Saturday, April 17, 2021
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Any Shorter, It’ll Still be Cricket?

  • Is the short format cricket narrowing down its overs in India?

The unbridled passion for the 20-over format in India makes the 50-over One Day International (ODI) seem like a cumbersome affair. That is what it was said of newspapers when television news became popular in India. But all these years of TV has not reduced the appetite for the print media. Will the same hold for the 50-over format in cricket?

Nobody has formally said it as yet, but the long format limited overs cricket is beginning to lose its lustre. Cricketers say a lot many things that the media interprets in lot many ways, but when both say the same thing and mean the same thing, the brows curve up. What’s cooking?

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‘Playing 50, looking at 20’

The reference is to a lengthy article in the Delhi edition of Indian Express dated March 22, 2021. Titled “Playing 50, looking at 20”, it carries a head-deck that says: “The India-England ODI series lacks context, and is more useful in firming plans for T20 World Cup”.

On the day this article appeared, India played its first ODI with England in Pune and won by 66 runs. Which means as this analytical piece was being written, Team India was preparing to face England in the first of the three-match ODI series.  It is the only story on Team India in the two-page sports section of the paper.

The article has an innocent beginning, the one-sentence introduction reading, “A lot has been at stake during England’s tour of India”. No mention of the ODI series or the first match.

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The second paragraph says, to quote it verbatim: “The riveting T20 series served as an audition for the World Cup scheduled later in the year. Prior to that, the four-match Test series decided who will face New Zealand in the World Cup Test Championship final. No mention of the ODI series or the first match.

The third paragraph says: “But the three-match ODI series to be held behind closed doors in Pune at the fag end of the sojourn offers little context and relevance (emphasis author’s), with back-to-back T20 World Cups pencilled in before the next 50-over show-piece event in 2023.” The ODI match finally figures.

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Kohli says ODI not relevant in T20 year

The journalist subsequently points out the context and relevance of the issue saying “last year India captain Virat Kohli raised eyebrows when he said ODIs were ‘not relevant’ in the year of a T20 World Cup”. The article does not dismiss Kohli’s statement because “the 50-over ICC World Cup was once cricket’s biggest prize, but in recent times, the ODI format has been caught in (sic) somewhere between the five-day format and the T20s”. To be fair to Kohli, he may have meant that in a T20 World Cup year it was but natural that the focus would be on T20s than ODIs.

It is not as if only Team India has dimming interest n ODIs. The article says: “Just to give an indication of how much this format has fallen in the pecking order in recent times, consider England’s recent schedule. Since their 2019 World Cup triumph, England have played only nine ODIs …”

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How many matches played in what format?

How does India fare in terms of numbers across all cricketing formats till date?

India played 550 test matches between June, 1932 and March, 2021. These included 10 matches before Independence, 116 till 1972 that marked the silver jubilee of Independence, 189 matches till 1997, India’s gold jubilee of Independence, 15 matches between 1998 and the end of the last century, 103 matches in the first decade of the 21st century and 107 matches in the second decade. India played just four matches in 2020, the Covid year.  That makes it 330 matches in the 20th century and 220 matches in the 21st century. In 88 years, on an average, India played 6.5 tests a year. In this century, it played at an average 10.5 matches in each of the 20 years.

(http://www.howstat.com/cricket/Statistics/Matches/MatchListCountry.asp?A=IND)

Team India played in all 990 ODIs between 1974 and 2020. That breaks down to 13 ODIs between 1974 and 1979, 155 ODIs between 1980 and 1989, 257 ODIs between 1990 and1999, 307 ODIs between 2000-2009 and 249 ODIs between 2010-2019.  Covid made only nine matches possible in 2020. In the 21st century, that averages 27.8 matches in a year.

(http://www.howstat.com/cricket/Statistics/Matches/MatchListCountry_ODI.asp?A=IND)

With reference to T20 matches, India played 137 T20s between 2006 and 2020. The break-up is 20 matches during  2006-2009, 106 T20s in 2010-2019 and 11 matches in the Covid year of 2020. 

(http://www.howstat.com/cricket/Statistics/Matches/MatchListCountry_T20.asp?A=IND)

When it comes to the Indian Premier League, that debuted in 2008, the Indian teams played a whopping 1633 matches, roughly averaging 125 matches in each of the 13 years between 2008-2020.

Eight teams — Chennai Super Kings (2008-2015, 2018-2020), Rajasthan Royals, (2008-2015, 2018-2020), Delhi Capitals, Kings XI Punjab, Kolkata Knight Royals, Mumbai Indians, Royal Challengers Bengaluru and Sun Risers Hyderabad (2013-2020) – played 1,438 matches between 2008 and 2020.

Five defunct teams – Deccan Chargers, Kochi Tuskers Kerala, Pune Warriors India, Gujarat Lions and Rising Pune Supergiant – played a total of 195 matches.  That makes it a total of 1633 matches. That averages roughly 125 matches in each of the 13 years between 2008 and 2020.

(https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Indian_Premier_League_records_and_statistics)

If both the international T20s and the IPL matches are combined, India and Indian IPL teams have played a total of 1770 matches. That breaks down to a mean of 118 matches in each of the 15 years.

Numbers tell the story

The numbers tell their story. There is a definite craze around the T20s and T20 Team India and the IPL teams are willing to give the viewers what they want most. Kohli was not commenting without any basis. This clarifies the article’s “context and relevance”.

The article asks a relevant question: “Does this mean that the 50-over format has gone out of vogue? Not quite….This year, however, teams are taking a pragmatic approach and focusing more on Tests as well as the 20-over format.” It then goes on to other things.

Whether the 20-over format will eventually, decisively triumph over the 50-over format is now a matter of public discourse as evidenced by the article. Cricketers and sports journalists alike are beginning to discuss it at length.

In terms of logistics, it takes as much effort, if not more, to organise a three-hour plus T20 match as a six-hour plus ODI. And the returns are higher. In a world that is technology-driven and life is always on the move, the shorter the format is, the better attention span it commands. 

Will T20 survive?

India played its first test in 1932. The first ODI in 1974. The first T20 in 2006. The first IPL T20 in 2008. In 12 more years, India will celebrate the centenary of its cricketing voyage. Would ODIs still be around till then? Or at least till their golden jubilee in 2024?  Would T20s themselves live on to celebrate their silver jubilee in 2031? Or will it be time for T10s or T-single numerals in the near future? 

The ECS T10 is already a craze in Europe. The 10-over cricket match  of the European Cricket Series draws huge crowds. The Abu Dhabi T10 League has been around since 2018, officially sanctioned by the International Cricket Council and been quite successful too.

England’s Jonny Bairstow, who scored a century in the second ODI against India on March 26, is a famous T10 leaguer already. Batting for Kerala Knights in the Abu Dhabi T10 League in 2018, Bairstow made 84 runs from 24 balls. Eoin Morgan, Tom Curran, Jason Roy and Chris Jordan and Bairstow are among the Englishmen touring India who have already played T10 matches.

(The author is a journalist-academic who generally writes on contemporary politics, society and democracy. The views are the author’s.)

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