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ODIS’ failure to find relevance between World Cups will put future of tournament at risk


It was the final organisers craved, lacking only the denouement a nation demanded: Rohit Sharma lifting the 13th ODI World Cup. Yet the tournament was still the mostwatched event in cricket history, staged in the game’s sporting and economic behemoth. For players, it remains the sport’s most coveted prize, as Pat Cummins can now attest. “That’s the pinnacle in cricket, winning a World Cup,” Australia’s victorious captain declared.

Before a thrilling final week a certain existential angst about the future of the format was inescapable. Crowds for neutral matches in the early stages were underwhelming, though they picked up. There were a lack of close matches. And so, against a backdrop of Twenty20 soaring, those on the periphery of the event even asked: is this the last ODI World Cup?

It is unlikely. The next two editions have already been confirmed. While India winning would have been a fillip to the format, their run to the final creates an almost equally compelling narrative – of their quest for a third victory continuing. Yet the speculation, about switching to 40 overs, or even abandoning the one-day format altogether, speaks to uncertainty about how the 50-over game fits in cricket’s saturated landscape.

“It takes one day” was the slogan for the 13th World Cup. To which some joked: that is the problem.

“It’s very hard to see much excitement or growth ahead of 2027,” said one senior figure in cricket broadcasting. “There is no way many kids want to watch 100 overs in the ground or on TV.”

In an age of diminished attention spans, 50-over cricket occupies a curious position. For all its range, it neither has the brevity of T20 nor the multilayered tapestry of Tests. While viewing figures in India were excellent, insiders say enthusiasm among older fans was not mirrored by younger ones.

Switching ODIS to 40 overs would be an attempt to galvanise the one-day game. One representative said that, if the International Cricket Council cricket committee advocated such a switch, he would consider backing it. “If the cricket committee say players and fans are saying 40 overs is better – slightly shorter, probably get closer games, but it’s still long enough for players to get proper hundreds, I’d be open to changing,” he said.

Yet broadcasters emphasise that those put off by the 50-over game’s length are unlikely to be enthralled by a 40-over one either. “You need to change the DNA of the game – it won’t be solved by shortening it,” said an Indian broadcasting insider.

The problems facing this World Cup reflect greater issues for the format. The 10 teams played only 277 ODIS this four-year cycle, compared to 431 between the 2015-19 tournaments. When they do play, sides are usually understrength, with stars resting or playing in franchise leagues instead. How can the ODI World Cup be the pinnacle if it is in a format teams barely play?

Tom Moffat, the chief executive of FICA, the global players’ union, said: “There is increasingly strong player feedback that international cricket scheduling should not just be based on filling up the calendar, and there is a need to ensure that matches have context and meaning, irrespective of the format.”

In most countries, broadcasting rights for white-ball bilateral cricket are declining, with fans reacting to what has long been apparent: games matter little.

The ICC has taken steps to imbue bilateral ODIS with more context. Or, at least, it had. The World Cup Super League, launched in 2020, gave 13 competing nations 24 ODIS each, which determined World Cup qualification. The performances of Afghanistan and the Netherlands in India attest to the Super League’s value. Yet the competition has been abolished; in its place, bilateral ODIS have the feel of glorified friendlies. Some hope the Super League will be revived in future.

While T20 is the sport’s greatest globalising tool, there is no appetite among leading Associate nations to abandon ODIS.

From 2027, Associates will have more chance of reaching the World Cup. The tournament will revert from 10 countries to 14, which will mean a pithier first stage, with six games per team rather than nine. The upshot should be more variety, early jeopardy and, it is hoped, more days with two games played.

Under the broadcasting agreement for 2024-31, there will be a men’s event every year. So scrapping ODIS would mean more international T20 events instead.

Hypothetically, if the ODI World Cup and Champions Trophy were cancelled, they could be replaced by a T20 Champions Trophy – which would be played in odd years, with the T20 World Cup in even years. But the risk of fatigue about global T20 tournaments would be acute. This is heightened by T20’s inclusion in the Olympics from 2028. If T20 became the only white-ball international cricket, there would now be five T20 global events every four years.

“Removing ODIS would destroy significant economic value,” says Kevin Alavy, of Futures Sport and Entertainment, a top sports media consultancy. “I’m not convinced there’s demand for even more T20 franchise cricket. The big issue is the sheer volume of cricket.”

The worries about the future of ODIS, then, are a microcosm of much broader issues in the game: the overcrowded schedule, and the uncertainty over how international and franchise cricket can co-exist.

The ODI World Cup “may survive until 2031, but it’s hard to see beyond that,” says one broadcasting insider. “The sport will be hugely different by then.”

‘It is hard to see much growth or excitement. There’s no way many kids want to watch 100 overs in the ground or on TV’

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