Over the past week and more there has been a seeming parade of cricketers and coaches coming forward to express their preference for Test cricket. Graeme Swann has added his voice in support as well today, going so far as the suggest that fifty over cricket be scrapped. It’s a sentiment with which I am inclined to agree, but with some reservations.
I’m not overly fond of ODIs, personally. They have neither the subtle ebb and flow of a Test match, nor the immediate spectacle of a T20. They last too long to be the evening out that a T20 is, but don’t last long enough to form the engrossing battle that a Test match is. They are only properly exciting when a close finish develops, but those aren’t any more common than they are in other formats. I would not miss ODIs if they were scrapped.
I’m not unreservedly in favour of actually scrapping them, however. (Not that it isn’t a tempting thought.) They do serve a function. Primarily that function is to make money; people do occasionally pay to watch them and broadcasters do pay to carry them. (And most cricket boards are in almost desperate need of money.) This is happening less and less around the world, though. Even in India the crowds to watch England play were sparse. (Though admittedly there were few good reasons to want to watch that series.) The crowds, and more importantly the TV viewership, aren’t getting so small that they are no longer profitable though. The smaller nations have a much easier time marketing ODIs than Test matches and they are one of the only areas in which the associate nations get fairly regular chances to play against full members. And, of course, there are still some people who legitimately enjoy ODIs much more than I do. I don’t want to simply declare my preferred format to be sacrosanct at the expense of someone else’s.
Still, the problem of fixture congestion is a very real one. There is only so much time in the summer and the differing home summers in various parts of the world make scheduling difficult. Australia won’t have time to catch their breath between returning from South Africa and playing New Zealand and then India immediately after that. Meanwhile South Africa recently ended nine months without a Test match and England have four months between Test series. Something probably has to be done, but it does not have to be scrapping fifty over cricket.
One solution would be to entirely disconnect Test and limited overs tours. We have already seen an increase in the number of tours solely for limited overs matches and next year England will go on a Test only tour of Sri Lanka. There is no reason why this cannot happen more often. Ideally this would allow full Test and ODI tours with more of a balanced schedule throughout the year. It might still be too complex to work in practice, but I think it would at least reduce the long layoffs and sudden bursts of lots of back to back cricket. (I concede, though, that without attempting to create a fixture list from scratch I don’t know for certain how well it would work.) There are probably other (better) solutions that don’t involve scrapping ODIs completely as well.
If they did have to be scrapped though I would expect them to just be replaced by T20s. Personally I would not think that to be a bad thing, but it would not do a lot to reduce fixture congestion. (Though there would be one fewer World Cup around which to plan.) It would also not be a palatable solution to those who prefer the fifty over game. It is what I suspect might happen though. Attendances at ODIs have been declining and if they continue to do so I think they will be gradually phased out. T20s are easier to stage and easier to sell to the public and I suspect crowds are already starting to gravitate towards them more than ODIs. Test matches will always be popular in England and Australia, but the nearest ODIs have to that guaranteed support is India who look to be drifting towards T20 as well. Unlike Test matches, the raison d’être for ODIs is to make money and if they stop doing that they will be scrapped.