Around a week ago, after six months of relentless T20 cricket – the World T20 Championship followed by the Indian T20 league – a friend and I decided to spend a night watching the televised cricket on offer. For once, it wouldn’t be T20 cricket, and after the long overdose, we didn’t care if it was the one-sided Test series between England and Sri Lanka (played in England; who doesn’t want to watch the ball swing in pristine English conditions?) or even the rather non-glamorous Caribbean ODI tri-series (how long has it been since we’ve actually had three nations battle it out, just like back in the 90’s?) between Australia, South Africa and West Indies. From a batsman’s kingdom, cricket had now entered the bowlers’ tiny arena in both sets of conditions. Detox from T20 cricket, and a return to tradition, we thought.
Over the next two long, never-ending hours, only 25 overs were bowled. West Indies’ bowlers made the South African batsmen work for every run in sluggish conditions. Two hours and only a fourth of the match was over. By now, we thought, a T20 game would have been well into its business end, the stage set for an enthralling last 10 overs. But here, this was only half of the first innings, and the batsmen were going to milk it for another 15 overs before letting loose. Won’t they get bored being at the crease for so long? How will they remember that they have to pace it slower than a T20 innings? What will they do for the next 10 overs? Why can’t the West Indian batsmen come in now and end this torture? How was an international contest going to last for seven hours? How will we not sleep? Perhaps alcohol isn’t such a bad idea.
Till around 2003, you would never hear our minds scream out restlessly this way. 50 overs was the shortest cricketing format, and we’d mentally keep aside an entire day for a contest – it was an occasion. But over the last decade, with attention spans decreasing and patience at an all-time low, there can only be one longest format and one shortest format. There can’t be anything in between, simply because even viewers don’t know what mind space to utilize when watching it. It was quite an effort to sit at venues all day to watch the ICC World Cup 2015 in Australia, at timings that began matches at 8 AM in India, through the day, into the early evening. That’s when we realized that perhaps ODI cricket is of no consequence anymore.
Here are, however, five primary reasons for this slow death:
2016 ICC World T20
Till this edition of the T20 World Cup, there wasn’t enough international cricket being played in this format. Arguably, this will remain the case for another year or two. But this World Cup played in India threw across some stunning records, and brought to the fore the world’s best. Virat Kohli’s stunning run, as well as West Indies’ fairy-tale ending captured imaginations all over, and for once, suggested that perhaps T20 numbers have some relevance after all. Perhaps, down the line, T20 averages will hold prime importance, because of the intensity and purity that most teams brought to this tournament. Suddenly, it mattered that Kohli didn’t have an international T20 century to his name. Suddenly, it mattered that Dale Steyn didn’t bowl well in this format, and that South Africa, despite AB de Villiers, still couldn’t win an ICC tournament. This was the tournament that made T20 a legitimate craft. And best of all, it began and ended before you knew it, sweeping you with it, putting to rest all the long, interminable memories of the 50-day ODI World Cups before this.
World Test Championship
The ICC is finally toying with the idea of a Test Championship with a relegation format. This will increase the importance of competition, especially beyond the monotonous bilateral tours. As of now, most Home teams seem to sweep every Test series, and with an Away series not really immediately in the offing, the concept of victories and losses has become subjective. The Test Championship, which could roll out as early as next year, could weigh performances across both home and away legs, and have Lords – a neutral venue – for the final. This could spell a vital return of relevance for Test cricket, and in turn, spell doom for ODI cricket – which is already struggling to hold on to its landmarks. The Asia Cup recently was played in T20 mode, and many wish that next year’s Champions Trophy will go the same way. When India won the Champions Trophy in 2014 in England, the final was reduced to 20 overs a side because of rain. Perhaps that was a sign of things to come.
The Rise of Virat Kohli
For the first six months of the year, Kohli has extended his batsmanship into the one format he was never expected to master. He hadn’t had a great Indian T20 league record till 2016, but was the Man of the Series in the last World T20 in Sri Lanka. Once again, he ended the World Cup as the MVP, and reminded the world that he takes every format very seriously, especially T20s, where he hadn’t quite hit his peak yet. He lit up the World T20, single-handedly dragging a misfiring Indian team into the semis, before lighting up the T20 league with four centuries, almost 1000 runs and a run to the final. If Kohli, and his partner-in-crime AB de Villiers, hadn’t taken this format too seriously, or hadn’t played their most memorable innings as part of the Royal Challengers Bangalore team, perhaps the format would still be a fluffy Candy Crush version of real cricket. But the real cricketers have begun to prove otherwise.
2015 ODI World Cup
When Australia won the World Cup at home last year, for what seemed like the 100th time, it unknowingly banged a nail into the coffin of a fast fading format. If New Zealand had won the final and culminated their fairy-tale run, perhaps the belief that miracles still occur in 50-over cricket would have shored up the format. But it’s getting more and more difficult to pull off an upset or kill a giant over 100 overs, with batting being the way it is, and with quality pace bowlers being a dying breed. There is no space for happily ever afters anymore, and seven hours is too long to invest into a day’s play when Australia will end up on top of every podium again. So much for their “downfall” after 2011.
The only bilateral Test series with any relevance whatsoever is still The Ashes between traditional rivals England and Australia. No matter where they play, the contest seems to have acquired an edge with one team almost always rebuilding and getting destroyed, while the other ascends to the top. England have played their best at home against Australia time and again, and it has been a while since Australia have won outside their own home. Players like Mitchell Johnson, Mitchell Starc, Steve Smith, David Warner, Jimmy Anderson, Stuart Broad and Joe Root have created many memorable tests between them over the last five years, which, in turn, has made England look like a lost puppy in the ODI format, despite the rise of new-age T20 cricketers. Their lack of priority to this format in favor of Tests and now T20s has only pulled back 50-over cricket in the country of its birth.