ODIs have to find relevance between the World Cup or risk dying in the competition

ODIs have to find relevance between the World Cup or risk dying in the competition

Hasan Ali of Pakistan has been caught swept

India’s meetings with Pakistan at the Cricket World Cup will always be meaningful but the danger itself is in danger of relevancy – REUTERS/Francis Mascarenhas

It was the final the organizers had been craving, just the claim a nation was demanding: Rohit Sharma lifting the 13th ODI World Cup. However, the World Cup was the biggest event in the history of cricket, which took place in the sporting and economic aspects of the sport. For the players, it is still the most prestigious prize in the game, as Pat Cummins can now attest. “That’s the pinnacle of cricket, winning the World Cup,” declared Australia’s victorious captain.

Ahead of a thrilling final week – three contrasting matches that showcased the full scope of 50-over cricket – some fears about the future of the format cannot be extinguished. Crowds for neutral games in the early stages of the tournament were underwhelming, although they did pick up significantly. There was a striking lack of close games. And so, in the context of the Twenty20 boom, even those on the fringes of the event asked: is this the last ODI World Cup?

Not likely to be. The next two editions of the ODI World Cup have already been confirmed for 2027 and 2031. While the 50-over format would have resulted in India winning, their impressive run of 10 consecutive wins that ends in the final a very strong story almost identical. – India’s quest for a third ODI World Cup continues.

But the speculation – about a switch to 40 overs, or even abandoning the one-day format altogether – speaks to uncertainty about how the 50-over format fits into cricket’s saturated landscape.

‘It takes one day’ is the slogan for the 13th World Cup. Which some joked: that’s the problem.

ICC CommentariesICC Commentaries

Broadcasters are increasingly worried about an atrophying format – Robert Cianflone/Getty Images

“It’s very difficult to see much excitement or growth ahead of 2027,” says one senior cricket broadcasting insider. “There’s no way that many kids want to watch another 100 games in the ground or on TV.”

In the age of shrinking attention spans, 50-year-old cricket occupies a curious position. For the entire range of the format, the brevity of T20 – or its even shorter cousins ​​– is unmatched by the multi-layered tapestry of a Test match. While the viewing figures in India for this World Cup have been excellent, insiders report that the enthusiasm among older fans has not been matched by teenagers and those in their early 20s.

An attempt would be to move ODIs to 40 overs to encourage the one-day game. The 40-over format was more popular than the longer one-day game when county cricket was played. One representative says that if the ICC cricket committee supported such a change, it would consider supporting it. “If the cricket committee says players and fans are saying 40 wickets is better for them – a bit shorter, you’ll probably get closer games, but it’s still long enough to get hundreds right, I would be happy to change.”

But the broadcasters emphasize that those who would end the 50-over game are unlikely to be motivated by a 40-over game either. “You have to change the DNA of the game. Shortening it will not fix it,” says an Indian broadcast insider.

Another Full Members source bemoans delay rates, which mean ODIs can stretch beyond eight hours: “We have to be quite tight on the timings. We have to think outside the box.”

Crowd of IndiaCrowd of India

Although the final was not played in front of the largest crowd in the tournament’s history, the global television audience was treated to the perils of its predecessors – Matthew Lewis/ICC via Getty Images

In a way, the problems facing this World Cup reflect all the problems facing the 50-over format. The 10 teams playing in this World Cup have played just 277 ODIs in this four-year cycle, compared to 431 between the 2015-19 tournaments. When they do play, the sides are always underpowered, with the stars resting, or playing in franchise leagues instead. How can the ODI World Cup remain the pinnacle if it is a format where teams barely play?

“All ICC events have a beginning, a middle and an end, and every game has something to do with it,” says Tom Moffat, executive of Fica, the global players’ union. It draws an uncomfortable contrast with bilateral ODIs. “Player feedback is getting stronger that international cricket scheduling should not be based solely on filling the calendar, and there is a need to ensure that matches, regardless of format, have context and meaning.”

In most countries, broadcasting rights for bilateral white-ball cricket are declining, as fans react to what has long been apparent: the games are of little importance. England playing Ireland on September 26, nine days before their World Cup opener, embodies the feeling that the cricket market is saturated.

The ICC has taken steps to surround bilateral ODIs with more context. Or, at least, was. The World Cup Super Series, launched in 2020, gave the 13 competing nations 24 ODIs each, which determined World Cup qualification. The performances of Afghanistan and the Netherlands in the World Cup show the value of the Super League. However the competition has ended; instead, bilateral ODIs are characterized by friendship. Some hope the Super League could yet be revived in the future – but it will have to be agreed by the biggest nations.

Joe Denly pulls the ball during England's match against South Africa at the Wanderers in 2020Joe Denly pulls the ball during England's match against South Africa at the Wanderers in 2020

Bilateral ODIs are struggling to find a slot on the calendar and an audience – Dan Mullan/Getty Images)

Although T20 is the sport’s biggest globalization tool, there is no desire among the leading Associate nations to abandon ODIs. “Getting rid of ODIs would be a mistake,” says Kyle Coetzer, the former Scotland captain who sits on the ICC cricket committee. “ODI cricket is the pinnacle where most Associate teams can play.”

From 2027, Associates will have a greater chance of reaching this World Cup. The competition will return from 10 countries to 14 countries, which will mean a worse first stage, with six games per team instead of nine. The result should be a tournament with more variety, earlier in danger and – hopefully – more days with two games played.

Under the broadcast agreement for the 2024-31 rights cycle, there will be a men’s event every year. So getting rid of ODIs would mean more international T20 events.

Hypothetically, if the ODI World Cup and the Champions Trophy were to be cancelled, they could be replaced by the T20 Champions Trophy – played in odd years, with the T20 World Cup in even years. Although the events would be differentiated – there are now 20 teams in the T20 World Cup, and there could be between six and eight in the Champions Cup – there would be a risk of fatigue in global T20 tournaments. This has been increased by the inclusion of T20 in the Olympic Games from 2028; if T20 became the only white-ball international cricket, there would now be five global T20 events every four years. “A non-stop T20 diet might not be much fun,” says one All-Members representative.

“Abolishing ODIs would destroy significant economic value,” says Kevin Alavy, global managing director of Futures Sport & Entertainment, a leading sports media consultancy.

“I’m not sure there is a demand for more franchise T20 cricket, compared to the more varied diet that ODIs provide. The biggest issue for me is the sheer number of crickets out there. Fans only have so much attention span.”

Concerns about the future of ODIs, then, are a microcosm of much wider issues in the game: the congested schedule, and the uncertainty of how international and franchise cricket can co-exist.

The ODI World Cup “could last until 2031 – but it’s hard to see beyond that,” says one broadcasting insider. “The sport will be very different by then.”

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