Fifty-over cricket is alive and well, thank you. I eat my words, having believed before the World Cup that the format was in peril. Sandwiched between the manic thrills of Twenty20 and classical Test cricket, the 50-over game, I had feared, would inevitably perish. Many of my cricketing heroes seemed to share a similar opinion. A year ago, at a MCC lecture, Imran Khan suggested scrapping the 50-over format to free up more time for Tests, keeping space for a World Cup every four years. I'm not sure whether Imran feels the same way now.
Nothing could have been a better advert for the 50-over game than the World Cup which concluded over the weekend. The average run rate touched more than five runs per over for the first time in the 36-year-old championship - the 2011 edition averaged 5.03 runs per over, compared to the previous highest of 4.95 runs per over in the 2007 championship in West Indies. Twenty four centuries were scored, the highest number in any World Cup. Teams batting first won 24 games and lost 23 - a fairly even win-loss ratio. Seventeen totals were above 300 runs. Nearly 70 million people watched the pulsating India - Sri Lanka final on television.
India's rousing win has also helped the rejuvenation of the format. It turned World Cup history on its head, becoming the first host nation to win the championship and chasing down the highest number of runs successfully in a final. India won seven of its nine matches, boasted four of the top 10 run scorers, and shared the top bowling honours. Suitably emboldened by the success of the World Cup, English county cricket administrators are reportedly thinking about returning to the 50-over format, scrapped at the end of the 2009 season in favour of 40-over games.
But the onus falls on the administrators to handle the cricket calendar with care to ensure that the 50-over game stays exciting and relevant. Jonathan Agnew, writing for the BBC, worries that the format has been flogged by administrators and television companies for extracting maximum revenues, leading to excessive and sometimes, meaningless games. "The legacy of this World Cup should be that if treated properly and with respect, the 50-over game is by far the best format for one-day cricket," writes Agnew. Many like Mike Selvey believe that the World Cup needs to be trimmed - the four-week long league stage, they say is inordinately long, and could be easily shortened by having two matches per day.
The ICC has cut the number of competing teams from 14 to 10 for the 2015 tournament to be held in Australia and New Zealand. (Sadly, there is no place for Ireland who beat England in the 2011 World Cup.) "The length of 50 overs will find certain teams out but I think there are 10 teams that can seriously compete in that format," the ICC chief executive Haroon Lorgat says. He says the ICC conducted a survey of 676 million people in five "markets" - England, New Zealand, India, South Africa and Bangladesh" - which showed there was "not just an interest but a passion for one day internationals". Just handle it with care.