Since the formal vetting of Shashank Manohar as ICC President in recent months, the typical sour stench of change that normally flows through the corridors of cricket’s headquarters has obtained a somewhat sweeter smell.
Well placed positive leaks have emerged highlighting proposed changes in everything from TV rights sales, a two tier Test table, revised DRS use and now, a radical ODI league.
The basic premise is that 13 teams will form a league that plays each other home and away over a three year period. Some sort of play off system will decide the winner. With any luck, the final will involve a comedic outcome with Duckworth-Lewis playing a central role. If not that, perhaps a mankad?
The competing teams will initially include the 10 Test playing nations, plus Afghanistan, Ireland and perhaps Nepal or The Netherlands. The bottom side will face relegation.
The fourth year will be reserved for both World Cup preparations and the World Cup tournament itself.
On face value, the ODI League, or ODIL, which thankfully is no relation to ISIL, appears to be a welcome departure from the meaningless bilateral and slightly rarer trilateral series that we have become accustomed to.
The reality is that although ODI cricket was the future back in the 70’s with its coloured clothing, white balls and Richie’s cream jackets, it is now that annoying unemployed uncle who tells bad dad jokes at family gatherings and then asks for a fifty quid loan towards the end of the night that you know you will never get back.
The ODI League will bring context to international cricket like never before. It is welcomed thinking and has the potential to take us back to the future. A place where ODI cricket is once again the shining light to those lost souls searching to find a way to embrace the game.
The reality is that apart from ODI World Cups, and until recently, the ICC World T20, international cricket has little relevance. Winning a medieval mace for holding the number 1 Test ranking at the end of March is no one’s idea of fun. Almost all international cricket played is as meaningful as a soccer friendly between Costa Rica and Libya.
At the risk of sounding like John Buchanan, it was Isaac Newton who schooled us with his Third Law of Physics.
“Every positive action has an equal and opposite reaction.”
Or was it Ravi Shastri who said that?
In any case, I believe the intended /unintended (strike out whichever one you don’t think is right) consequence is that the World Cup is now about as relevant as Mohammad Amir’s thoughts on life bans for match fixers.
Play the following scenario out with me.
Assume you are a proud Indian, or even an Indian who is simply agnostic to the fact they were born in Mumbai. Let’s then assume that after a tight three year slog, Virat Kohli leads his team to victory in the ODI League. The 3rd and deciding final is influenced by a ball hitting SpyderCam which is stuck hovering 30cm above the stumps due to a mechanical failure. Welcome to cricketing Valhalla.
Three years of toil. India are now World Champions.
Now, less than 12 months later, we have another ODI tournament called the World Cup. Last time it was played, it only had 14 teams participate. This time, it will only have 10 teams battle to win it. The format has some qualifying rounds, then Super Sixes or Tens or something that’s not really all that super, then semi-finals and a final. Maybe a super over? Anything is possible.
It is clunky. It doesn’t have many teams in it. It follows a three year ODI spectacle that has more teams playing in it.
So what’s the point of it?
Logically, we will have the situation where we have an ODI League world champion and an ODI World Cup world champion. Two world champions. It makes complete sense, if by complete sense, you mean it makes no sense at all.
Objectively, the Champions Trophy is of more interest that the World Cup.
For those that don’t know, the Champions Trophy, named after West Indies rapper DJ Bravo’s greatest hit, is a knockout tournament involving only the top 8 ranked teams. The next one, ironically, won’t feature the West Indies. They didn’t qualify. Bangladesh did.
The Champions Trophy tournament is brutal. It encourages great cricket. One loss and you are out. It is the ODI League’s equivalent of the FA Cup.
So where does the ODI World Cup sit on the relevance scale now? Apart from being able to be sold to Indian broadcaster Star Sports for millions of dollars, why play it?
Where only a year ago cricket’s hipsters were bemoaning the fact the World Cup is shrinking and therefore reducing opportunities for the sport to grow, perhaps the ODI League will ensure that the current grand daddy of the ICC calendar passes away gracefully in its sleep?
Surely a three year league that guarantees at least 36 ODI’s to nations without Test status is the thing to fight for?
Imagine if the promotion / relegation mechanism stretched to place the bottom two or even three teams at risk. Imagine Zimbabwe fall down and the USA pop up. Imagine that Scotland or PNG or Hong Kong or some other nation you have never holidayed in defeats England to knock them out of the finals. Imagine that every three years you discover the next Mohammad Shehzad because Channel Nine is beaming him into your lounge room. Imagine your team needs to beat Kenya 3-0 to make the finals. Imagine that Canada need to win its next match against Sri Lanka to avoid relegation.
Imagine the corruption opportunities, the gambling sponsorship opportunities and the merchandise sales opportunities.
Now we have context. Glorious context. Too much bloody context perhaps?
OK. Now stop imagining and return to reality.
Let’s think again about the World Cup. That sorry wrinkled up disheveled mess of a tournament. That political football used to oppress minnow nations, roll out strange looking uniforms and that has a rigged draw so that India get to play Pakistan.
Again I ask, what’s will be the point of it?
Bring me the glorious new ODI League. Bring me the unforgiving Champions Trophy.
But spare us the World Cup. Its time is over. It is the Shahid Afridi of cricket. It held so much promise. It once shined. It hung around for about 30 years and now it needs to go.
Instead, if you want something to do every fourth year, how about we take the world’s second most popular sport to the Olympics?
In case you are still stuck trying to solve the puzzle of the previous sentence, the world’s second most popular sport is cricket.