Perhaps the most obvious pointer emanating from the past three weeks is that there is still life in ODIs. When it was not raining, and 50 overs a side were possible, the matches were enthralling. The rule changes seem to be working. Two new balls allow a variety of scenarios depending upon the conditions. If playing outside the subcontinent, with seam and swing governing, you divide your innings into two: thirty overs to hold up play and then go hammer and tongs in the last twenty. It will not always work out, like Alastair Cook will confirm, and therein lays the rub.
If playing in the subcontinent, unless the wicket proves to be a raging turner from the word go, it is but a given that targets of 300 (maybe even 320) will be set and chased down with consummate ease. The four-fielders rule and the hardness of two new balls (that will now suffer only 25 overs each) allows for the batsmen to rule the roost like never before. Forever more, it goes to show how important it is for the game to provide a proper balance between bat and ball, something that is acquired naturally in foreign climes and should be strived for in the subcontinent.
A question over the viability of this format only comes in when the matches get stale, and the action becomes repetitive. This autumn, India will host Australia for seven ODIs. That is a huge number of matches. What happens when the world champions trounce the visitors in the first four games, a scenario not unimaginable given Aussie troubles at the moment? Unlike the Champions Trophy, conditions in India will not vary a lot and thus external factors will not come into play, disturbing the balance between bat and ball.
This tournament in England excited because there were multiple teams trying to sort out their strengths and weaknesses as per changing conditions and still trying to win. It is true that not every ODI tournament can be a multi-nation affair. But that is something to be negotiated by the powers that be. When and if, such talks happen, there is also the big question about associate nations to be answered, and that brings us to the second pointer. Does the Champions Trophy have a plausible future?
In a way it is understandable why this tournament is a crisp affair. Not many teams, no irrelevant matches, broadcasters earn their revenue and everybody goes home happy. Does it benefit cricket in the longer run though? As Test playing nations, on what account were Bangladesh and Zimbabwe missing? If they aren't champions, for argument's sake, the same applies to England who are yet to win a single 50-over competition in their long history.
With the success of this 2013 edition, there is a possibility that the Champions Trophy might live on for a bit more, if a spot in the FTP can be negotiated. Even so, there is a need to demarcate this tournament from the ODI World Cup, of course. For that purpose, the format should be revisited, including more teams and not lesser as they have done with the ODI World Cup. The game has to grow and it will only do so if the likes of Ireland will be given their fair share of opportunities.
The knock-out format that was first introduced in 1998 and lived until 2000 can be looked at again. Yes, the broadcasters need to be kept happy and Indian interests need to be safeguarded, so the tournament can be two-tiered. Say 12 teams (or even 14), giving the lesser mortals a chance. In the first round you play six (or seven) matches and the losers get a second chance in a short second stage so you get eight quarter-finalists. In doing so, you keep the sponsors glued in, the heavy-weights are protected until the business end and you give a chance to associates to show off their wares. Worst comes to worst, you change the name of the tournament.
But it will not happen. Because the ICC gives too much say to parties vested in the sport and applies little rationale to its decisions. The broadcasters decide to veto a format because it makes no commercial sense and you get a reduced World Cup and a group-format knock-out tournament. They deem a match like West Indies versus Ireland will not entice fans and thus the minnows are shunned altogether. Why do they have such power?
The world body's powerless ways can be summed up in the manner the rains situation was dealt with. England and New Zealand play a T20 international two days after the final, while India had to fly to West Indies for a tri-series. And to keep it all in tandem, they allowed the final of the Champions Trophy to be reduced to a farce, almost. For a moment you can still understand no reserve days allotted for semi-finals, but the final must have one. Because a world-level tournament of any sport needs to have a winner, period.
Even in the ICC World Twenty20 staged in Sri Lanka, during the onset of second monsoons, there were no reserve days for the semis and finals, for both men's and women's tournaments. Back then the rains stayed away and we had a final. Ten months later, the foolishness was repeated. We were only half-lucky this time around. The ICC needs to get a grip on things, and fast!
First Published: June 25, 2013, 2:12 PM IST