Even a decade ago, cricket would have been an unlikely arena for a Schumpeterian gale to manifest itself. The Test match was the somber, genteel form, even as the younger, more vibrant One-Day Internationals (ODIs) whipped up popular passions. “Seize the day,” Horace had written; and ODIs were doing just that. And though the shorter form of the game had eroded some of the Test match’s attractions, the two could still coexist.
All that can change as the 2011 cricket World Cup unfolds over the next six weeks or so. Now the ODI is the graying form, challenged by the new kid on the block— Twenty20. Such is the mass appeal of the 20-over-a-side game, that the one-dayer may well be dying.
The problem is partly structural: ODIs were meant to appeal instantly—a day’s excitement instead of the strung-out show of true grit stretched over days. Now that T20 can provide that same adrenalin flow—and more—in the space of a few hours, the ODI is in danger of becoming redundant. Audience measurement ratings for ODIs have consistently underperformed those for T20 in the past few years, accompanied by a global move towards more tightly packaged cricket. Leading Test cricket nations are shortening their domestic games. Even the World Cup from 2015 will have fewer teams.
To be sure, ODIs may endure, as does Test cricket. But besides the form, the effects of T20 have also been felt on style. Some purists now cringe at the way the game is played.
“What do they know of cricket who only cricket know?” the great purveyor of cricketing style, C.L.R. James, had once asked. The question, prompted then by James’ social, political and historical experience of the game, is applicable today as well, albeit in a different sense. The world of T20 is populated not just by cricketers, but also by marketeers and sundry glitterati. Millions of dollars monetize the game, and cricketers with little experience in Tests or ODIs are transacted at whopping prices.
Understandably, the mood in the run-up to the World Cup has been sober. Sport is spectacle—it always has been since the first javelins were thrown in Olympia—and the stage seems to be moving past ODIs.
Can the 2011 World Cup keep the ODI form alive? Tell us at firstname.lastname@example.org