Think twice before ditching the one-day international

The supposed benefits to be reaped by scrapping the ODI are not real enough, writes Ed Kemp

one-day international cricket
The ODI has been around since 1971 Photo: via Flickr - DXR

one-day international cricket

If Test matches are a long banquet of delectable food and scintillating company, and Twenty20 is a wolfed-down, but instantly satisfying hamburger, where does that leave the 50-over game?

What those calling for the abolition of the one-day international should ask is this: is a cricket fan to live by banquets and burgers alone?

In his piece just before the start of the World Cup, Tom Clarke explained why he believes the one-day international is a moribund format that should be dispensed with.

Although parts of this debate have been trodden before – Shane Warne wrote in The Times in 2009 that 50-over cricket should be abolished – many of the points made are worth discussion.

The argument -a compelling one -is that real, cricket-loving “purists” get what they want from the Test format, and that Twenty20 provides the glamorous spectacle of instant, money-soaked pleasure that draws in a bigger, younger audience.

In a crowded fixture list, what function is the ODI really serving? Surely we could dispense with it, as a practical decision, to make the world game better: to free-up the schedule and allow greater specialisation by players, making for improved quality in the two remaining formats.

An overcrowded schedule has little to do with there being one too many formats and a great deal to do with greedy and ineffectual administrators

Too short to ever rival the complexity and subtlety of Test cricket, and too drawn out to match the powerful intensity of Twenty20, 50-over cricket is, many would have it, the worst of both and the best of neither.

First, to the issue of the schedule. Yes, there is too much international cricket. The players are playing too much, they get injured, the quality drops, the games lose their meaning.

One less format to fit in to the calendar would ease the burden on today’s top performers, and allow the likes of Yuvraj Singh that long-earned sit down he has been so visibly requiring.

But in truth, there was too much cricket being played even before Twenty20 began. There are not just too many ODIs being played (seven at the end of the Ashes series was truly ridiculous) but too many Tests and too many Twenty20s. There have been three Twenty20 World Cups in three years. Overkill seems an inadequate word.

An overcrowded schedule has little to do with there being one too many formats and a great deal to do with greedy and ineffectual administrators.

If 50-over cricket was to be abolished, it would not be long before the ICC saw those long stretches of blank space on the calendar (think of it, there might be a day when there were no international matches being played at all) and filled them in with lots more juicy Twenty20s.

Because, one year to the next, the ICC and the national boards would be making less money if they organised fewer games – and that is not a move they are prepared seriously to countenance.

In short, governing bodies cannot be trusted to limit the amount of cricket in the schedule. There should be less of all of them, not none of one.

That being the case, we should think very carefully before we cast aside a format which has seen so many great games. What 50-over cricket provides that Twenty20 doesn’t, as Peter Roebuck has previously touched on, is the opportunity for greatness.

A batsman can make a brilliant, match-winning hundred -as Andrew Strauss did in England’s tie with India this World Cup -he can fight against the odds and the apparent flow of the game and prove something about himself.

Likewise a bowler, given 10 overs, can bowl a genuinely great spell – a match-changing quota of overs of supreme wicket-taking quality sustained over 60 deliveries.

The match is long enough to allow for some of the ebb and flow that makes a match not only unpredictable, but memorable. And what is more, it can do this in a match that starts and finishes on the same day.

Spectators who pay to watch these matches can be drawn into a meaningful contest -maybe glimpse greatness -and watch the conclusion themselves that evening. Anyone around at the end of England’s games against South Africa or India or West Indies this World Cup would not recommend the abolition of the format.

Fifty-over cricket is also the game most commonly played by amateur cricketers. Competitive leagues play something similar, if not identical to 50-over matches, and ODIs are the professional game they can most relate to. Watching Tendulkar construct an innings over 50 overs can provide inspiration for those who play the game at their schools or local clubs.

These amateur players also happen to be the most active and commercially attractive group of cricket consumers. While non-cricketers might turn up to a Twenty20 for a sausage roll and a grin, lovers of the game are fully engaged in what they see, they buy lots of kit and cricket-related paraphernalia. They are valuable to advertisers as well as to administrators.

And dropping the 50-over game would cripple domestic teams. One-day games as well as Twenty20s are the lifeblood on which a county club runs.

But it would be farcical to continue making time in the crowded county schedule for a format not played by the England team. Without the income provided by these fixtures the counties could barely stay afloat.

With all that county cricket provides in live spectacles for cricket lovers and in players for the international game, there are grave consequences to consider before ditching the ODI.

The arguments for abolishing 50-over cricket are compelling. But this is a format that many people would be sad to see go, and the benefits to be reaped by ditching it are not real enough.

Like an ageing middle-order batsman who has finished a lot of innings and got his team out of a few scrapes in his time, he should only let it go if he’s convinced the young buck snapping at his heels will actually make things better.

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