The lasting memories from the Champions Trophy will involve Pakistan, who scripted one of those ridiculously implausible sporting melodramas that only they seem capable of. They were the lowest-ranked team in the tournament. They got smashed by India in their opening game. Their batting looked woeful and their bowling insipid.
Two weeks later, they won the title.
Sport thrives on rags-to-riches stories, and enough has been written about the gorgeous unpredictability of Pakistan cricket. However, what’s been drowned out in the noisy celebrations is the huge sigh of relief coming out of the International Cricket Council (ICC) boardroom.
Before Pakistan turned the spotlight on themselves, the Champions Trophy was turning into their ultimate nightmare—the tournament that finally convinced everyone that the One Day International (ODI) format was broken beyond repair.
The ICC has been trying to fix the format for ages now. In the 1990s, they felt the need to make ODIs more entertaining and introduced field restrictions that encouraged batsmen to take risks early in the game. The public lapped it up, but over time the game started following set patterns. So they continued introducing new rules, each designed to encourage big-hitting (since their takeaway from the initial success was that fans like watching fours and sixes).
But as the power-plays became longer, boundaries became shorter and bowlers turned into bowling machines, the game became more and more predictable.
The success of the Twenty20 (T20) format made things even more lopsided. The most exciting ODIs now seemed like the best bits of a T20 game, plus 5 hours of faffing around (even the most diehard supporters of the 50-over format will admit that overs 11-40 are a bit of a waste).
So is the format broken? Perhaps it is. Is it broken beyond repair? Probably not.
What this Champions Trophy also showed us—largely thanks to Pakistan, again—was that One Day cricket can be very exciting when bowlers are on top. Mohammad Amir’s spell in the final, Junaid Khan and Hasan Ali against England, Tim Southee’s burst against Bangladesh, Jasprit Bumrah and Bhuvneshwar Kumar’s consistency in the last overs—the cricket was at its most enjoyable when bowlers were calling the shots.
So what’s the solution? Play One Day cricket exclusively on bowler-friendly tracks. Let the ball seam in England, let it bounce disconcertingly in South Africa and Australia, let it spin in the subcontinent.
T20 cricket provides fans with an overdose of boundaries and sixes anyway, so One Dayers can finally shed the burden of being the “entertaining" format. Instead of being a slower, more boring version of a T20 game, we can turn ODIs back to a bite-sized version of Test cricket—a format most fans want to love but just don’t have the time to.
There are risks, of course. Will the balance of power shift too far towards the home team? How does a curator in India ensure his turner doesn’t crumble completely in the second half of the match? Will it get even more boring if batsmen are struggling in every match?
Just to clarify, this isn’t a call for under-prepared tracks, just ones that put a smile on bowlers’ faces. Pitches that make their jobs feel less thankless. Pitches where the middle overs will stop meandering.
If batsmen continue to dominate ODIs like they do T20s, the format will become pointless and obsolete soon. And you really can’t rely on Pakistan to make every tournament exciting.
Deepak Narayanan, a journalist for nearly 20 years, now runs an events space, The 248 Collective, in Goa. He tweets at @deepakyen.