x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Prioritise Twenty20 and Test cricket

Graeme Swann has a point. Do away with ODI cricket as it lacks the enduring appeal of Tests and the quick fix of Twenty20.

Graeme Swann would like the ICC to call time on one-day international cricket
Graeme Swann would like the ICC to call time on one-day international cricket

Cricket is a peculiarly morbid sport. Barely a day goes by without someone or other saying that one of the game's three formats is dying.

It is clear that Test cricket, one-day internationals and the Twenty20 game just cannot sit together quietly and play nice. The international sporting landscape is just not big enough for the three of them.

The oldest and most meandering of the three is usually the one most in peril. Test cricket, dying? The very idea really should be a load of twaddle, as most recently exemplified by the fact the most recent two matches have been stunning.

Aside from the thrilling finish on Saturday, when the match was drawn with the scores level, the epic Test involving India and the West Indies in Kolkata was so saturated in sub-plots, it is a wonder there are any other forms at all.

Sachin Tendulkar's missed century. Ravi Ashwin's all-round monument. Darren Sammy's resolve. Ravi Rampaul's heroic bowling. Only Test cricket has the scope for such a rich tableau.

But if no-one goals to watch, it is a dead duck. At the start of the final day of the Australia mini-series in South Africa, in Johannesburg last week, there was nobody there to watch.

OK, it had been raining so the start of the day's play was delayed. But Ricky Ponting might have been playing the final match of his storied career. He might have scored a century. All four results were possible. Is that not enough to get people to the ground?

The answer? Do away with one-day internationals. Graeme Swann said as much this week. "I don't think that format should carry on for much longer," he was quoted as saying by the BBC.

"For me it's not as enjoyable to play in. I think Test cricket and Twenty20 are the way forward."

Swann acknowledged that few people would probably agree with him, but he might be surprised. Not so long ago, the idea that one-day internationals had had their time had plenty of traction.

Then India won the World Cup, and suddenly everything was fine again. One win can often paper over a multitude of ills, and that one certainly did.

It meant the competition will be retained in all its unwieldy gory, when all the signs had hitherto pointed to the fact it was a bloated and listless format in need of a revamp.

By contrast, the World Twenty20 - brief, to the point, and with a low quota of mismatches - is arguably the best designed major championship in any sport.

Kumar Sangakkara, the then Sri Lanka captain, said during the World Cup earlier this year that Asia was the only place to stage the game's showpiece tournament. He could have extended the idea to include all 50-over international cricket.

The 50-over game is neither fish nor fowl. It is neither substantial enough to provide the sort of performances which endure, like in Tests, nor does it provides the guarantees of quick fixes of excitement that the 20-over game does.

So Shahid Afridi did manage a stellar display in Sharjah last week which will live long in the memory. But what else happened in the rest of the series against Sri Lanka? Nothing sticks out.

Clearly, Twenty20 successes are even more throwaway than in the 50 over game, but the matches serve the exact purpose they were designed for, fittingly into a shorter timespan more suited to modern day life.

Swann had the right idea. Bin the 50-over game and prioritise the other two.