Since the disaster of the 2007 ICC World Cup in the West Indies from all conceivable angles and the subsequent rise of T20 cricket, one-day cricket has become the most abused topic with experts and fans alike.
More challenge followed with the movement of Champions Trophy from Pakistan last year to South Africa this year, owing to security and terrorism issues. It meant some heavyweights having to adjust their calendar to squeeze in this tournament.
Almost by force, the design of the tournament ended up being what was meant to be: a short, crisp tournament where only the best participated with no meaningless or one-sided contests, at least on paper, which has proved to be the bane of ICC’s other tournaments.
The Champions Trophy was also being seen as a litmus test for one-day cricket as a format. The opinion was divided among the connoisseurs, with some believing that one-day cricket had done its job and it had successfully transformed into T20 cricket, while others believed that one-day cricket had provided some of cricket’s greatest moments and were unwilling to write it off just yet.
With the next Champions Trophy not scheduled yet and the belief that it might not find a place once the new Future Tours Programme is drawn in 2012, there was more at stake when Champions Trophy got underway two weeks ago.
The early season pitches meant teams had to show adaptability and discipline to come out as winners. The pitches varied from being turners, bouncy, flat, to even being dangerous at times.
Less confident and rusty teams found it difficult. Even heavyweights India and South Africa floundered with the varying conditions and the weight of expectation seemingly affecting their performance.
Though the tournament didn’t offer gripping contests, all games were competitive. Big totals were given a fair chase, while small totals ended in close finishes.
In essence, the distinguishing factor of one-day cricket came to the fore. Sure, it isn’t Test cricket, where a less skilled and a less capable side are not expected to come out on top against a champion side over a period of five days.
Nor is it T20 cricket, where the chasm between sides dwindles so much a team with a good half-hour can take the game away from a superior opposition.
Teams were willing to pay respect to good bowling and were willing to wait for lesser bowlers before opening up. Good bowling sides were able to choke the opposition for runs, even in the so-called “predictable” middle overs.
Versatile and competent batting sides were able to adapt to the varying surfaces in the two venues. Sri Lanka struggled to come to terms on bouncier surfaces and South Africa on a turning track couldn’t put bat to ball against Mendis.
India struggled with a poor bowling squad, while West Indies didn’t have a squad worthy of participation. England blew hot and cold.
New Zealand continued to perform above potential, as they always do, and even managed to get to the finals this time. If not for an untimely injury to their captain, they might have surprised Australia in the finals.
Pakistan—with their strong bowling—had a good tournament, only to be let down by their suspect batting in the semis. The ugly head of match-fixing seems to follow them everywhere. For the moment, nothing is concrete and I’ll leave it at that.
Australia, with this win, have won all ICC one-day events since the 2003 World Cup in South Africa, barring the 2004 Champions Trophy in England.
They have proved once again that they are the side to beat in big tournaments. They might have floundered in the T20 World Cup and are rebuilding their Test side, but continue to rule the roost in big one-day tournaments.
This Champions Trophy might not have given the most riveting cricket to the fans and viewers, but has proven that, with the right surfaces in place, one-day cricket is as fascinating as any other form of cricket that demands skills specific to it.
ICC, if anything, should insist on good sporting wickets around the world if they are serious about the future of one-day cricket. They can only be providers, and with due respect to all those who have written their obituaries for one-day cricket, it is commerce and fans that will decide the future of the sport.