In the beginning there was Test cricket.
At some points it was timeless, at others it was six days long with a day off in the middle, but it was always the longest, most testing, and most revered form of the game.
Then, to spice things up, there came limited-overs cricket. 60 overs-a-side, then 50, with World Cups and coloured clothing and excitement. It got a little stale, and there were too many meaningless (and occasionally suspect) bilateral and tri-series in far-flung venues. Eventually, it lost its crowds.
And then there was Twenty20 cricket, with its three-and-a-half-hour format, its action, its invention, and fans came flooding back.
The BCCI (once India had won the 2007 World T20) looked upon it and saw that it was good. Not least for making fortunes.
The international game, ever since the popularisation of the third format, has tried simply to play all three formats and pretend like it isn’t too onerous for players or giving fans overkill.
But the more Cow Corner watches the one-day game in the wake of the latest rule changes, the more apparent it becomes that this format is the one that needs to be put out to pasture.
The effect of the new laws are that sides have made a decision: save your wickets, and have an almighty slog at the end.
As a strategy, that’s fine. As a spectacle, it’s a T20 with thirty overs of four-an-over crawl before it.
In Hamilton, after 30 overs, England were 132-2 and New Zealand, at the same point in their innings, were 126-3. Now, that might sound like fun if what you enjoy of a day is watching Jonathan Trott scratch his way to 30 from 60 balls – but you’re probably more interested in the last 20 overs, where England scored 126 runs and lost eight wickets, while New Zealand scored 133-5 in 113 balls.
The difference was even more skewed in Napier today - New Zealand took 30 overs to reach 105-3, then in the next 20 overs added 164-7. England’s numbers read: 140-1 in 180 balls, then 130-1 in 106.
These numbers are settling into a pattern. England’s ODI series in India last month unfolded in similar style – hold it all back for a final heave-ho. Brendon McCullum has accepted it as much by dropping himself down the order for the death. Eoin Morgan is currently in a floating role, parachuted in for the final overs.
The days of Sanath Jayasuriya or Adam Gilchrist laying siege early on are gone. What international coach would consider deploying a pinch-hitter now?
The opening 10 overs of a powerplay is something batsmen fear – not something they attack. The batting powerplay is taken, grudgingly, once it is forced upon the men in the middle at the 35-over point.
And when games deviate from the pattern, it’s usually brief and explosive. Two new balls in helpful seaming conditions? Australia have already been dismissed for 74 by Sri Lanka and bowled out the West Indies for 71 in ODIs this year. Those two matches took a combined 79.5 overs to complete - just about enough time for two T20s, funnily enough.
The irony is that this approach seems to have produced more close finishes, something that ODIs often lack.
That is a red herring, however. They’re only close because so much of the match is spent treading water. If Rebecca Adlington, Lotte Friis and Katie Ledecky had swum breaststroke and chatted to one another for the first 750m of their 800m Olympic final, it might have been closer for longer – but that’s only because the competition would not have begun in earnest.
The one-day international blueprint nowadays is to start as if it’s a Test match, finish as if it is a T20. Where, exactly, is the character or the unique set of challenges of the ODI in that?
If the powers that be are desperate to see the 50-over game endure (and there doesn’t appear to be any appetite amongst officials to kill it off), then they need to work out what would make it stand out from the other formats beyond merely the over limit.
How about abolishing all the rules? Just 50 overs – set the field where you like, and score as many runs as you can?
The one-day international may not be gone just yet, but it’s offering fewer and fewer reasons as to why it should stay.