Ever since the summer of 1975, when I started my ODI career during the inaugural ICC Cricket World Cup in England, the dynamics of this format of the game have evolved at a scarcely believable pace.
I can still recall vividly how completely different the format was back then. For a start, each innings was 60 overs in length for that tournament. At the time it felt like a logical length, because it was early days for the format and it was transitioning from a five-day game to just a single day.
Everyone was still wearing whites, as they did in Tests, and with almost no endorsement logos it reinforced a cleaner, uncluttered and more wholesome feel to the cricket from that era.
Only a couple of years later, in 1977, the Australian media tycoon Kerry Packer changed the look of the format permanently when he introduced World Series Cricket, in which teams played in colored kit. That was indeed a colorful addition to the game. The red cherry was replaced with white cricket balls so that they were easily visible to players against the background of colored clothing and, more radically, artificial floodlights.
The natural evolution of the format was speeded up when ODI cricket began to be played under artificial lights. This innovation changed the game in many ways, not least because it meant games could be stretched out into the evening and allow a new demographic of younger fans to be introduced.
In turn, this youthful boom, and the shorter duration, allowed big businesses and sponsors to jump on to the format. Not only did that help in the glamorization of the game, which was needed, but it also strengthened the financial base of the entire game.
Investors and sponsors started to measure the mileage they would extract from supporting cricket. Many preferred to hold three ODIs instead of three Tests in those early days. Therefore, the ‘C’ of cricket soon became synonymous with the ‘C’ of commercial.
Looking back I feel I was fortunate enough to play a small part in unleashing the true potential of the excitement and enthusiasm for the format, which had been hidden until then. My last-ball six in the final of the Australasia Cup in Sharjah in 1986 to beat India, changed the game in a way. Teams, officials, players and, most importantly fans, all started to believe in the format and its’ potential. Now players would fight till the very last ball was bowled knowing they could triumph at the very last instant. Fans knew likewise, that every game was alive until the last ball was bowled.
The ICC Cricket World Cup 1992 was the first to be played in coloured clothing and under lights. The experience and results were so encouraging that soon after all limited-overs cricket was played in coloured kits, with white balls.
The ICC has played a vital role in supporting this process of evolution for ODIs with regular innovations; the introduction of the Third Umpire, the Decision Review system (DRS), the concept of Powerplay overs, Free Hit for front-foot no-balls are just some examples of how they have enhanced the format.
It is a fact that ODIs have become batsmen-friendly. Nowadays many batsmen find it challenging to reach three figures in their Test innings, but it is common to see huge individual scores in ODIs, and increasingly, even double centuries. The crowd is keen to see lots of massive hits and continued excitement and ODI cricket has provided an opportunity to those fans who felt bored during Tests to engage with the sport.
The newest, shortest format of the game – Twenty20 – is still evolving but ODIs are now as serious a business as Test cricket. The 50-over format also works better as an effective filter for finding talented players who are able to perform at both ODI and Test level.
Unlike Twenty20, ODIs still allow a broad enough canvas for a player to exhibit his entire range of skills, defensive and attacking, while also being able to recover his form during the course of an innings.
The ICC Cricket World Cup tournaments are, in fact, the ornament of this sport. Players, fans and sponsors wait anxiously every four years for this extravaganza. The uninterrupted success story of ICC Cricket World Cup tournaments over the last four decades is testament to the durability of this format. Courtesy ICC