 2009

1. More bowler friendly wickets
2. Larger boundries
3. Do it with the red ball

This will make ODIs more competitive, and will feed Test matches with quality batsmen with extra skills

Comment by Migara | 12:00am BST 17 September 2009

^If you have a red ball you cant have Day nighters

TBH I don’t see what England losing 5-nil to Aussie has to do with ODI cricket dying, just sounds like grumpy English to me, if England were winning we’d probably be hearing about the resurgance of ODI cricket:laugh:

Comment by NZ Guy | 12:00am BST 17 September 2009

Graeme Smith recently talked about how too many meaningless tours are being played nowadays, and AFAIC its one of the reasons behind the decline of interest in ODI and test cricket.

To start with there are only 10 international cricket playing nations, and not all of them are highly competitive, so the problem is when all these nations keep playing against each other again and again, it generally results in most of the series in general ending up as one sided affairs, and that causes people to lose interest in these competitions

Therefore, the emphasis should definitely be on quality rather than quantity, unless that’s not done, no matter what formula or gimmicks one applies to revive the test or ODI format, nothing is really gonna work, I also think teams should stop playing in dead rubbers, therefore no more games should be played, once the fate of the series is sealed.

Comment by pup11 | 12:00am BST 17 September 2009

Not really, all this current Eng vs. Aus series indicates to me is how utterly inept England are at limited overs cricket, albeit without key players KP & AF.

I’m not sure if the article was written by an English Journalist or not, but if so, it certainly smacks of the old …..”we’re so inept at this one-day caper, let’s suggest the game is dying” tactic

Comment by zinzan12 | 12:00am BST 17 September 2009

let it be quality or quantity, SL will not get enough test matches even if they claim #1 spot.

Comment by Migara | 12:00am BST 17 September 2009

Well I’ve championed Twenty20 in the article and I think we’re probably even worse at that than we are at one-day cricket. It’s more based off how poorly the games have been received, and the fact that there was apathy for the series before it began.

Comment by Martyn | 12:00am BST 17 September 2009

Leave it as it is!

There is nothing wrong with it. A few tweaks might be needed, but the whole format is good.

Comment by Jakester1288 | 12:00am BST 17 September 2009

1. More bowler friendly wickets
2. Larger boundries
3. Do it with the red ball

1. Agree entirely – and the same goes for Tests too

2. Agree that this is worthwhile, although I don’t think this is critical to the boredom factor in any form of the game

3. Disagree – white ball is essential to day/night cricket and I don’t think the colour of the ball should matter any more in ODI cricket than it does in, say, football

Comment by zaremba | 12:00am BST 17 September 2009

It’s not so much the colour as the fact that the two balls behave so differently. It’s a bit of a joke that they use a ball that has to be replaced after 34 overs just as Brett Lee is unleashing a fantastic spell of reverse swing. The new white ball’s nothing but gun-barrel straight this year too.

Comment by Uppercut | 12:00am BST 17 September 2009

Just got reading this there now.

There’s an element of rearranging deckchairs to the proposed changes no doubt, but it’s an interesting one. Everyone knows there’s something horribly wrong with what’s happening on the field but it’s still easily the biggest money-spinner of the three forms of international cricket at the moment. If there’s no economic reason to make changes to it because it’s still making money and no social reason because people are still flocking to the grounds, I don’t think they’ll dramatically alter the game just for cricketing reasons. I suspect it has a long time to run yet. Especially if India keep being so good at it.

Comment by Uppercut | 12:00am BST 17 September 2009

I still do really enjoy 50-over ODI matches, and would be disappointed to see them disappear from the international game. If the administrative powers in the game weren’t so keen on just pumping out as many ODI’s as possible, and reduced the number of series, as well as the series length, the format still has a long-term role in the game (all IMO of course).

Comment by Clapo | 12:00am BST 17 September 2009

i think there is a fair case to revoke England’s ODI status at the moment

Comment by superkingdave | 12:00am BST 18 September 2009

Just find ODIs so meaningless and boring, would be more than happy with just 1 or 2 international T20s before a Test series and leave it there.

Would like to keep them in domestic cricket, however.

Comment by PhoenixFire | 12:00am BST 18 September 2009

There is nothing wrong with ODI’s, I don’t know where all this “get rid of ODI’s” talk has come from.

Though, there should never be 7 match ODI series, talk about overkill. Especially involving probably the most rubbish limited overs side in the world against one of the best. There was only ever going to be one outcome.

Comment by Polo23 | 12:00am BST 18 September 2009

IMO, number of ODIs in any particular series should be restricted based on difference in ranking. Say, 5 match series maximum if the teams are no more than 2 ranks apart, 3 match series if the teams are more than 2 ranks apart.

