ODI cricket suffers diminishing relevance between entrenched Tests and explosive T20s

ODI cricket suffers diminishing relevance between entrenched Tests and explosive T20s
England's Joe Root (left) and captain Eoin Morgan at The Oval in London on 15 July 2019, a day after winning the Cricket World Cup final against New Zealand. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Vickie Flores)

With Test cricket undoubtedly the most prestigious format, while T20 continues to grow, where does that leave one-day internationals?

Outside of the acclaimed Cricket World Cup, one-day international (ODI) cricket has become the forgettable middle child, while Test cricket remains the respected older sibling. The shortest format, T20, is the exciting, entertaining and explosive last-born.

“At the moment it [ODI cricket] is not sustainable, in my opinion. Something has to be done because I fear losing the 50-over format in a couple of years because it’s almost like the long, boring one, if that makes sense,” said England all-rounder Moeen Ali this week. 

“It’s almost like you’ve got T20s, you’ve got the Test matches which are great, and then the 50 overs is just in the middle – there’s no importance given to it at the moment.”

Meanwhile, Ben Stokes (31), one of the world’s premier all-rounders, retired from the 50-over format following England’s 62-run loss to South Africa in the opening match of the recently concluded three-match ODI series in England. 

“We are not cars,” Stokes said at the time. “You can’t just fill us up and we’ll go out there and be ready to be fuelled up again.”

England players celebrate their defeat of New Zealand to win the 2019 World Cup at Lord’s in London. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Kieran Galvin)

Stokes said the main reason he retired from ODI cricket is that playing three international formats as well as franchise leagues around the world is not sustainable as he bids to prolong his future in Tests (as the English captain) and T20s ahead of the World Cup in Australia later this year. 

These statements are particularly concerning considering that both players were part of the England squad that won the last 50-over World Cup in 2019 at home. Stokes in particular played a starring role in the final against New Zealand – recording an iconic innings as he scored 84 runs from 98 deliveries while his team’s back was against the wall. 

Domestic leagues

The increase in domestic franchise leagues around the world – such as the Indian Premier League (IPL), the Big Bash League (BBL) and the Hundred with its substantial player remuneration – has on the one hand created an opportunity for some of the world’s best players to fill their pockets, but on the other has taken up a considerable chunk of the cricket calendar.

Read more in Daily Maverick: “IPL has shaped the global perception and importance of T20 cricket

In the ICC’s Future Tours Programme – which runs from May 2023 to April 2027 – the window for the IPL has been extended to two and a half months, from late March to early June. 

The England Cricket Board and Cricket Australia also have their own windows for the Hundred (August) and the BBL (January) in their respective schedules.

World Cups

Retiring from one of the international formats does not guarantee freed-up time though. Quinton de Kock, who retired from Test cricket at the start of this year to spend more time with his young family, has not had the opportunity to do that yet.

“It hasn’t freed up my calendar, at least not this year,” he said last month. “I’ve been roped in to play a couple of leagues, but that’s my own consequence. I am happy to do it. It’s still a sacrifice but I’m slowly getting to an age where I need to think about where I want to be in my career. As long as I can do it at my own pace then I am happy.”

The 50-over World Cup, played every four years, is still the biggest trophy to be won in the sport, something De Kock is aware of and aspires to.

England players celebrate with the World Cup trophy at Lord’s after the final against New Zealand on 14 July 2019. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Kieran Galvin)

“I want to say we need to play more games, but I don’t see where,” he said. “The [ODI] game is doing well for itself with the way players are going about it and batting and bowling competitiveness. There’s a future for it and a lot of us still want to win 50-over World Cups. There’s a lot to play for,” he said.

History and culture are integral aspects of cricket, which is why Test cricket – the first version of the game – will always have a place in the sport, while it is likely to take many years, if ever, for the excitement around the 50-over World Cup to die down because of its historical significance. However, ODI cricket’s relevance in the years between the quadrennial event is in a perpetual freefall.

South Africa’s role

Cricket South Africa recently pulled the Proteas out of the ODI section of their tour to Australia starting at the end of 2022. 

A major reason cited for this is that South Africa wants all its national players available for its new T20 domestic league – which it hopes will compete with the biggest domestic leagues in the world in the shortest format.

South Africa’s withdrawal will affect their standing in the World Cup Super League. The standings determine which countries qualify for 2023’s 50-over World Cup in India. Nevertheless, South Africa is seemingly unperturbed by this, despite their lowly 11th-place standing (only 10 teams qualify directly). 

The Proteas are still set to fulfil their commitments to the Test and T20I segments of their tour to Australia – the formats with current relevance.

The 50-over format provides a bridge between the extremes of five-day Test and explosive T20 cricket. Almost two decades after the first international T20 match was played, the relevance of the bridge is in question when cricket is flying. DM


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