After the retirement of Sachin Tendulkar, ODI cricket faces a bigger challenge to sustain itself.
Scrolling through the innumerable posts on Twitter and Facebook dedicated to Sachin Tendulkar after he announced his retirement from ODIs on Sunday, it was tough not to feel a sense of, inter alia, nostalgia. While many wrote about their favourite Tendulkar moment, others posted YouTube videos. The pathos generated by his decision to quit chafed on the fans’ memories.
After all, Sachin was the greatest batsman ever to play to ODI cricket. The now 39-year-old led India to victory in countless matches with an efficiency and consistency which will hardly be ever matched by anyone else. The ‘Master Blaster’ finished with more than 18,000 runs at an average of 44.83 and 49 centuries in the 50-over format.
However, despite his impressive numbers, the clamour for Sachin’s retirement became louder in the past few months as he skipped more ODIs than he played and experienced a sharp slump in form. Now that the legendary batsman has permanently withdrawn himself, an interesting question lies in wait: Who loses out the most due to Tendulkar’s retirement?
Obviously, Indian cricket and fans world over will have a troublesome few months ahead as they try to assess the extent of the void created by Sachin’s absence. But once that period is over, normality will return to our lives and we will find our new heroes in due course.
Indian cricket’s development will not be stymied by Tendulkar’s departure as he was never going to be an integral part of the squad that will defend its title at the 2015 World Cup.
ODI cricket, however, has received a major blow to its popularity now. One can almost hear the sounds of the 50-over game weeping in a corner of the ICC headquarters in Dubai. The format’s stakes have fallen considerably after the advent of T20 cricket and it’s unlikely it will be able to retain its spectator base as its biggest star leaves the stage.
When Sachin made his ODI debut against Pakistan at Gujranwala in 1989, the limited-overs version was still battling to supplant test cricket as the most popular format of the sport. By late 1990s, however, ODI cricket had become the preferred format for most fans; especially after the 1996 World Cup was held in the Indian subcontinent.
Remarkably, Sachin only had four centuries in 50-over cricket before the start of the tournament. However, by the end of the World Cup, Tendulkar had added two more to his tally as he became the competition’s highest run-getter. Despite India’s ignominious exit in the semi-final, the country’s cricket fans had taken an intense liking to the shorter version of the game and were to soon dictate its future direction.
Awakened to the marketing possibilities of the 50-over format and the huge untapped consumer base in India, major companies needed an idol who promised a better future for the Indian team in the country’s favourite sport. They found one in Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar. Consequently, the Mumbai lad began to occupy our TV screens even during the commercial break after an over. Cricket’s future was in the Indian subcontinent and Tendulkar, with his bat on the field and his boyish charm and squeaky voice off it, became the undisputed face of its modern avatar.
As Sachin broke and set insurmountable records, his market value rose exponentially and vice-versa. While his merits as a test cricketer remain unquestionable, it was in the 50-over format that Sachin’s batting found its full expression as he flourished and restrained accordingly.
Though Mark Greatbatch and Sanath Jayasuriya established a novel aggressive approach to batting in the opening 15 overs, Tendulkar transcended their achievements by setting numerous examples of the ‘perfect ODI innings’.
However, the tide turned against the ODI version after the birth of T20 cricket. The same marketing forces which welcomed the 50-over game with open arms in the past, have now moved away to cricket’s newest avatar which is shorter and snappier. The spectators, affected by the endless advertising and media frenzy around the T20 version, have followed suit.
In order to save ODI cricket, over the past few years, the International Cricket Council has considerably tweaked this version of the game in favour of the batsmen with the introduction of new rules like Powerplay. It’s easy to understand why.
Since T20 cricket is the crudest form of the game and is heavily tilted towards the batsmen, an ODI now offers the same product which lasts longer than its younger brother. Sachin Tendulkar’s ability to produce amazing performances consistently even in the twilight of his career, not to forget his unbeaten 200 against South Africa at Gwalior in 2010, helped in stabilising the 50-over ship in the last 2-3 years. The 39-year-old remained a crowd-puller wherever he played in India, the biggest market for cricket.
However, the ship will struggle to stay afloat now. While Sachin will continue to play Test cricket, the pain of his departure from the ODI scene will be most sharply felt by the 50-over game. After the loss of its biggest star, ODI cricket’s lament may transform into a wail soon.