Peter Williams: Future cricket looks shorter

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If the 2007 World Cup was the most tedious international cricket tournament of all time, will the 2011 event have any relevance in an evolving marketplace? Will the 2015 event, scheduled for New Zealand and Australia, even happen?

What's become the traditional one-day version in the past 30 years, 50 overs per side, is dying a slow death. England's domestic one-day format next season will be 40 overs a side and in South Africa it'll be 45-over matches.

Both those competitions will play second fiddle in public interest and television ratings to Twenty20. Those who run the game should take their lesson from history. From the start, cricket's most popular contemporary form is a continuous evolution to shorter versions of the game.

Even test matches were once played until there was a result. But the 12 days of the "timeless test" between England and South Africa at Durban in 1939 put paid to that idea, especially as it still ended in a draw.

When three-day English county matches dropped in popularity in the early 1960s, the one-day competition started. The Gillette Cup was 60 overs a side from 1963. It was so successful, other one-day formats followed, each reducing the number of overs. The Benson and Hedges Knockout was 55 overs and the John Player Sunday League 40.

One-day internationals, which only started after a rain-wrecked Ashes test in Melbourne in January 1971, began as 40-over matches, with 8-ball overs. The first three World Cups, in England, were 60-over, daytime affairs.

Kerry Packer's World Series Cricket invented day-night cricket and 50-over innings in three-and-a-half hours. They could play up until the six o'clock news and continue in prime time. They were ratings bonanzas, especially when Packer gained the rights to official cricket.

That set the international standard for nearly three decades but it now produces too many dull, one-sided contests where the result can be known in the first hour.

In keeping with the evolution of limited overs cricket, Twenty20 was an inevitable format. So was its popularity. Once, 50-over matches were extraordinarily popular. Remember Eden Park being packed out with 45,000 spectators for famous matches against Australia and England in the early 1980s? Fans had an eight-hour attention span then. Now cricket's biggest audiences are for three-hour contests.

There are still calls to keep 50-over cricket alive. I don't see the point. It's a shortened form of the game that has reached its use-by date.

There are other advantages. You can play two Twenty20 matches in one day on the same ground and charge admission for both. TV companies can play twice the number of commercials.

By 2011, the concept of a World Cup for 50-over cricket will be an anachronism. It'll have to happen because it's in India. But we shouldn't worry about having to organise 2015 here. By then the international Twenty20 cash cow will have rotated around the cricket world and New Zealand will have had a taste of the riches.

As our attention spans shorten, what's the next stage of evolution? Remember that rain-affected New Zealand-Scotland match this year? A mere seven overs per side. Did we see the future that day?

- Herald on Sunday

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