It must’ve been hard... to take yourself away from whatever you were doing and sitting down to watch India take on Sri Lanka in yet another one-day international. It must have been even harder to feign interest in the cricket. But it must have been hardest to try and make sense of what was happening on the field.
It wasn’t that India didn’t bat well – Virender Sehwag and Virat Kohli set up a superb platform, Mahendra Singh Dhoni helicopter-flicked Lasith Malinga for a four, Suresh Raina was in his element as well as India posted a 300-plus total for the 48th time in it’s cricket history. Yes, bah.
Sri Lanka came out, Kumar Sangakkara collected another century and with a little help from the others, made it a decently close game. Well, it wasn’t a blow out by any standard. But did the win excite anyone?
Yes, Tony Greig, the master of hyperbole, was excited but by the end, even he was struggling. He quietly pooh-poohed all the batting records that were shown on screen – ‘Considering the amount of cricket we play these days, it’s no surprise to see only modern players in the list. Sachin Tendulkar is at the top of the list, not surprisingly, given the class player he is and the number of ODIs he has played.’
Now, to talk about the infinite boredom of India vs Sri Lanka would be rather boring. But here’s something to think about: India have played a total 805 ODIs – more than any other nation in cricket history.
While it’s hard to compare Tests simply because most of the nations started playing them along a very different timeline, the major nations – more or less – began playing ODIs at the same time. And the number India has put up only shows how they have managed to kill the format with their excesses.
At one point, Tests were dying – perhaps they still are – and Indian cricket turned to ODIs to provide sustenance and money. And the 50-over format did that well – too well. The BCCI, on its part, milked the format for all it’s worth.
But now perhaps it’s time to turn back the clock to an era when the number of matches played was fewer and there was some real value attached to them.
The most ODIs Sunil Gavaskar ever played in one year was 23 – in 1987, which was a World Cup year. When Sachin Tendulkar started playing his cricket, for the first seven years – the maximum number of ODIs he played was 25 in 1994. The rut began with 1996 – a World Cup year – which saw him, play 32, followed by 39 in 1997.
Compare this to Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s workload. In 2004, the current Indian skipper made his debut and played 4 ODIs. But in each of the next 5 years, he played more than 27 ODIs – with a maximum of 37 in 2007.
Put in all the travel and cricket is almost never off the sports pages. The term ‘cricketing season’ doesn’t quite exist any more. It’s a cricketing year – one that never ends – and that is why, it’s time to turn back the clock to a time when we could actually look forward to the start of a season.
The result of so many ODIs being played is a certain amount of apathy towards the sport. And one easy way to address the problem is to simply play fewer ODIs. Instead of having an ODI bilateral series – let ODIs only be played as part of a Test tour. It might render the ICC rankings obsolete but who really cares about that anway. The World Cup will still have it's place and the winner will still be the champion over the next four years.
But Will fewer ODI matches mean better cricket? One cannot be sure. Will it translate into more interest? It should. If you don’t see enough of the stars, when you get the chance, you will watch. Will it mean a huge drop in profits? Well, the Board gets paid Rs 40 crores per ODI – but surely they can take a hit for the sake of the sport and all that jazz.
That said, the BCCI has been pretty adamant about playing the number of matches it does. It has repeatedly said that the players can ask for a break for they need to but what about the sport itself. When does cricket get a break?
An actual break would mean that even familiar opponents like Sri Lanka and India would tread carefully. And isn’t that the fun – to watch a player, come back after a break – fitter, faster and surprising. When most Indians saw Ben Hilfenhaus during the Test series Down Under – they couldn’t believe the transformation and that is power that a break should give the players and the sport.
The ICC keeps trying to tinker with the ODI format in a bid to keep the interest alive – but sometimes there can be too much of a good thing. The problem really lies not in the format but in the scheduling and perhaps that’s the only change that cricket needs – a change of pace.
In the long run, the BCCI will realise that more does not always mean better. As fans, though, we are simply hoping that they don't leave it too late.