I play football every Saturday and Sunday morning. Here's a rough demographic of this football group: being Bangalore, most of the 'boys' are software professionals, mid-career or thereabouts; I think we're all married; some have kids (I have a dog). Now, let's say we were almost all born before 1980, and it would be fair to assume that the first 15-odd years of our sports watching were focused on cricket. After all, before the mid-1990s, we had little access to big-ticket European or world football on TV.
I went to play wearing a replica jersey of the Indian limited-overs team once; it has my name embossed on the back. One of the boys asked me if I'd represented India at some stage, perhaps just warmed the bench for one match at, maybe, the Under-15 level or something. I asked casually if he would hang around playing football with me if he had played cricket for India. His reply, equally casual, was that he was happy never to have played much cricket.
I took it to mean that he disliked cricket in general. And this was well before the latest spot-fixing story. Each to his own.
Cut to this Sunday. Being IT professionals, it's a cause of no little amusement to some of them that I don't work a nine-to-five shift and my work often goes on till midnight or beyond. We'd met at 6.30am, and I was possibly looking a bit more haggard than usual. "Longer hours because of the Champions Trophy," I explained. A couple of my friends looked blank; one said, "Yeah, India beat someone, no?"; another, during a separate conversation, asked, "But didn't Bayern Munich win that last month?"
And that brings me to the point of all this fooling around with football. I've said this before - as have some others, senior cricketers among them - but it's a good time to say it again: One-Day Internationals have run their course. They have served the purpose they were created for, and it's time the format was put out of its misery. My football buddies might not care about the Champions Trophy, but they were quite excited when the IPL was on. Even late last year, when the World T20 was being played in Sri Lanka, enough of the footballers came to play groggy-eyed, having stayed up with friends to watch at least the matches featuring India. They just don't care about ODIs anymore.
And I can see why.
ODI cricket was devised to do exactly what Twenty20s are doing now. Spread the game, appeal to the masses, showcase the entertainment aspect of cricket. If the charm of limited-overs cricket is in its quick action, hits and misses, outstanding fielding and thrilling finishes, T20s do it much better than 50-50s. And if frenetic action is not your thing, and you'd rather see 'proper' cricket, emotional as one might feel about the 1980s and 1990s, you'd have to agree that Test cricket provides a better deal of it.
Why are we still so apologetic about T20s then? Why do we still only fit in a T20 or two during bilateral series, while ensuring that three or five or even seven 50-50s are part of the itinerary? Why are we still so reserved when it comes to the domestic T20 leagues around the world?
It must say something about ODIs that the bosses feel the need to tweak the rules ever so often, almost desperate to let it live, somehow prevent it from falling by the wayside.
What's even more surprising is that, despite evidence that T20s have a wider appeal than 50-50s - whether at the grounds or on TV - and therefore bring in more money, the revenue-obsessed cricket administrators are still coy about it. It's also a no-brainer, at least to me, that the attempts to make cricket a global sport would be better served by T20 cricket than any other format. But forget taking cricket to newer parts of the world, even to win back the audience cricket has lost in its traditional centres - to football in India, for example - T20s are the way to go.
Doing away with the Champions Trophy is the first step in the right direction (though I much prefer it to the World Cup with its crisp best-against-the-best format). Needless to say, Test cricket ought to endure, even as we must bid a fond farewell to 50-overs cricket after yeomen service rendered to the game - especially for the role it played at a time when Test cricket was failing to keep fans interested.