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Debate healthy but One-day format is adequate, says ICC chief

The ECB’s decision to scrap the 50-over format from its domestic calendar isn’t the best news for the International Cricket Council (ICC)  ahead of the upcoming Champions Trophy (CT) in South Africa next month.

However, the ICC says it is firmly committed to three forms of the game and believes the degree of public response to CT, one of two marquee One-day tournaments apart from the World Cup, may go a long way towards determining the direction in which the ODI game is headed.

With more influential voices joining the chorus against the viability of ODIs with each passing day, the ICC has finally broken its silence to insist that long-term preservation of ODIs is on top of its agenda, in spite of the phenomenal success of Twenty20.

Disagreeing with ECB chairman Giles Clarke’s assertion that the world body will re-look at the format following the 2011 World Cup, ICC chief executive Haroon Lorgat said from Cape Town on Thursday: “This implies that we might look at a reduction of ODIs post-2011 but this is all speculation at the moment. There has been some criticism but at the same time, some distinguished players have spoken about their enthusiasm for the format, including Harbhajan Singh.

“There is nothing at all to stop individual boards from scrapping a format at the domestic or bilateral level. South Africa’s domestic structure includes 45-over games. The ICC is firmly committed to three forms at the international level, including ODIs. It’s a diverse experience for the viewer. Which other sport can talk about three viable formats? Debate is healthy, it generates interest. We’ve always been innovating.”

The ICC is committed to commercial and broadcast deals for the format till 2015, with new contracts being negotiated from 2013 onwards. “That’s the point from which the picture can become a bit clearer but it’s way off,” said Lorgat, adding: “This was discussed at the last chief executives’ meeting but we felt the ODI structure is adequate at the moment, with the injection of the Batting Powerplay being very well received. We felt there was insufficient reason to discuss the format’s viability. I think we need to be careful before jumping to conclusions.

“Of course, we must ensure balance in the FTP (Future Tours Programme) and that’s why we have limited the number of T20 Internationals. The Champions Trophy will lay some of this speculation to rest because we have tweaked the tournament format to make it sharper and more intense. The minute you play the best teams, interest will rise.”

The ICC’s optimism, however, is not shared by many. Adam Gilchrist had said at the 2009 Cowdrey Lecture that “T20s have outrated ODIs nearly 2-1 in Australia”, pleasing TV executives, and former India skipper Dilip Vengsarkar said on Thursday that “monotony” and “excess” had killed the phenomenal interest the subcontinent showed in ODIs in the past two decades.

Cold figures seem to bear this out. The game has grown exponentially from 155 ODIs in the 1980s to 257 in the 1990s to an enormous 709 games during the past 5 years (Aug 1, 2004 to July 31, 2009). The percentage of close games, though, have dramatically reduced: In the past 5 years, only 12.03% matches have been won by a margin of 25 runs or less, and around only 9.5% games have been won on a margin of three wickets or less. This margin further reduces to 8.33% if ODIs played only in the last two years are taken into account.

“Those heady days of ODIs are gone. T20 is ready to be the new financial driver of the game,” said Vengsarkar. “Because of the excess, there has been monotony. If you know what’s going to happen next in a game you are turned off. Slowly, what the ECB has done today is bound to be followed by other boards. It will have a gradual trickle effect on the international scene as well. It might be a good thing. Since T20 doesn’t involve high skill levels, lesser one-day games might free the domestic and international calendar for more four-day or five-day games. So reducing ODIs is one way of generating more interest in Tests, something which the ICC has been thinking hard about.”

That’s, however, a debate for another day.

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