Cricket is to India what football is to Brazil. It’s a passion that brings thousands to the stadiums while millions more remain glued to the television. That’s true of the rest of the subcontinent: cricket buffs in Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh will also keep their eyes peeled for the 48 matches from October 5 when World Cup 2023 gets underway in Ahmedabad.
The World Cup is expected to generate renewed interest in One-Day Internationals (50-over games), which have been limited to bilateral series. With Twenty20 hogging all the attention, ODI’s stature has been so diminished that its survival is at stake. The World Cup is expected to give it a shot in the arm.
England are hot favourites to retain the World Cup. India, Pakistan and Australia are capable of dislodging them. Who will win? November 19 will provide the answer.
Here’s a look at the state of One-Day Internationals, profiles of teams and some of the key duels at the quadrennial showpiece.
World Cup: Is there a role for ODIs in modern cricket?
Shyam A. Krishna, Senior Associate Editor
As World Cup cricket returns to India, the future of One-Day Internationals looks bleak. Beyond the World Cup, 50-over games are played only during bilateral series. What was once a revolutionary idea to bring back crowds bored by five-day Tests is now at risk of being consigned to history.
What happened? How did ODIs lose its allure?
A shorter format with spellbinding action rolled into town. Twenty20 cricket was its name. It wasn’t an instant hit. Initially it was frowned upon as a slugfest that reduced bowlers to supporting cast, but in time its popularity soared.
How T20 rose in popularity
T20’s unmatched appeal reduced ODIs to a sideshow. Its growth was so phenomenal that T20 games are no longer limited to bilateral series and tournaments organised by the International Cricket Council. The Indian Premier League was the gamechanger: its blend of cricket, entertainment and Bollywood turned out to be heady stuff.
IPL’s popularity spawned copycat tournaments around the world. Franchise cricket was born. Beyond the IPL, the best-known event is the Big Bash League in Australia. Similar leagues have sprung up in the West Indies, Pakistan, Bangladesh, South Africa, Sri Lanka and the United States. England, where T20 cricket sprouted, have The Hundred.
So what happens to ODI cricket? Does it have a future?
To answer that we must go back in time to the accidental birth of ODIs. That was in 1971, when the first three days of the Melbourne Test were washed out. To cheer the spectators, Australia and England played a 40-over-a-side (each over was 8 balls). Australia’s five-wicket win was inconsequential but laid the foundation for One-Day Internationals. Soon ODIs became a part of bilateral series, and ICC quickly realised its potential, paving the way for the World Cup.
The first three editions from 1975, played every four years, were called the Prudential World Cup. The 60-over-a-side tournament was trimmed by 10 overs when it moved out of England to ensure matches finished before dark. When it returned to England in 2019, it remained a 50-over tournament, but the red ball was replaced by two white ones, coloured clothing and floodlights had become the norm, all thanks to Kerry Packer. By then, the format too had nearly run its course, and T20 cricket was the rage.
Four years later, ODIs are still alive. But barely. It may live to see another tournament, but it’s difficult to see it surviving beyond 2027. In between five-day Tests, considered the purest form of cricket, and the hugely entertaining T20, ODIs have struggled to forge an identity. It doesn’t have the quality of Tests, which offer a stern examination of a batsman’s technique and temperament, and adequate avenues for a bowler to set up traps for batsmen. Neither can it match the high-octane finishes of T20 games. So where do the ODIs fit in?
The identity crisis will push ODIs to extinction. Who wants to watch a nine-hour tussle when a four-hour clash provides more pyrotechnics and edge-of-the-seat drama? There have been arguments that ODIs provide the best of Tests and T20s. Well, it’s played faster than Tests and slower than T20s. In that ambiguity lies the problem: it lacks the finesse of five-day games and the thrill of T20 matches.
The rise and rise of England
When the World Cup opens in Ahmedabad on October 5 with champions England facing off against New Zealand, there will be plenty of interest in the tournament. After all it’s in India, home to the most passionate cricket fans on Earth. However questions about the longevity of ODIs will remain long after the final on November 19.
