40 years of Cricket

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One-day international cricket is everywhere. From the first, hastily-arranged game on 5 January 1971 due to the abandonment of the Ashes Test at Melbourne, it has spawned nine World Cups and more then three thousand matches played worldwide since that first game.
In fact, despite giving up a 94 year head start to its Test Match counterpart, it only took until 1999 for the total number of ODIs played worldwide to overtake the number of Tests.

Whereas Test cricket has been played by just ten countries plus the ICC World XI which was put together to face Australia in late 2005, One Day International cricket has involved a much larger number of participating countries.

Twenty-two have played official matches, and there have been some additional representative matches featuring teams from Asia, Africa and the Rest of the World. It has given certain younger cricketing nations the opportunity to dip their feet in the area of international cricket which could lead to further developments further along the line.

Zimbabwe and Bangladesh both spent their apprenticeships in the shorter form of the game before being elevated to Full Member status in 1992 and 2000 respectively.

What we do know is that in all ODI cricket so far (up to and including the Canada-Ireland series) we have seen 1,265,482 runs scored at a cost of 42,956 wickets from 1,620,218 deliveries. There have been 1,083 centuries, 6,226 fifties and 4,422 ducks. But how has the game changed over time? Is it the same product now that it was when it first burst upon the scene and if not - what have been the key changes?

Perhaps the most notable change is in the number of matches. They were few and far between when the format was first played and before the first World Cup in 1975 only 18 official ODIs had been played worldwide. This number quickly rose, especially with the Packer-inspired advent of Day/Night cricket in Australia and teams were soon playing large numbers of matches in conjunction with their Test Match commitments.

The variety of venues has also increased over time. Whereas Test Matches have - with just a few exceptions - been played at the home of one of the participating full members, One Day cricket has had the opportunity to be played in some far-flung places. Toronto, Kuala Lumpur, Tangier, Singapore and the UAE have all seen matches played, with Sharjah the most popular venue, hosting 200 matches.

The other key factor is the rise of Day/Night cricket. It may have taken until 1979 for the first official ODI match to be played under lights, but over the course of the last decade or more, nearly half all matches played in this format are evening affairs.

So, if the setting of the product has changed to suit evening viewing and large numbers of matches - bi-lateral series of five or more matches are now very much the norm); how has the actual product changed in the last four decades?

The average runs per wicket in this format of the game have barely changed over the past thirty years. However, a key factor that can be clearly seen is the dramatic increase in the average scoring rate over time since the early days.

Whereas the early ODI players were happy to plod along at around 70 runs per 100 balls pace, equating to a score of 210 in fifty overs, the scoring rate now is far higher at around 85 runs per 100 balls rate, equating to 255 over fifty overs. The modern implementation of certain rules - fielding circles, white balls, and powerplays have no doubt contributed to this, but conversely, the bowlers have had to experiment more with changes of pace, length and other variations. I am not sure how many slower deliveries the likes of Joel Garner and Michael Holding used while the West Indies were winning the first two ICC Cricket World Cups.

In fact, only four bowlers who played a significant number of matches in the past decade (Shaun Pollock, Glenn McGrath, Ray Price and Muttiah Muralidaran) have managed to concede fewer than four runs per over.

That particular list is headed by stars of yesteryear. Joel Garner went for just 3.09 per over - an unheard of figure now, whereas his contemporaries Bob Willis, Richard Hadlee and Michael Holding are next in line, all giving away far less than 3 and a half runs per over.

Arguably, another key change has been the birth of the so-called ‘one-day specialist’. New Zealand were possibly the pioneers in this, opening the bowling with Dipak Patel in the 1992 World Cup and experimenting with Mark Greatbatch as a‘pinch-hitter’ to take advantage of the fielding restrictions early in the innings. Their array of medium-pacers such as Chris Harris, Gavin Larsen and Nathan Astle proved far more successful in the shorter form of the game than in the Test format.

Other countries had their own limited overs stars. England had middle-order maestro Neil Fairbrother and Adam Hollioake with his array of slower deliveries.

Australia had Michael Bevan, who spent four years as number one in the Reliance Mobile ICC Player Rankings for ODI all-rounders, despite only reaching number 37 in the equivalent Test table.

Andrew Symonds played 94 ODIs before winning a Test cap and Ian Harvey never managed one, despite playing 73 in the shorter format of the game.

Despite occasional flashes of brilliance in the Test arena, Yuvraj Singh and Ajit Agarkar have always been thought of far more as One Day specialists.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, another key change over time was the proportion of total runs scored in boundaries. In the 1980s this was pretty much a third of all runs. Two decades later this had risen to greater than 44%. Perhaps heavier bats and the advent of Twenty20 cricket could have had something to do with this, as the number of sixes has also risen significantly with time.

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