MyCityLife’s Senior Sports Columnist James Dampney explores the so-called last rights of one day cricket.
So, wasn’t the one-day version of international cricket supposed to be a lame duck? Wasn’t it on its last legs, set to go the way of another feathered fowl in the dodo?
The advent of Twenty20 cricket had many predicting doom and gloom for the 50-over format, which had begun to show signs of wear as crowds and television ratings sagged. It was a factor in free-to-air television executives deciding to effectively only show Australian matches in the just-completed World Cup. Just ten of a possible 49 games being available to the masses. Staggering.
Yet despite that narrow-minded decision, the World Cup demonstrated on the whole, that cricket’s original shortened format still has some life left in it yet. It started with a bang with co-hosts Australia and New Zealand posting 300-plus run scores and casting aside fellow heavyweights England and Sri Lanka respectively. Some of the other world powers in the international game, such as India and South Africa, also laid down early markers to show they would be in contention at the business end of the tournament. But there was much more to it than a predictable set of results in the lead-up to the final.
The tournament received an enormous bout of goodwill and colour when the side from war-torn Afghanistan – playing in its first World Cup – snuck past Scotland with one wicket and three balls remaining. From the moment it chased down the West Indies’ 304 in a head-turning four-wicket victory, Ireland quickly became the Cinderella story of the competition. With wins in three of their first four matches, the Irish needed to overcome either India or Pakistan to reach the quarter-finals, and just fell short. But in a decision that smacks of more narrow-mindedness, we won’t see the likes of Ireland or Afghanistan at the next World Cup, to be hosted by England and Wales. The International Cricket Council has decided to reduce the next edition from 14 teams to just 10, robbing it of some of the romance that has forever been part of its appeal.
Who knew what lay ahead way back in 1979 when Sri Lanka, at that stage a non-Test playing nation, beat India by 47 runs? By 1996, the Sri Lankans had won the first World Cup, beating Australia in the final. Zimbabwe, Bangladesh and Kenya are other countries to have benefited from World Cup exposure.
Sure there are blow-outs, such as Australia’s record 275-run win over Afghanistan, but those results don’t tarnish the pedigree of the event and can be hugely beneficial to the associate nations. “My friend asked me before the game against Australia if I was scared,” Afghanistan fast bowler Hamid Hassan declared. “There is no scared. If we play some more matches against big teams and big names, maybe we can improve more and more.”
In the end Australia, India, South Africa and New Zealand – the top four teams in the one-day world rankings – qualified for the semi-finals. By the final day of the six-week tournament, which is undeniably too long and needs to be streamlined, the Australians were toasting another World Cup triumph.
Rather than damaging one-day cricket, Twenty20 seems to have come to its rescue. Players now have a different mindset and approach to the 50-over format. Crowds become enthralled by some of the big scores on offer. It’s not so long ago 220 was a decent one-day total. With his extraordinary unbeaten knock of 237, Kiwi Martin Guptill passed that on his own. While scores in excess of 400 are now conceivable, matches can still be thrillers in very different fashion. New Zealand’s one-wicket victory over Australia chasing just 152 for victory was unmatched for drama.
Rather than reading its last rights, the World Cup proved one-day cricket still has an important part to play in the sport’s landscape. There are too many matches played world wide, with fans often finding it difficult to keep track. More emphasis needs to be placed on big tournaments and their subsequent impact on world rankings. But just as with Test cricket – which has also repeatedly been considered a dead game walking – there is life in the old girl yet. “To all the fans of the game of cricket, Michael Clarke said after the World Cup Final. “ I think it’s been an amazing turnout for this tournament. People at home watching on TV, people coming to all the games, the support we’ve had right throughout the tournament – thanks to every cricket supporter out there.”