Will this be the last ODI World Cup?

Will T20 kill the ODI star?

Will this be the last ODI World Cup? I know that sounds kind of weird. But 50 over cricket has been struggling for some time, and the only thing that gives it life is the World Cup. So why not just follow the current trends and change it to a T20 format and be done with all the nonsense of a dying format and just play the one that is actually working?

A while back KSR tweeted a thread that said straight out, “This is the last 50-over World Cup…” It’s a good thread, and I’ll try to summarise a few of the main points.

ODIs are really hard to sell for advertisers, they peak at odd times, and not as often as T20 matches. People do not sit down and watch ODIs in full any more, and they are no longer the party format of cricket. These two things were what made the format so strong, so this is hard to overcome.

The IPL will only get bigger and longer, crucially. We always hear these things about how the IPL makes all this money, but if teams played 40 games a year instead of 15, there would be a lot more cash. That may not happen now, but the expansion period is not far away. When it gets bigger the weakest part of international cricket will go first, and that is ODIs right now.

Everyone else wants a league that they think will make them more money. At the moment domestic leagues are not great money makers, but the cash is consistent, and there is more chance of growth. But the reason bilateral tournaments don’t work in most countries is that there isn’t a lot of money to be made in that market. T20 helps you get more money because people watch more of the games and one every night is a better plan than two a week on a Tuesday and Friday. Domestic leagues are the safer bet for boards.

There is no room in the calendar. That has been true for a long time. Right before the IPL, many high-profile players said there was too much cricket. We added more. Recently the FTP had a chance to be realistic, it chose violence instead. While there is a calendar, cricket authorities will stuff it. Have a long at county schedules from the late 1950s, or tours in the 1800s. People will pack things in while they make money.

And his last point is that bilateral ODIs are basically dead now. The top teams don’t like using their main players, crowds and ratings are down. As KSR points out, you cannot make money from most bilateral series to actually justify their existence. People on Twitter have been telling me that tri and quad series like the 90s should come back. But if no one is watching their home teams enough, who is going to watch neutral matches?

Mark Nicholas has taken his new job with the MCC and said bilateral ODIs must die. I first wrote this back in 2008. Once T20 was a hit, the idea that a normal bilateral series would still be needed didn’t make sense. At that point, you could have easily set up a system of friendlies around World Cups, and qualifying events. Cricket decided to continue to push all three codes despite some of their own research telling them it was a stupid idea.

In Mark Nicholas’ view, we stop playing bilaterals and just continue the 50-over World Cup. But as KSR has said before, that may not work. The reason is simple, List A cricket is barely played by major players, and you would have a situation where teams would warm up for a World Cup without them really ever playing the format. Think of football. Yes, they don’t have bilaterals outside of the odd small tournament, or a friendly. But their players are all playing football all the time. We are asking for players to continue to play ODI cricket in the biggest event while they won’t play it anywhere else. It’s not realistic.

So you might be thinking, yeah, I guess KSR is right, this could be the last 50 overs World Cup.

But I don’t think it will. And it’s not that KSR is wrong, it’s that he’s spoken to a bunch of people like him on the inside, and they all see what is coming. But he hasn’t factored in the most important part, cricket moves slow.

Broadcasters are starting to work out that T20 is their future. But as it stands, on a per day basis the ODI World Cup still gets more viewers than the T20 World Cup. It is the most lucrative tournament now. While they expect that to shift sometime in the next rights deal, it hasn’t. Also, there is concern that playing a longer T20 World Cup might not translate as well straight away. So the broadcasters and boards would have to take a small risk to do this. Why do that if the numbers for the ODI World Cup are strong? They can just wait until T20 goes past it.

The ratings times argument that KSR makes is sound, ODIs peak at certain points, not all the way through. All sport does this though. But a longer day allows for more peaks. And if someone plays a great innings it goes for longer. Think about it this way, if Virat Kohli makes a hundred in T20, by the time you turn on the TV his innings is probably over. He might bat for another hour in an ODI.

Traditionally TV broadcasters slowed ODI cricket because they could play more ads. But obviously, if you get more money per ad for three hours you’ll ditch it. But streaming platforms are different. Remember that autoplay at the end of your favourite show, that is to keep you plugged in for as long as possible. ODIs can do that better than T20 still.

It’s not just streaming either, social media plays a huge part. Social media drives viewership, getting things trend throughout an entire day helps. Social media builds your brand awareness. There are more balls per match to go viral in a longer format.

Where I think his assumption falls down is what I always call the Big Mac conundrum. McDonalds were known for that as their signature burger. But people don’t eat them as much as before. Younger period are more likely to be vegetarian, or pescatarian, and many people don’t eat beef for environmental reasons. People now eat salads at McDonald’s as well. But they still sell the Big Mac, why, because it makes money. If the ODI World Cup was tanking, or even slowing down, there would be a chance to dump it. But it isn’t. Profitable things are the hardest to kill.

Then finally you have the fact that almost all the decision makers in cricket are over 35. That means they all grew up with ODI World Cups and came to T20 later on. Most of them are squarely from the ODI generation, growing up between 1977 and 2003. You are telling me these are the people who are going to kill off 50 over cricket while it is getting more viewers than the T20 World Cup?

It’s a pretty big stretch. “Hey Mr. Cricket Administrator, please kill your childhood. It’s not a great sell.”

Now where KSR is right is that eventually, the ODI World Cup will disappear if cricket heads on anything like the trajectory it is. 50-over cricket is on its way out, and T20 is only getting bigger. But I think the chances of this being the last one we see is at best 20%. However I would say there is a realistic chance the next ODI World Cup will be the last.

And I say all this as the man in 2011 who with his friend was sick and tired of people saying Test Cricket is dying. It wasn’t. But ODI cricket has more of a chance of death, but in cricket, things tend to stick around for as long as possible, and at the least play for the draw.

Can ODI cricket survive this innings to get selected one more time? Yes. But the future is not bright for the game they once called pyjama cricket.