The tournament kicked off in India amid increasing angst—over the ticketing debacle and the overweening power of the Jay Shah-led BCCI. That’s what we looked at in part one of our World Cup series. This part two offers a quick look at the bigger worry: the future of the ODI format—or lack thereof.
Researched by: Nirmal Bhansali & Aarthi Ramnath
The ODI World Cup: Long, slow and repetitive
In the lead up to the World Cup, many elegies have been written for the 50-over format—with some predicting that this may well be one of the last ODI World Cups. One big reason is a clunky format.
So damn long: Yeah, ODI games last way longer than its snappier T20 cousin. And audiences are no longer willing to devote an entire day to a match. The other problem is that the World Cup itself is way too long. This year, 10 teams will play 48 matches over 46 days! As BBC Sport points out, that’s “pretty much enough time to stage a football World Cup immediately followed by a summer Olympics. There is a point in the tournament where England plays only once in a 10-day period.” That’s a lot of downtime for fans.
The number of teams: The T20 World Cup has 20 teams who play over 26 days. The 2022 football World Cup in Qatar had 32 teams and yet ran for less than a month. But ODI World Cups are moving in the reverse direction. Sixteen teams competed in the 2007 competition. Since 2019, the number has dropped to ten—just two additional teams than those who competed in the opening edition in 1975.
In 2007, the 50-overs World Cup had 16 teams. But Ireland defeated Pakistan and Bangladesh beat India, pushing the South Asian nations out of the competition at the group stage. [Cricket correspondent Tim] Wigmore believes the number of participating nations was “perversely” reduced in subsequent tournaments “to ensure that sides from bigger markets had more games.”
He’s not wrong. A 2021 proposal to increase the number of competing teams to 16 was dismissed by the ICC. And the issue was the same—sponsors don’t like to take risks, hence neither do broadcasters. They want to make sure that at least some of the cricket-mad markets like India go all the way:
Unlike FIFA, which has no broadcast partner for its soccer World Cups, cricket seemingly needs to seek the green light from broadcasters. “Generally for our tournaments the view of the broadcaster is taken into consideration seriously,” an ICC board member told me. “Unlike in soccer, cricket has a broadcast partner. The broadcaster is the cash cow, which does allow for the broadcaster to have a say.
But it isn’t much fun watching the same teams play each other over and again. And as long as the ODI World Cup remains limited to a handful of countries, its global future will remain uncertain. Happily, the next ODI World Cup in 2027 will feature 14 teams—but it may be too little too late.
The ODI game: Devoured by the T20 beast
Contrary to popular predictions, Test cricket seems to have survived the IPL effect. The ODI… not so much:
While Tests endure as the oldest, wisest and purest form and T20 is the disruptor, demanding eyeballs and spreading the game to parts of the world, one-day cricket is increasingly cast as the overlooked middle child.
Or as ESPNCricinfo puts it: Connor Roy, “the oldest sibling, though with middle-child vibes.” The reality is that with the rise of IPL, T20 has spread like a disease—leaving little space for ODIs.
Where’s the time? The cricket calendar today is dominated by T20 fixtures:
Since the last World Cup, there have been two T20 World Cups, four seasons of all the established T20 leagues, a season each of three new T20 leagues, four seasons of the Abu Dhabi T10, and three seasons of the Hundred. Chuck in two cycles of the World Test Championship and no wonder the middle overs of ODIs started to feel so long this year.
This is going to get even worse as IPL-style franchises multiply. We now have T20 leagues in Australia, South Africa, the Caribbean, Emirates and the US. With cricket fatigue setting in, the ODI is the obvious bakra of choice:
Members want leagues all over the calendar, members want international cricket all over the calendar. Players want to be in all those leagues, players also want to play international cricket, and players also want some R&R. How much longer should we keep playing formats that we think are dying?
Where’s the support? Many of the most influential voices in the game also have little enthusiasm for the ODI. As The Wire notes, former stars have been especially down on the game—be it Ravi Shastri or Wasim Akram—or pundits like Mark Nicholas. That’s because the T20 pie is very large—and there’s plenty to go around:
The administrators and big capital, though, are not the only beneficiaries of cricket making a decisive pivot toward T20 leagues. It also generates significantly greater earning potential for parallel economies feeding off cricket — more coaching and consulting gigs for former players, professional partnerships for firms in the business of data analytics, higher engagement numbers for social media influencers, and a much larger platform for consumer brands to push their new products.
Where’s the experience? The relentless T20 schedule also means that players have far less experience in the format, as BBC Sport notes:
Nine of the 10 teams at the World Cup have played fewer ODIs in the four years to this tournament than they did in the same period up to the last event in 2019, albeit partly because of the pandemic. The 10th, the Netherlands, played only two in the four years to 2019, highlighting their remarkable achievement of qualifying this time around.
And yet there are odd proposals to can ODIs entirely except for the World Cup:
This simply assumes players will on their own adjust to the rhythm of 50-over cricket every four years while completely severing ties with it for the rest of the time. There’s another implication here that ODIs can simply be approached as an extended version of T20s and aren’t necessarily a format with its own mechanics and specificities.
More likely, it will ensure that players are even less enthusiastic about the format.
Where’s the prestige? The ODI version once reigned supreme as the only World Cup—and raising the trophy offered singular glory. But we now have this: “[W]hoever wins in India will be the third men's world champions in the space of a year after a T20 World Cup last autumn and the World Test Championship final in June.” These days, we have to add a qualifier to the World Cup—to differentiate one from the other.
Data point to note: According to a 2022 report, 54% of cricketers still consider the ODI World Cup as the top trophy to win—that’s down from 86% in 2018-19.
The bottomline: There is so much spin in cricket these days—on and off the field—it is hard to know what fans really want. We leave you with Rahul Dravid’s extended pitch for the old-fashioned ODI:
Just to give you an example, the (Mohammed) Siraj's spell in the Asia Cup final, I mean that was really top-class bowling of six overs. In a T20 game you never see that, you would've bowled one or two overs or maybe three overs on a good day. But here you got to see a full gamut of his skills and his abilities which I think one-day cricket allows you to do that, allows you to see great spells, it still allows you to see good innings like that we saw from both those left-handers (Conway and Ravindra), it allows to you see a lot of good spin, rotation of strike and a lot of creativity. As a coach and as someone who loves the game of cricket, I want to see this format thrive and do well.
BBC Sport is very good at placing this World Cup in the broader perspective of what’s happening to the ODI format. ESPNCricinfo has more of the same—but also highlights why this World Cup may be truly great. Al Jazeera has an excellent deep dive into cricket’s aspirations to become a global sport—and why T20 may help get it there. Parth Pandya in The Wire slams the corporate greed that is killing the format. Don’t forget to check out part one—which has lots more on the 2023 World Cup, and why the BCCI has kinda botched it. And this Big Story looked at whether IPL is bad for cricket.