Limited-overs blues

In the face of T20 onslaught, the 50-over game desperately needs a fresh lease of life

Limited-overs blues

Sachin Tendulkar isn’t given to speaking his mind unless he feels something strongly about an issue. And when he does, seldom are his words not taken note of. Even as the debate continues over whether one-day cricket should be done away with to make way for only Tests and the latest baby Twenty20, a surprisingly low crowd attendance – even when the home team was involved — in the on-going tri-series in Sri Lanka may have just strengthened the voices against the 50-over format.

The highest-run getter by some distance in one-dayers, Tendulkar’s heart obviously beats for the 50-over game. But not one unaware of the pulse of the sponsors, TV rights holders and more importantly the paying public, Tendulkar came up with the idea of splitting the 100 overs for the day into four innings of 25 overs each.

It’s a supreme irony that a format that once threatened to kill Test cricket should itself come under threat from another abridged version.

Its all too predictable nature, the slow progress during the middle stages of the innings and the instant entertainment and excitement that T20 games provide have combined to keep the crowds away from the stadium, which in turn has made watching these matches on TV a dull spectacle.

Although the England and Wales Cricket board conceived the format to revitalise domestic cricket and draw fresh audiences to the game, T20s have been able to capture the imagination of a wider audience.
Not surprisingly Tendulkar mooted his plan along the same lines. “We should have 25 overs first for one side and then the other, and then once again 25 overs for one side and then the other. Today, we can tell the result of close to 75 percent of matches after the toss.

“We know how the conditions will affect the two teams. But it (his idea) is not too dependent on the toss because, for example, in a day-night match both the teams will have to bat under lights. The conditions change very dramatically but this would ensure that it’s same for everyone,” he said recently. 

While the ECB has already scrapped its domestic 50-over cricket, South Africa are mulling changes to their 45-over format. The ECB is also likely to propose that the ICC conduct a formal review of the future of the 50-over format after the 2011 World Cup to protect the ODI structure amid the rise of Twenty20 cricket.

The call assumes greater significance considering the fact that the 2015 World Cup, to be played in Australia and New Zealand, is already scheduled on the ICC’s FTP.
Well aware of what his comments may lead to, Indian skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni kept his cards close to his chest. “Whether I say I like it (one-day cricket) or not, it is bound to become a masala news. Whatever I have in my mind, I will let the ICC know about it.

“But one thing is sure — I personally love one-day cricket. I think it’s a real art to bat in one-day cricket, although I agree that there is pressure from everywhere with Test, one-day and T20 cricket jostling for places and what would be the future of cricket or more so the future of one-day cricket,” he pointed out.

One of the nore astute thinkers in today’s game Stephen Fleming also called on the ICC to take a decision soon on 50-over game. Somewhat endorsing ECB’s move to dump the 50-over format, the former Kiwi captain offered some tinkering. “Fifty overs still has its place, but 40 overs is another option when the game goes forward besides the T20 cricket. The 40-over game just takes the boring part out of the middle stages, ensuring a quick top-half and exciting finishes. So it’s a fair compromise,” he opined.

It’s not that these players are against the 50-over format, nor is there anything fundamentally wrong with it. It’s just that cricket’s original cash cow has been flogged so hard for so long, there seems little life left in it. While the merits of these opinions are open to debate, what can’t be overlooked is the overwhelming acknowledgement that the 50-over game is a dying sport unless the powers that run the game come up with something innovative to keep the interest going.

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