When Kerry Packer decided to revolutionize cricket with the then shortest format of of the game, the 50-over format seemed set to stay. Coloured uniforms, matches at night, multiple camera angles and on-screen graphics— the white ball cricket had modernized the ‘gentlemen’s game’.
The world had less time, and an answer had been found to help cricket retain it’s audience.The initial West Indian dominance, the Indian fairytale, the rise of Pakistan and Sri Lanka, and Australia’s unchallenged success, were all the results of limited overs cricket. But as ‘smash-and-grab’ Twenty20 cricket, a younger cousin of 50-50, gained popularity, ODI cricket, barring the World Cup, was losing it’s place on top of the fan’s list. Bi-lateral series seemed less and less meaningful, and the ICC rankings barely served any purpose except bragging rights. 35 years after Packer’s innovation, ODIs needed another revolution, a break from the stagnation.
Fans would not sit through five, or sometimes seven, 100 over matches in a ODI series which seemed to have no purpose or direction. What sense did it make if India and Sri Lanka played a series against each other so regularly that it didn’t even seem to matter who won? Or if New Zealand faced Sri Lanka each time the countries were bored? TV ratings dropped exponentially and attendance to matches was taking a hit. Boards, associations and broadcasters were taking the losses.
The Associate Nations, teams which have improved hugely over the years, and have caused major upsets at World Cups, showing that they belonged to the big stage, were still being ignored. Their only exposure to proper cricket teams was at the quadrennial event, leaving very less room for improvement. With the ICC looking to reduce the number of teams in the event, chances of an Afghanistan or an Ireland ever doing well on the big stage seemed bleak.
The new proposal by ICC looks like a step in the right direction though. With a league of 13 nations playing against each other over three years, each of the 36 ODIs would have immense importance. As has been seen from the IPL, the performances in each of these matches has a bearing on the league standings, which acts as a gateway to the play-offs. Hence, no match would be inconsequential. Playing for pride would be replaced by playing for points.
The seedings obtained from this ODI League would help draws in the World Cup, rewarding the consistent performers for all their efforts over three years. Also, relegation and promotion, to and from the World Cricket League Championship (the second tier of one-day cricket), would mean more serious cricket from the teams looking to grow, and teams looking to save the drop. Zimbabwe vs India would not be silly anymore and England vs Ireland would attract more eyes.
The entry of teams like Ireland, Afghanistan and Scotland, who have been at the doors of international cricket will allow them to compete against the best and accelerate their rise. The upsets, which they are sure to cause, will lead to complications to the final standings, which will be intriguing to watch. This would be similar to the football leagues around the world, where an upset from one of the lower ranked teams could completely tilt the fortunes of the teams competing for the title.
Ireland beating Pakistan and England would not be a once in a four-year event anymore, while Afghanistan’s fighting spirit(Remember the 2015 World Cup and the 2016 World T20?) would be on view every season. Dreaming even more boldly, a Leicester City like fairy tale cannot be written off either. Kenya in 2003, Netherlands putting up tough fights in the 2011 World Cup are some of the most memorable moments that ODI cricket has gifted the world, and every fan would want to re-live them, except perhaps those who were at the receiving end.
With the weight of the matches where ‘non-favourite’ teams are involved increasing, interest is set to rise. People would want to watch, and broadcasters would want to telecast. The large stakes involved is set to guarantee a very high quality of 50-over cricket, something which has been lacking for a very long time. Every inch of space would be treasured. This would mark the return of thrilling ODI serieses like the one India and Pakistan played out in 2004. A topsy-turvy series where emotions ran high and each match was a nail-biter as visitors India managed to clinch a historic victory in the last game of the series. ‘Friendlies’ will also be organized, allowing countries to test their bench strength and gain match-time even outside the league.
ICC’s new proposal will add meaning and life to the bilateral series between teams. Giving more opportunities to Associate Nations and increasing the revenue. This is should be a win-win situation for all the stake-holders. The details are sketchy though and nothing has been confirmed. Yet, it would be a huge plus if the ICC could adopt positives from sports around the world. Like the home-away rule. More and more pitches are being tailor-made to suit the home side, putting the opposition at a disadvantage. If more weight could be given to wins away from home, this could be counter-balanced. After all, it is a mean feat for India to win on Australian pitches, or for South Africa to do well in Sri Lankan grounds.
The Elo rating system, or any similar algorithms can be used to determine the final standings. The FIFA Women’s World Rankings uses a simplified version of the Elo algorithm. In similar fashion, the ICC could factor in the importance of the match, the actual and expected results, the difference in ratings, and the home advantage to determine the points a team scores for winning. This would add more meaning to ‘upsets’, and wins with huge differences—perks that the teams would surely want to enjoy.
The proposal is a great one, and if the ICC goes ahead with it, it could be one of the better decisions that the committee has taken off-late. This move is set to put life back into the 50-over format as pundits fret over the loss of sheen in it. This rejig was long due, and this imaginative alteration will help the ODIs regain importance between World Cups. For One-Day Internationals, and cricket’s long standing fans, the Edinburgh meeting at the end of the month might just turn out to be a revolutionary one.
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