Take a look at the last four years. After the 2019 World Cup won by England (their first win), international cricketers have played much less ODIs. That’s because ODIs are limited to bilateral series. It tells us something about the interest in the format.
Ironically, the skills from T20 games have been adopted in ODIs, making it more interesting. That used to be the case with Tests: razor-sharp fielding, uninhibited strokeplay and restrictive bowling from ODIs had helped produce results in five days, saving Tests from the morass of dull, dreary draws. Now, it’s the turn of ODIs to benefit from T20 skills.
Why aggression is the key in World Cup
England, who are favourites to defend their title, play ODIs like the T20s. They have such a huge batting arsenal that they score quickly right through the innings. If you have been watching cricket for a long time, you would say that it’s precisely what the West Indies did in the seventies and eighties: Gordon Greenidge and Roy Fredericks set the fuse for fireworks, only for Alvin Kallicharan, Vivian Richards, Clive Lloyd and Bernard Julien to follow. That was in 1975; four years later Desmond Haynes replaced Fredericks and Collis King (remember his blitzkrieg) came in for Julien, and the scoring rate never flagged.
The Australians did just that when Matthew Hayden and Adam Gilchrist opened the innings, followed by Ricky Ponting, the Waugh brothers and other stalwarts. England used the playbook with abundant success: the 2019 ODI World Cup and 2022 T20 World Cup are ample evidence. Now teams like India too have hopped on the bandwagon, with captain Rohit Sharma taking on the role of the aggressor and young Shubman Gill following suit.
It won’t be a surprise if more teams opt for a similar approach. That aggression could well define the 2023 World Cup. And the 48 games in the tournament will provide pointers to the future of ODIs.
The 10 teams battling for the Cricket World Cup
A.K.S. Satish, Sports Editor
India, Ranking: 1, Titles: 2 (1983, 2011)
The Rohit Sharma-led India are one of the favourites. The 2-1 series win against Australia with a depleted squad must be a morale-booster after the Asia Cup triumph. In home conditions, Team India are a force to reckon with, and they have a good combination. The Indian fans are hoping to see a repeat of the 2011 win at home. India surely should be among the top four, if not the top two, at the end of the league stage.
Pakistan, Ranking: 2, Title: 1 (1992)
Pakistan captained by Babar Azam are a balanced side with arguably the best bowling attack in the World Cup. While the attack is led by lefthanded Shaheen Shah Afridi, their batting revolves around the classy Azam and Mohammad Rizwan. The lack of runs at the top of the order and the paucity of allrounders make the batting fragile; it's one of the reasons why Pakistan bowed out of the Asia Cup last month. Fakhar Zaman and Iman-ul-Haq are quality players, and they must ensure a good start for the rest to build on. Pakistan might not have played in India for some time, but the conditions are familiar, and that should give them the advantage.
Australia, Ranking: 3, Titles: 5 (1987, 1999, 2003, 2007, 2015)
Five-time champions Australia can lift their game at any situation and take the match away from their rivals. They have several matchwinners, and the bowling and batting complement well. However, the lack of quality spinners, Adam Zampa and Glenn Maxwell are the only two, might be a concern, especially during the later stages of the 48-day tournament. Still they have enough ammunition to make the last-four stage, and must fancy their chances of adding a sixth title.
England, Ranking: 5, Title: 1 (2019)
Defending champions England are on a high after winning their first Twenty20 World Cup title in Australia last year. After a prolonged wait for a World Cup, England have won two World Cup titles on the strength of aggressive cricket served by a talented bunch of players. The return of Ben Stokes from retirement has increased their chances as the England Test skipper is as a big-match player. The team is loaded with allrounders, which is an asset in white-ball cricket.
New Zealand, Ranking: 6, Title: 0 (runners-up 2015, 2019)
New Zealand are perennial dark horses, who punch above their weight in international tournaments. The two-time finalists lost the 2019 World Cup final against England by the narrowest of margins — a controversial countback on boundaries. Led by Kane Williamson, the Kiwis are well-served by left-arm pacer Trent Boult, who has a knack of getting early breakthroughs. Indian conditions may not be their liking, yet don't write off New Zealand.
