Make every match count
Part one of two – One Day International cricket
It’s a long standing discussion – what does the future hold for one-day international cricket. Some think it should/will die as Twenty20 takes over, some think it just needs to be reinvigorated, and other believe there is nothing wrong with where it currently stands. I think I sit in the “needs to be reinvigorated” group, but I’m not talking about changing the rules or the format – there’s no need, the 50-over format sits quite nicely between Test/First-class and Twenty20.
What does need to change is the global structure of the one day game – everything from which countries have full ODI status, where the World Cricket League fits in, how many matches should be played and how often, what place the ICC Rankings and One-Day World Cup have in the grand scheme of things and so on. That might sound like a desire to change everything, but it is all really just about making every match count for something.
This piece is focused on one-day cricket, but I’ll also touch on how both T20 and Test matches could/should/would fit into things in part two (there weren’t originally two parts, I just ended up writing way more than planned). Everything has its place, we just shouldn’t let any one format suffer at the hands of another – which, depending on who you talk to, is possibly happening to both ODI and Test cricket at the moment at the hands of T20.
Current state of ODIs
Year in, year out, teams play a combination of bilateral matches/series, tri-series and the occasional, much less common, quad-series. Many would argue that, for the most part, these matches count for pretty much nothing – especially in the case of a bilateral series with no final. All series formats have their downfalls, just couple of examples: a two match series could end in a draw, a five or more match bilateral series is too long, and a tri-series results matches where two ‘away’ teams play each other- usually of little or no interest to local crowds (or broadcasters). Of course no match is really for ‘nothing’, as they all count toward the official ICC team rankings – not that I’m convinced anyone truly cares about the rankings.
In addition to these matches there is the World Cup every four years, which is and should remain the pinnacle of one day cricket, and yes, there is also the Champions Trophy. Thankfully the forthcoming edition in England will be the last. In a cricketing world that now needs to support three formats of the game, the Champions Trophy is about as pointless and redundant as fly-screen doors on a submarine – no one will miss it once it is gone (the not-really-champions T20 Champions League would be a close second…).
With regards to the ICC rankings, and while there is nothing specifically wrong with them, they don’t really serve a great purpose at the moment other than to crown the year-end ‘champion’ and to give something for everyone to talk about – “why isn’t Australia the number one team?”.
It’s time to combine all these aspects – bilateral matches/series, world cups, and rankings – into something greater. It’s time to make it all count for something. It’s time for one-day cricket to evolve. Adapt or die, if you will.
Currently at the top of the ODI stack there are full member nations and below them, the associate countries. I want to do two things, promote a couple more countries to ‘full’ ODI status, and then break those full members into two tiers. With the main focus being to create a system that is conducive to some sort of reasonably ‘tidy’ scheduling.
In terms of the two tiers I’m thinking a ‘Tier 1’ group of 10 countries and a ‘Tier 2’ group of (at least) 6 with a promotion/relegation system in place where the bottom two in ‘Tier 1’ would be replace by the top 2 in ‘Tier 2’ at the conclusion of each four-year cycle. The top 2 – or possibly 4 – in ‘Tier 2’ would also qualify for the cycle-ending World Cup Finals.
The existing World Cricket League that serves as a platform for the associate countries and as a qualification tournament for the World Cup would continue, but instead could serve as a qualification process for teams to get into ‘Tier 2’.
Four-year cycle. Bilateral. Home and away.
Rather than a conglomeration of random matches and tournaments, the four years leading up to the World Cup Finals essentially serve as the qualifying rounds. All ‘Tier 1’ teams would play each other, both home and away, in a series of three-match bursts spread as evenly as possible throughout the four years. All matches count towards a revised ICC ranking system based only on matches for the current cycle – essentially becoming a points table to be used for seeding at the World Cup Finals, and eliminating the mostly irrelevant year-end ‘champions’ tag. The rankings would be reset at the conclusion of the World Cup ready for the next cycle to begin.
Overall this means each team would have a total of 18 three-match series to complete over the course of 4 years – or two three-match series both home and away to complete each year, and an additional home or away series in a couple of those years to make up the difference. That doesn’t seem to unreasonable, does it?
‘Tier 2’ teams would also be playing equivalent home and away series during the four year cycle in a battle to win promotion to ‘Tier 1’ for the next cycle, and/or earn themselves a spot at the World Cup Finals. Likewise teams in the World Cricket League could potentially be vying for a spot in ‘Tier 2’.
Focusing the World Cup
Firstly, you’ve probably noticed up to this point I’ve been referring to it as the “World Cup Finals”. Let’s not worry about a whole heap of group games, then a whole pile of ‘super sixes’, and then the knock out finals – just cut to the chase. Of course a straight knockout isn’t really fair on the top seeded teams, likewise you wouldn’t want the lower placed teams to travel all the way to the World Cup and then only play a single game. The tournament bracket – yes, bracket – would need to accommodate this. There are multiple options available, the three I like (while potentially tricky to understand) would result in a 12 (or 14) team World Cup that is more compact than the current format.
- 12-team, seeded, double-elimination (teams must lose two matches before they are eliminated)
- 12-team, seeded, triple-elimination (teams must lose three matches before they are eliminated)
- 12-team, seeded, three-game guarantee (each team plays a minimum of three matches)
In addition to the 10 ‘Tier 1’ teams, the top two (or maybe four) ‘Tier 2’ teams also join the mix for the World Cup Finals – for the two that are on their way to promotion, think of it as an introduction to what they’ll face over the following four years. And as I’ve indicated above, while 12 teams would work, there is no reason that it couldn’t be expanded to 14.
- Three levels – Two tiers of ‘full’ status countries, plus the World Cricket League for the associates
- Promotion and relegation between the tiers at the conclusion of each cycle
- Four year scheduling cycle culminating with the World Cup Finals
- All teams play the same number of matches as the other teams in their Tier, both home and away.
- ICC ODI rankings become a points table for the four year cycle used for seeding the teams at the World Cup and scraps the relatively pointless year-end ‘champions’.
- World Cup becomes a multiple-elimination or 3-game-minimum bracketed tournament instead of the Round Robin -> Super Six -> Knockout format.
Continue reading part two where explain where Tests and T20 fit in.