ODIs losing their sheen

The cricket world might see a dramatic reduction of ODI matches and an increase of T20 contests. On the lines of the ODI matches, one can’t rule out a T20 tri-series even though there could be resistance from the ICC.

The victorious Australian players celebrate winning the Carlton Mid One Day International in February 2015. The tournament also featuring England and India was the last tri-nation event held in Australia.   -  Getty Images

The buzz is missing and understandably so. When the first ball was bowled in the first ever ODI in Melbourne in 1971, an idea was born to bring in some entertainment for the spectators. The Australia-England Test had been washed out and the authorities were keen to ensure that fans did not return home disappointed.

The advent of ODIs signalled a revolutionary change in the way the game was to be conducted and administered. Four years down the line, the successful organisation of the 1975 World Cup in England was a confirmation that limited-overs cricket had come to stay.

ODI was a different concept and also entertaining because it was result oriented. Bilateral ODI series became an essential part of a cricket tour and also money-spinning instruments for administrators. It was thus hardly surprising when the plan to expand the entertainment segment gave birth to the first ever tri-series in 1979-80.

It was hugely popular. Even those who advocated the essence of five-day cricket came to accept that the ODI was a welcome addition and the tri-series, first held in Australia, was a roaring success.

Much of the credit ought to go to Kerry Packer and his World Series Cricket, which involved the cream of world cricket. It was termed rebel cricket but came to be adopted as the mainstream one. Such was the glamour and quality that marked the venture.

Australia reaped on the concept of a tri-series by absorbing it as an integral part of its home season. Day-night matches in coloured clothing had come to dominate world cricket and the Australian Cricket Board lapped up the idea by inviting a third team to set up an immensely successful triangular series, which came to be adopted in other cricket playing nations as well.

Indian fans during game eight of the tri-nation series at The Gabba on February 2012.   -  Getty Images

 

As the game grew and new nations joined the mainstream, the number of matches on the international cricket circuit also swelled. 

But, the tri-series has gradually lost its relevance in world cricket. And the reasons are not hard to understand. The proliferation of matches in both the formats — Tests and One Day — led to a point where the authorities struggled to attract spectators and sponsors. The ban on tobacco companies meant a major chunk of the sponsorship sector was lost to cricket and the administrators were unwilling to bear the burden of losses that came from poor attendance.

The key reason for the tri-series losing its attraction and dying a slow death was the concept of many world-level events. The ICC Mini World Cup, followed by the regional tournaments and the ICC Champions Trophy became a far more important part of the international calendar and the administrators struggled to accommodate the tri-series.

Not just the fans but the players too felt the pain of indulging in too much cricket. The administrators had begun to exploit the popularity of limited-overs cricket and the International Cricket Council joined the race by throwing in the Champions Trophy to the already existing World Cup. Now every two years the ICC has an event with global participation and the respective cricket boards were forced to concentrate on these tournaments.

It was generally felt that the novelty part of the tri-series had worn off because even the players had begun to preserve themselves. Too much cricket led to injuries and niggles which saw many top players reserving their best for the ICC tournaments and not bilateral or tri-series.

The tri-series in Australia were part of the long summer and the visiting teams would feel the pinch. “Travelling and hard competition was bound to take its toll,” former India captain Kapil Dev had once remarked on the challenges that arose from playing in the tri-series.

The tri-nation series faced a natural death because more and more nations realised it was perhaps more lucrative and easy to organise a bi-lateral series. The tri-series involved a long schedule while the bi-lateral series, often with three or five matches, attracted fans in a larger number.

The advent of T20 cricket ensured more scheduling trouble for the administrators. The boards were quick to realise that the future of the game, in terms of financial returns, lay in the shortest format of the game and the inaugural World T20 Cup in 2007 hastened the end of the tri-series.

There were hardly any takers for the tri-series and the tournament was abandoned because the Future Tours Programme of the ICC left little scope for the Australian summer cricket extravaganza. With almost every cricket nation organising its own T20 private league the pressure to accommodate a bilateral or tri-series was bound to be felt by the respective boards.

The fans have hardly missed the tri-series. Even the bilateral series have been played to sparsely filled stadiums and the future obviously lies in preserving Test cricket even as the T20 format blooms on the international circuit.

The cricket world might see a dramatic reduction of ODI matches and an increase of T20 contests. On the lines of the ODI matches, one can’t rule out a T20 tri-series even though there could be resistance from the ICC. Though, the fact that it has not been able to control the mushrooming of private T20 leagues points to ICC’s weak hold on world cricket.