I was all of twelve years old when Sachin decided to go mad in New Zealand. It was the first time he had been asked to open the batting for India, and as with all things Indian cricket back then, it wasn’t a well planned, well thought out thing. Navjot Singh Sidhu, if memory serves me right, had a stiff neck, and so the greatest ODI opener ever became an opener. So it goes.
But that was the day I really and truly became a cricket fan. I have memories of watching the ’92 World Cup, and even fonder memories of the Hero Cup – but Sachin’s batting as an opener is what turned me into a cricket devotee.
As with many people these days, though, so also with me. There is so much cricket being played these days that it is hard to maintain the same level of passion. There’s all these leagues, plus the never ending parade of bilateral one-dayers and T20’s, and Test matches to boot. It is simply too much to keep up with, so I don’t.
And which is why I maintain that this really ought to be the last ODI World Cup. Announce it as such, celebrate the grand old tournament and the grand old format one last time, and then do what we’ve all pretty much done in any case, and move on to a world of T20’s and (some) Test matches.
It’s never going to happen, of course. So long as there is a single rupee to be flogged out of it, the format will continue to be tormented and tortured, and we will keep watching, zombie-like, for years to come.
So we might as well analyse it, and ask how we might think of the ODI format using principles of economics. Should one think of it as a slightly more aggressive version of Test cricket, or should one think of it as a slightly less aggressive version of T20 cricket?
That, at any rate, is the question that Nathan Leamon asks in a nice little write-up for ESPNCricinfo. It’s a question that has been asked for as long as the latest format of the sport has been around, of course. The reason this article is interesting is because Leamon claims that this is the first ODI World Cup where most players will approach it after having been steeped in not Test Cricket, but T20 cricket.
When the ODI format was first introduced, players played it as a shortened Test match. Test matches was the format they were used to, so their way of playing ODI’s was conditioned by the style they had been trained in and for. Which, of course, is why ODI’s from the ’70’s and the ’80’s were rather more slow and steady in their outlook. But the madness and mayhem of the ’90s and the ’00’s was because youngsters had grown up playing ODI’s, and were as a consequence more agile in the field, faster with the bat, and more imaginative with the ball. Indian fans of a suitable age, please note that I am talking about global trends, not about the Indian team of the 1990’s in particular.
But over the last decade, as Leamon puts it:
“The growth of T20 franchise leagues around the world, in particular the IPL, which overnight became the richest game in town, meant that the next generation of pro cricketers played T20 cricket from day one. The format became its own world. The shots played in T20 cricket started to look designed for that format, not for defending your wicket in a Test match a hundred years ago.
As the years went by, T20 cricket overcame the Anxiety of Influence and, slowly but surely, the direction of the flow of ideas reversed. It became the main source of cricketing innovation. T20 shots and tactics started to diffuse into 50-over cricket and even, to a much lesser extent, Test matches.”
And especially over the last three years or so, partly because of the pandemic, and partly as a consequence of commercial considerations, T20 has been the format of choice, regardless of whether it is club or country. To the extent that Joe Root of England has played all of 12 ODI matches since the 2019 World Cup.
And so this World Cup, in 2023, will be the first World Cup where the format (ODI’s) will be driven by “levels of batting aggression and bowling defensiveness” that come from the T20 culture.
It’s all well and good to say this, but what does this mean in practice?
Consider these three points from Leamon’s write-up:
- In T20 cricket, a single is a “win” for the bowling team. In Tests, it is a “win” for the batting side. What about the 2023 World Cup?
- When a wicket falls in a T20 match, it often has no response on the scoring rate. In a Test match, it usually slows the rate at which runs are going to be scored. What about the 2023 World Cup?
- And finally, a quote from the article worth reproducing in full:
“Most teams are going to arrive at this World Cup with a lot less knowledge of where ODI cricket currently is, than they have had at every recent tournament. The winning team is likely to be the one that quickly and successfully overcomes this lack of understanding and finds the right balance of techniques and tactics for the situation.”
As always, the real fun is when you take this lesson, and apply it to other walks of life. How long before blog posts are attempted by people who have grown up composing tweets? How long before television series are directed by people who have grown up making TikToks (and I’m sure this has happened already)? How might each of these formats benefit (or otherwise) as a consequence?
Note: To understand the reference to Dunning-Kruger, you will have to read the original Cricinfo piece. Worth it, I assure you.