South Africa, Ranking: 4, Title: 0 (semifinals 1992, 1999, 2011, 2015)
South Africa will be eager to shed the “chokers” tag, which followed them when they lost the semifinals in the 1992 World Cup. The team has a strong bowling unit, but the batting will be a cause for worry. The batting depends heavily on Quinton de Kock, Aiden Markram and David Miller, while Heinrich Klaasen is expected to provide the late impetus. Over the years, the lack of consistency among the batters has haunted them. South Africa's batting suffered a massive collapse in the Twenty20 World Cup against the Netherlands last year, and missed out on a semifinal. The team under Temba Bavuma pulled off three straight ODI wins against Australia before travelling to India. Have they turned a corner? Only time will tell.
Bangladesh, Ranking: 8, Title: 0 (Super 8 2007, quarterfinals 2015)
Bangladesh had a good run in 2007, but they have not been able to reproduce it despite having quality players. The batting looks solid with plenty of experience backed by some quality young players like Najmul Hossain Shanto and Mehdy Hasan Miraz. In the Asia Cup, they defeated a second-string India, who were without five main players, by six runs for their only win in the continental championship. Bangladesh lost to Sri Lanka and Pakistan and avoided finishing at the bottom of the table with the win over India. The bowling lacks the bite, falling back on Mustafizur Rahman and skipper Shakib Al Hasan to stem the flow of runs.
Sri Lanka, Ranking: 7, Title: 1 (1996)
Former champions Sri Lanka are in a rebuilding stage after the retirement of some stalwarts. They have plenty of talent, but lack of consistency and injuries to several key players have dented their hopes. Sri Lanka, who defeated India and Pakistan to win the Twenty20 Asia Cup in 2022, had to take the qualifier route to book their place in the main draw. In the 2023 Asia Cup, they beat Pakistan and Bangladesh, but surrendered meekly to India in the final. The absence of Wanindu Hasaranga will be felt on Indian wickets, but young talents like Matheesha Pathirana and Dunith Wellalage raise hope. Skipper Dasun Shanaka, who has been disappointing, has to lead by example.
Afghanistan, Ranking 9, Title: 0 (Group stage)
Afghanistan have failed to raise their standard after obtaining Test status. They have some talented players but the rest have not lived up to potential. Afghanistan’s strength is their bowling, but their batting often disappoints. The top three batters have the skills to put the rivals under pressure, but they continue to play in Twenty20 mode, which won't work in ODIs. Even in the Asia Cup they didn’t even qualify for the Super 4 after losing group matches against Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.
Netherlands, Ranking: 14, Title: 0 (Group stage)
The World Cup will be another learning experience for the Dutch. They could play party-poopers, which they did against South Africa in the T20 World Cup last year. However, the 50-over game is a different beast, and that might be a problem for the Associate Nation, which came through the qualifiers knocking out West Indies. The team has some quality players who appear in the English County Championship. Hopefully, the experience should stand them in good stead.
The battle of wits and skills: teams and individuals
A.K.S. Satish, Sports Editor
A World Cup is all about key clashes. The subplots add spice to the contest. Over the years, the teams have developed rivalries, which give the contest an extra edge. The El Clasico between Real Madrid and the Catalan rivals Barcelona, the Old Firm clash between Celtic and Rangers, or the Manchester Derby raises the passion by several notches. Cricket has the Ashes and the India-Pakistan clash.
Here's a look at five interesting meetings between the teams, and the five individual matchups.
Key team clashes in the Cricket World Cup
England vs New Zealand (October 5, Ahmedabad)
After losing the 2019 final at Lord’s by the narrowest of margins, New Zealand will be eager to avenge the loss and set the record straight in the opening clash. In the last four years, both the teams have lost some key players and wear a different look. But the lead protagonists remain the same. England will have the advantage with a better team and the absence of Kane Williamson for the first game will be a big blow for the Black Caps.
