Sunni Upal: Why India will now safeguard ODIs

Cast your minds back to April 2007. Australia went to the Caribbean having just thumped England 5-0 in the Ashes and then dominated in the West Indies to claim their third consecutive World Cup. How times change…especially for the Aussies!

In truth, not many people, if any at all, can look back on the 2007 World Cup as a success. The crowds were low, the format dragged, India and Pakistan fell at the first hurdle, Australia and Sri Lanka competed in a farcical final and, ultimately, the tournament was marred by the death of Bob Woolmer.

One-day international cricket was in ruins. Although the first World Twenty20 had yet to be staged, many were questioning the logic of having 50-over cricket running alongside the shorter format.

Twenty20 was proving a massive hit in the English domestic calendar and the occasional international matches were, generally, well-attended. Then MS Dhoni led an unfancied Indian team to success at the inaugural World Twenty20 in South Africa. All of a sudden, India was struck by Twenty20 fever. The IPL came along in 2008 and brought the big bucks to cricket. The second World Twenty20 was held in England two years later, and then a third edition in the Caribbean less than a year after.

The shorter format of the game took cricket to new markets. Sri Lanka and New Zealand played matches in North America. Afghanistan’s fairytale story lit up the 2010 event. Netherlands, for so long a cricket minnow that competed in England’s domestic competition, recorded a famous victory over the English at Lord’s in 2009.

Nevertheless, one-day internationals still held a place in world cricket. For sub-continent teams, the road to the 2011 World Cup was of paramount importance. But the ‘conflict’ between the 50-over and 20-over versions continued as Indian captain Dhoni had to request time off from international commitments in order to recuperate, having just finished the Twenty20 Champions League tournament.

But not everyone was thinking about the World Cup. England and Australia may argue that their Ashes series was the most important contest of their winter, or Australian summer.

So, as the tournament began on February 19 in Mirpur in front of a packed crowd that came to see Bangladesh tackle India, international 50-over cricket needed a good tournament to validate itself in world cricket, especially after the ICC announced it was looking into cutting the amount of teams for the 2015 tournament and with the IPL expanding to ten teams.

From an English perspective, the tournament was thrilling but the winter will be remembered for the 3-1 Ashes victory Down Under. But, looking at the bigger picture, admittedly through slightly-Indian-biased eyes, India winning the tournament was the perfect result.

I say that because it is no secret that the BCCI has massive power on the world stage. India run the game both financially and commercially. Every team looks to cash in from a series involving India. To give an example, the first England-India Test scheduled for July at Lord’s is already sold out.

So why is it good that the team who account for the lion’s share of the game’s income wins the World Cup? Will it not just enhance their power on the world stage? The answer to the second question is probably a resounding yes. But I believe it is a good thing for cricket that a nation with a population of over one billion is now the world champion.

When India reached number one in the Test rankings, the five-day game became more important to the BCCI and fans as well. The two-match India-Australia series last year saw crowd numbers that hadn’t been seen in a while in India.

And, if India had failed to win the World Cup, the IPL may have become even more popular than it is already. Now, though, I get the feeling that the 50-over game has brought so much joy to so many cricket fans that international one-day cricket is in good hands. Had Australia won, interest in 50-over cricket in India may have dropped, especially as the IPL followed immediately after.

India’s success, however, along with their recent shortcomings in the World Twenty20 events, will mean that the most powerful cricket nation will reserve a special place for one-day cricket in their calendar.

From an ICC point of view, the tournament couldn’t have gone any better. Two host nations made it to the final and Pakistan, another team with big support, made it to the last four. The format was designed to protect India and Pakistan after their debacle four years ago, and it worked a treat. India met Pakistan in a marquee semi-final clash in Mohali and then India went on the beat the other host nation in the final. Despite England’s best efforts to throw it away, they made it through to the quarter-finals along with the seven other elite nations.

And from my point of view, the ICC needs to increase the number of teams rather than decrease them for the 2015 event. In truth, the 2007 format worked well, initially. The first stage, four groups of four, was a good idea but the tedious Super Eight stage killed the spectacle.

I would like to see as many teams as possible compete on the world stage. After all, it is the World Cup, so casual followers should be able to see the global nature of the game rather than just eight or 10 elite teams. Sure, the standard of cricket might be ordinary from some nations, but these nations should have the chance to show their skills.

One of my memorable moments from 2007 was Dwayne Leverock taking a diving catch for Bermuda. OK, they may have lost all of their matches convincingly, but so did Afghanistan at the 2010 World Twenty20.

For cricket’s sake, fairytales such as Kevin O’Brien’s century against England need to happen in the World Cup and not the World Twenty20 if international 50-over cricket is to blossom. The Afghanistan moment was memorable, but there is a danger that up-and-coming cricket nations focus their skills on Twenty20 when international cricket is really about the Test and one-day game.

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