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It's the happy hour. The entire sub-continent is smiling. India and Sri Lanka are in the final of the World Cup. Two co-hosts. Two favourites. Two teams which guarantee bums on the seats and eye-balls on the tube. Big Brother, the ICC is smiling too. So are sponsors, TV networks and advertisers.
But it wasn't long ago that the custodians of the game were worried and rightly so. Many began doubting the format and the future of the tournament. After all, it was the first World Cup after the T20 boom. Between the 2007 and 2011 World Cups, three ICC World T20 tourneys had been played, rather thoughtlessly. Three editions of the big, fat Indian wedding between Bollywood and Cricket - the Indian Premier League - had been conducted. Two Champions League T20s were staged.
The verdict was seemingly crystal clear. Fiftyover cricket was dying and its obituary had already been penned in England and Australia. The two cricket establishments promptly discarded the format in their domestic set ups. South Africa too no longer play 50-over cricket domestically. Both England and South Africa play domestic One-day cricket over 40 overs and in Australia, domestic One-day cricket is played over 45 overs split into two innings.
Many predicted that this World Cup would be the last played over 50 overs. But hey, try telling that to the people who flocked to the grounds in droves even for neutral matches. Try telling that to the people who sat glued to their TV sets. This tournament has been a blockbuster. Of course, the success of India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka has had an impact.
But there have been other factors. Like the Powerplays that have breathed life into a format that was seemingly getting tired.
Says Pakistan speedster Shoaib Akhtar, "The Powerplay scenario is such that it just doesn't allow the match to end. It keeps both teams in the game. After the first two Powerplays (the mandatory 10-over and the bowling ones) are over, teams can still score 70 to 80 runs. Despite being behind the rate, they can still stay in the game. "
Indeed, Ireland's Kevin O'Brein, all pride, passion and peroxide, became the talk of Bangalore after he blasted the fastest 100 in World Cup history (in 50 balls). When he smashed 113 in 63 balls with 13 fours and six sixes to bulldoze the England attack, it helped the associate team chase down 327 and script the fairytale story of the World Cup. It was the Powerplay that swung the game in favour of the Irish as they got 45 runs in those five overs losing just one wicket.
While Powerplays helped Ireland effect a stunning upset, it proved to be a curse for both England and India during their 'tie-tanic' clash, again at Bangalore, just three days before. India, who were cruising along with Yuvraj Singh and Sachin Tendulkar, suddenly lost momentum after taking the Powerplay and they could score just 32 runs losing one wicket. It eventually caused them to get bowled out for 338 inside the 50 overs. England too committed hara-kiri during their epic chase and Andrew Strauss and Ian Bell inexplicably chose to take the Powerplay and lost four wickets for 25 runs.
It was that game that set the tournament alight. Everyone was talking about tactics, strategies and how the batting Powerplay actually forces the fielding captain to think on his feet. It stopped the game from drifting and rather than being a problem for the bowling side, it proved that the batting team often tends to do too much and loses the plot.
This World Cup has been a mixed bag for batsmen and bowlers. High scores have been chased, moderate and low ones have been defended. Seventeen 300-plus totals have been registered. Eight five-wicket hauls have been claimed along with two hat-tricks (Kemar Roach and Lasith Malinga). Surely, that can't be a boring World Cup.
Ironically, the teams that tinkered with the 50-over format in their domestic set up didn't make the semifinals. While the Australians are reportedly not too much in favour of the split 45-over format, in England, the reason given to their recent record suffering is because players don't play the 50-overs domestically.
Former West Indian captain Chris Gayle, an unabashed lover of the 50-over game, as it allows teams to recover from a bad start, too feels that the format will continue despite decreasing attention spans of the fans back home and the clamour for more T20 games. "I don't see 50-over cricket dying down. From a cricketing point of view, things are going fine. Two Powerplays have made it more exciting, " the big Jamaican has said.
Sri Lankan coach Trevor Bayliss too feels that despite the increase in the popularity of the T20 format, the World Cup has been a massive success. "Of course, with the tournament being played in the sub-continent, there will always be a lot of interest. The games have been close and it has re-invigorated the interest in One-dayers. "
The ICC for the moment is basking in the glory. Chief Executive Haroon Lorgat stated, "The evidence to prove that 50-over cricket is far from finished has been plentiful. The television audiences have been the biggest in history. "
But will a seven-match ODI series or any bilateral series generate as much interest? Clearly, there has to be some meaning to a contest. Lorgat feels the same and demanded more context for ODIs.
"This World Cup clearly has context and we also have great content. The scoring-rate of more than five runs an over has been the highest in history. There is nothing quite like nation versus nation cricket when national pride is at stake on a global stage, " the South African said.
Global stage is the operative phrase here and a cue for boards to not schedule too many meaningless ODIs which do nothing for the popularity of the 50-over contest. Maybe a few subtle change of rules, like allowing a team that loses the toss to make two substitutions, allowing two bouncers an over and introducing a double play, getting two wickets off one ball, like you have in baseball, will add more spice.
And the ODIs could do with more spice.
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