Change is the buzzword in cricket right now. New playing rules regarding decision review systems, run-outs, bat sizes and penalties for misconduct have come into effect. Maintaining the trend, the International Cricket Council has given the nod to a nine-team Test championship – after the 2019 World Cup – and 13-team ODI league – in 2020 – with the aim of providing greater context to bilateral matches.
The Test championship and ODI league aim to ensure there is a common narrative when it comes to bilateral series and fans know exactly what teams are playing for – a shot at the World Test League Championship final and qualification for the 50-over World Cup respectively.
While the idea to do something different in Tests is commendable, it is difficult to see cricket boards getting anything substantially more out of Test cricket as far as fan engagement is concerned. Ashes matches are regularly witnessed by packed venues in England and Australia while traditional centres in India attract decent crowds.
Outside these countries, one shouldn’t expect a sudden spurt in attendances just because there is a championship to play for. The first Test between Sri Lanka and Pakistan in Abu Dhabi saw low turnout even after attendance was made free.
One-day cricket, however, is a different matter. Even since the rise of T20 cricket, ODIs seemed to be struggling with an identity crisis. Test cricket is the ultimate challenge for a player and performances in the longest format stay etched in the memories of players, teams and fans (those who are interested in it anyway) alike.
Everybody loves T20 and the format never struggles to generate interest, wherever it is played. But ODIs outside ICC tournaments started to look out of place. Teams played as many ODIs as they wanted on a bilateral basis, depending on financial viability and availability of dates.
But once the ODI league starts, every one-dayer will be worth fighting for. Matches will no longer be used as testing grounds for players, at least not regularly. Teams will not look to rest players at the first instance as it will all count towards World Cup qualification.
Since each team will play eight ODI series involving three matches each over a two-year cycle, which will be pushed to three years later on, the days of five and seven-match ODI series seem to be behind us. It can only be good for the overall health of the game.
I am not sure how much more we can get out of Test cricket because those who can’t spare five days for cricket now can’t be expected to set aside that time because there is a final to play for. But ODI cricket can greatly benefit from the new league as teams, players and fans can easily fall back in love with the format that was the apple of everyone’s eye not so long ago.
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