We have already voiced our views, to be precise apprehensions, about the proposed ICC World Test Championships.
Now, when we turn and look at the other major introduction by cricket’s governing body, the ICC ODI League, our reactions turn out to be more sedate and mixed.
First of all, the concept is not entirely new. Well, true, nor is the concept of the Test World Championship absolutely new — the first major experiment along those lines was conducted as far back as in 1912. However, unlike the Test World Championship, the concept of the ODI League, as foreseen by ICC, is not a perennially failed model and has been piloted successfully in recent times.
Besides, there seems to be potential for some rather beneficial by-products of the League which augur well for both the teams and the spectators.
First and foremost, there is a direct link between the ODI League and the World Cup. The performance of the teams in the bilateral ODI series that they play as part of the ODI League will govern direct qualification for the World Cup.
This has two benefits.
Our primary concern with the World Test Championship dealt with the protracted length of the event. If contested, as planned, over two years, it would have spectators losing interest fast and end up as a damp squib of a spectacle.
The ODI League comes with the same in-built problem of being dragged over years. However, unlike the World Test Championship, the ODI League itself will not be the World Cup for the format. On the other hand, direct qualification for the World Cup will be based on the performance in the ODI League.
Hence, it may lack the usual trappings of a gripping spectacle. But, since qualification for the World Cup will be on line, there will continue to be interesting for the matches.
What is more, it promises to go a long way in eradicating a certain problem bilateral ODI contests have been grappling with.
In these days, with home sides increasingly dominating proceedings, most bilateral series tend to become one-sided affairs. Be it Australia playing in India or West Indies in England, matches tend to go in a predictable manner and soon the sides have to wade through a clutch of meaningless dead rubbers with scant interest palpable among both players and spectators.
When the ODI League starts, presumably from 2020, this will undergo major modification. Each of the matches will be played for League points, which, apart from determining the positions of the sides in the League, will also decide upon the direct qualification of sides for the World Cup. And this will ensure that there will be stakes, enthusiasm and interest alive even in the dead rubbers.
Apart from that, certain series between two sides with a limited fan base and low-key interest tend to be aimless and redundant. However, these contests can also generate a lot of eyeballs and eagerness among cricket followers around the world based on of how the points garnered in these games can affect other teams.
The method does work.
It was used in women’s cricket, with the League contested from 2014 to 2016 and direct qualification for the 2017 World Cup determined on the results. Australia, England, New Zealand and West Indies qualified directly for the tournament by finishing as the top four of the League.
Where this proposed League falls short, however, is in the fate of Associate nations. These sides, which have added plenty of colour and the energetic enthusiasm of the unknown in the past World Cups, will find it very very difficult to qualify.
In fact, according to the current system, only one Associate nation will make it to the premier championship. Given the pleasant surprises provided by teams such as Zimbabwe in 1983, Kenya in 2003 and Ireland in 2011 and 2015, this does seem a major shortcoming of the proposed process.
But, in conclusion, one must say that the ODI League promises to be a lot more promising than the World Test Championship. We need to wait and watch to see how the two ideas undergo refinement before undergoing final implementation.