The paradox of one-day internationals
Teams participating in the 2023 Men's ODI World Cup have played fewer preparatory matches compared to previous editions, with India leading in terms of number of matches played. Teams have also experimented with players and combinations, with India trying the most players in the lead-up. The decrease in ODI game time is a result of the growing popularity of T20 cricket and the focus on lucrative T20 leagues. The impact of this reduced game time on team performance in the World Cup remains to be seen.
The men’s one-day international (ODI) world cup is less than 25 days away, and teams are busy getting match play in the lead up. But the lead up to this world cup is like nothing compared to what it was in the previous five editions of the tournament. In 2003, for example, the top six Indian batsmen averaged 33 ODIs in the preceding year. In 2023, the six Indian batsmen expected to be first-choice picks average 15 ODIs in the preceding year.
The absence of ODI play is a strand that also runs through other teams that will feature in the 2023 world cup. It’s been happening for a period of time. In a cricketing calendar disrupted by the advent of the T20 format, especially the Indian Premier League (IPL), bilateral ODIs have received the short shrift. Fewer preparatory ODIs for the biggest tournament in international cricket is the new normal.
For this piece, we looked at the number of ODIs played by teams in the 12-month period leading up to 25 days before the tournament start (where we are currently in 2023). India, for example, played 40 ODIs in the lead up to the 2003 world cup, when T20 was yet to be birthed. For the 2007 world cup, when T20 had kicked off, this dropped to 30 matches. In 2008, the city-franchise league IPL was birthed, which became wildly popular, and the Indian lead up to ODI world cups since ranged from 24-27 matches.
But if that is a drop, consider Australia, which has been the most successful side in the ODI world cup since 1999. In the lead up to the 2003 world cup, which it won, it played in 30 ODIs. This time around, it has played only 9 ODIs in a 12-month stretch – the least among all 10 sides that will play the 2023 world cup. England and South Africa follow, with 11 and 12 matches, respectively.
Players on Trial
For the 2023 world cup, every major side has seen a slide in ODI game time, compared to the pre-IPL period. India, actually, looks the most respectable. The 24 ODIs played by it in the run-up to the 2023 world cup is the highest among all sides. Sri Lanka is the only other side that has notched up at least 20 ODIs. Most sides are between 11 and 19 ODIs, although they are getting a move on now.
Matches in the lead-up are the place for teams to try players and work out combinations. And no side has tried as many players in this lead-up than India has. As many as 31 players have featured for India in the 24 matches, with experimentation rife across roles. Only 13 of these players played more than 10 matches, and 11 of them have made it to the world cup squad. The two who missed out are spinner Washington Sundar and pacer Umran Malik.
In spite of playing far fewer matches than ahead of previous editions, India has tried more players in the 2023 lead up than it did in four of the five editions. The exception to this is the 2011 world cup, which India won. Back then, 34 Indian players featured in the lead up. This is also the maximum number of players tried by any team in the 12-month lead up for the six editions dating back to 2003.
In general, teams are playing far less, but are doing more, or similar, experimentation with their combinations. The two sides that have auditioned fewer players than 2003 are South Africa and Australia, which are among the sides to have played the fewest matches. Between them, the top seven batters of Australia average six ODIs in the preceding 12 months.
Administrators are not complaining; they have been far too busy adding more lucrative cricketing properties in their portfolio in the T20 format. Neither are players, who get to play more matches in these newer formats around the world and earn more. Come the ODI world cup, the expectation is that what they lose in ODI game time, they gain in T20 game time. While the two formats are not strictly transferable – refer Suryakumar Yadav, who is ranked number 1 in T20s and a head-scratching 177 in ODIs – there is some flow.
But the irrevocable truth is that while the ODI world cup remains men’s cricket’s marquee property, ODIs are becoming an inconvenient truth on the calendar. The most-prolific players in 2003 played more than 35 matches each in the lead up. This is down to 20-22 now, led by Sri Lankans. How this plays out for extremes – Australia (least game time) and Sri Lanka (most game time) – in this world cup will be interesting to see.
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