India vs Australia (October 8, Chennai)
The clash between hosts India and Australia is in Chennai, a venue that witnessed the second tied Test in history, when the teams met in 1986. In the Reliance World Cup the following year, Australia scored a one-run win over India. From a seemingly winning position at 206 for two, chasing a target of 271, the Indian batting crumbled against Allan Border’s men, who went on to win their maiden World Cup.
India vs Pakistan (October 14, Ahmedabad)
India-Pakistan matches bring the cricketing world to a standstill. The clashes between two highly talented teams raise the heat when patriotic fervour kicks in. Neighbours India and Pakistan play each other rarely, that too only in international events. So expectations are high, making it the most-anticipated match in an event. At the World Cup. it will once again be a test between Pakistan bowling and Indian batting. India have never been defeated by Pakistan in a 50-over World Cup match.
England vs Australia (November 4, Ahmedabad)
The rivalry goes back to the start of the Ashes in the 19th century. A clash between Australia and England almost always produces fireworks irrespective of the format. While Australia ruled the world with a bold brand of cricket, England have adopted a similar approach that has helped them win two World Cup titles. England all-rounders, led by Ben Stokes, give them the edge.
Pakistan vs England (November 11, Kolkata)
After losing to England in the Twenty20 World Cup final, thanks to a brilliant knock by Ben Stokes, Pakistan will be eager to make amends for the loss. The match between England and Pakistan is the penultimate on in the group stage and if there is a semi-final spot at stake, then it could assume a greater importance. Pakistan bowlers have proved that they could contain the rampant England batters and it should once again be a contest between England’s batters and the potent Pakistan bowling.
Key match-ups at the Cricket World Cup
Hasan Ali vs Ben Stokes
The untimely injury to Naseem Shah gives Hasan Ali a place in the Pakistan squad. Ali has the knack of getting Ben Stokes out. The England allrounder has been a deciding factor between a win and a loss in previous games against England. The Pakistan pacer has dismissed Stokes a record five times and the two teams will be playing against each other in their final league games. Ali could cap his comeback with a Stokes dismissal again.
Steve Smith vs Ravichandran Ashwin
The battle of wits between India’s offspinner Ravichandran Ashwin and Australia's Steve Smith is familiar. Ashwin has dismissed Smith a record eight times in Tests. He has not been a regular in the Indian whiteball cricket, but the 37-year-old Chennai resident has come in as a late replacement and will be fancying his chances against the Australian. The pitch at Chepauk generally has good bounce and turn, and Ashwin knows the pitch like the back of his palm. So it will be an interesting duel.
Virat Kohli vs Trent Boult
New Zealand pacer Trent Boult reserves his best against India's Virat Kohli. The left-arm pacer has dismissed Kohli four times. Boult has also been India’s nemesis in the last two World Cups. In a dream spell he shredded the Indian batting, that included Kohli’s wicket. In the 2021 Twenty20 World Cup in UAE, he broke the back of Indian batting with another lively burst. Kohli will be eager to deny Boult at Dharamsala where conditions will suit the New Zealander.
Jos Buttler vs Jasprit Bumrah
England captain Jos Buttler can take the match away from his rivals with breathtaking batting. A compact batter, he could be undone by a late inswinger that goes through the bat-pad gate. Indian pacer Bhuvneshwar Kumar has exploited this six times. Jasprit Bumrah has dismissed Buttler four times and will be hoping to get the England captain early, in Lucknow on October 29.
Babar Azam vs Rashid Khan
Babar Azam is one of the best players in the world today and leads the One-Day International batting charts. The Pakistan skipper is technically perfect and has the capability to succeed in all the three formats. He rarely gives the bowlers a chance, but the wily Afghanistan spinner Rashid Khan has dismissed Azam a record six times. That shows the quality of Rashid Khan. The two will meet in Chennai on October 23. That would be a battle of wits and skills.