Comment by G.I.Joe | 12:00am BST 18 September 2009

I like all the 3 formats …. The better way to go abt would be to find a way to balance so that we don’t get more of one format and less of other

Comment by ret | 12:00am BST 18 September 2009

Good article Martyn, enjoyed.

I believe there is room for all three formats, and that 50 over cricket should continue, but I must agree that the current series between England and Australia is far too long and simply to squeeze as much money as possible from the paying public. Unfortunatey like so much of the scheduling these decisions are made with money in mind, followed by what would be best from a cricketing perspective ? Almost an after thought.

As Martyn said in the article, one of the problems with 50 over cricket currently are the ‘safety’ passages of play in the middle of the innings. The fielding side are content to protect the boundaries while the batting side are happy to milk the bowlers, generally bowlers the captain is using to get rid of a few overs, keep the wickets in the shed for the onslaught later when they enter the batting powerplay and the dying overs.

Now I think a change in tactics could indeed liven this format up, but it’s a case of is any captain brave enough to try it. Why not continue to try and take wickets during this period, we know how valuable this is in containing a side, a flurry of wickets will restrict much better than any defensive field. Keep the catchers in, don’t banish them to the boundary edge! Force the batting side to try and hit through, or over the top, take a chance and back your bowlers. I’m not suggesting over attacking and a consequential leak of boundaries being inevitable, just challenge the batsmen.

Yes it would help if the pitch offered the bowlers something, and larger boundaries meant the fielding side could attack a little more.

As for the batting side, and I’ve seen it plenty of times with England, this safe style through this problem middle period, working the ball around, picking up 3 or 4 an over. Get some power players in, yes the singles and two’s are important, but boundaries make a good score into a big one. Don’t leave it till the last few overs when the best bowlers are back on. Don’t milk the fourth and fifth bowlers, try and dominate them, give the opposition skipper a real headache.

Now I’m not saying all nations have this automatic, robotic, system of playing, but I hope some sides are brave enough to break the mold, entertain, that’s what 50 over cricket is about.

As I alluded to earlier, the scheduling does very little to help, but that’s another debate for another day.

Comment by Woodster | 12:00am BST 18 September 2009

I’m definitely for 50-over cricket to T20.

The more cricket the better for me. In T20 its not the best cricketers that come out on top every single time. Also some wickets that bowlers get aren’t deserved and the same that some bowlers don’t deserve to go to the boundary for some deliveries.

I am sure the 50-over game can be tinkered with but I guess I appreciate cricketers skill levels. Like for instance in the middle overs I appreciate the batsmen who keep the board ticking with clever singles and so on.

Comment by SeamUp | 12:00am BST 19 September 2009

Get rid of it, it is a waste of time.

Comment by chaminda_00 | 12:00am BST 20 September 2009

The real problem out there with ODIs is the presence of all these billboard tournaments. Some of them run seven matches long. Some don’t come attached with a Test series. Some others still are sponsored by has-been, unknown or new corporate brands. They don’t do the game any good, and only help these sponsors.

For instance, after the inaugural IPL, there was this nonsense called the Kitply Cup. Kitply is a fading Indian brand of plywood which is struggling to retain brand recall. The matches were played in Bangladesh, and it was a single-round triangular featuring the hosts, India and Pakistan. Then, the next year, we had a six-match ODI series between India and SL, which was run by the BCCI, and when the series started, we found that the series was a launch initiative for some insurance scheme. Neither series was a part of a proper tour. Then we have tournaments in Kuala Lumpur, Toronto, Holland and a whole lot of neutral venues so as to ‘promote’ the game. The quality of cricket, in all these events, is no good whatsoever, and makes the IPL look serious. The teams that figure most often are from the subcontinent, who suffer burnout a lot more than the rest of the world.

In such a case, the respective boards need to send in weakened teams so that youngsters get some exposure, and senior players are conserved for proper tours, the Champions’ Trophy and the World Cup. Cricket gains nothing out of these useless tournaments, and the message needs to be sent out.

Comment by Arjun | 12:00am BST 21 September 2009

T20. I’ve never been able to get into it. By winning new fans, they’re prepared to really annoy their old fans?

Whatever the result I’m never really that bothered. A T20 matches that they play prior to a series commencing are like warm up games. Batsmen and bowlers probably couldn’t give a hoot about their averages. Averages being a key component of cricket.

Comment by nibbs | 12:00am BST 21 September 2009

The Eng v SRI game today is perfect reason why ODIs must & should remain. The intial overs for both ENG & SRI innings was very test match like & techniques of batsmen where really tested.

For countries who have the poor domestic structures such circumstances may be the ONLY time a player from like NZ, SRI, PAK might get a chance to tested by international quality bowling in bowler friendly conditions.

So if we just have T20s as the alternative format to tests cricket, those nations who tend to depend on ODI form to pick players for test matches – will be in worst of position if they have to judge from T20s.

Comment by aussie | 12:00am BST 25 September 2009

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