Ravi Shastri has got it right but Ben Stokes’ dramatic and entirely unexpected exit from OneDay Internationals has left cricket in a churn, with a global gallery of sundry notables stirring the pot. Stokes said that he now knew just how much was too much, the flesh proving weak even when the spirit was willing. He didn’t want to let England down by getting in when he was not up to it. Michael Vaughan called the “current schedule” a joke. Whereupon Wasim Akram suggested the dumping of ODIs, with matches, in his opinion, having become stereotypical and batsmen playing set-piece innings and the 100 overs of action turning out to be a big yawn.
Three formats, Akram felt, were simply unsustainable. Quinton de Kock, who has stopped playing in Tests, said no. ODIs were quite all right. To win a World Cup ~ the Proteas have yet to manage it ~ is to pull off something big. Cricketers crave triumph. Once the media waded into the exchanges, bunging in its own contribution, the going got hot. You only waited for someone to recommend giving the conventional game the old heave-ho, the International Cricket Council having already gone on record as saying that it was something akin to a white elephant. It was left to Shastri to infuse sense into the debate, with its international miscellany from a diversity of datelines, bringing it to an even keel. Don’t scrap any of the formats, he said, but reduce the number of Test-playing teams to the top six so the best in the game got to be showcased more often than was possible today in the midst of the unprecedented fixture congestion.
Those who don’t make the Test grade can, of course, squeeze into the white-ball revelries. Pull in more teams if you aim at further expansion but leave the jewel in the crown alone. This is the best option because the ICC has simply fooled around all these years with the five-day game while fishing for compliments on the World Test Championship, what with countries that have little association with the extended version too being let in even as Twenty20, with its franchisee tournaments here, there and everywhere swamp the calendar and overpower cricket’s older forms. Shastri said that there were teams in the mix now that would not survive the third day of a Test in India, with its turning wickets, and in England, with its prodigious swing.
He advocated the green light for more franchise Twenty20 leagues and reducing ODIs to 40 overs either way, besides cutting back on bilateral T20 series so time could be freed up. The money that Twenty20s promise will determine what the ICC does. Chances are that T20 will find itself struggling against The Hundred, unveiled in England, or the fast-forward variant Chris Gayle is hawking in the Caribbean. Until then, we could do with Shastri’s suggestions.