Putting all eggs in one overburdened basket

And so it seems the Champions Trophy in South Africa will determine the fate of 50-over cricket.

I don’t know about you, but to me it seems asking a bit much to decide on a future of a format that has provided the framework for 2891 matches in just a fortnight. It seems we may be asking too much of this humble and much misunderstood tournament by putting the whole future of 50-over cricket under the microscope in this way.

Sure, it’s undeniable that Twenty20 cricket has caught the fancy of fans and sponsors, but with two World Cups already scheduled – 2011 in the subcontinent and 2015 in Australia and New Zealand – claims of the demise of the format may be a touch premature.

What exactly is this Champions Trophy anyway? It began as a knockout tournament staged biannually to raise funds for associate nations like Bangladesh and Kenya, who hosted the first two editions. It then morphed into a mini World Cup and then mutated into a long drawn out poorer cousin of the biggest ODI trophy. But the ICC finally woke up.

David Morgan, the ICC president, in a wide ranging interview with this newspaper earlier in the year in New Zealand admitted that the world body had made mistakes with the tournament. He said that future editions would be crisp, held in one city (or twin cities in this case) and feature only the top teams in the world. No mismatches like Australia v USA from the Champions Trophy 2004. So far the ICC have stuck to their word.

Happily for them, the tournament offers a chance to show that there is life left yet in the 50-over format. The problem, though, has never been as much with the number of overs in the contest as much as the number of games, especially meaningless ones. But that is an obvious thing to say: no-one watches a boring tennis match but a gripping one is the world’s joy. No-one will wait up in the night to watch lowly ranked football teams play out goalless draws, but the football World Cup will be watched irrespective of where it is played or when.

As for the charge of too many ODIs, the people who complain most about this phenomenon, the players, are the most culpable, for they have always wanted to squeeze in as many games in a career to chase every last buck possible.

What will make for good viewing is a decent balance between bat and ball. The privilege of allowing the batting team to choose the time of one five-over powerplay block has already made a significant difference. If the pitches in South Africa can give the bowlers something to work with, and the outfields good value for strokes, you will be pleasantly surprised by how memorable these 50-over contests can be.

I’m certainly hoping for a lot, and will let you know exactly how it goes as this blog comes to you from the Wanderers and Centurion over the coming weeks.

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