A thirty-year phase of cricketing history came to an end at the Gabba tonight. The triangular one-day international series had long past its use-by date, and was finally being put out of its misery. But instead of ending with a whimper, it went out with an unexpected bang. India completed a 2-0 clean-sweep of the best-of-three finals series against Australia to win the 2008 Commonwealth Bank Series.
The triseries was a creation of the Kerry Packer organisation in the 1977-78 season as his futuristic World Series Cricket staged an "International Cup" comprising WSC players from Australia, the West Indies, and the rest of the World. Two years later, with the traditional custodians of the sport back in charge, the International Cup transformed into the World Series Cup, sponsored by a cigarette purveyor.
A tradition was born. At times tiresome, with 12 or even 15 matches preceding a best-of-three, maybe best-of-five final. But it was a roadshow, the fans from each state capital needing their chance to come through the turnstiles, get sunburnt, buy heaps of merchandise, buy heaps of beer, get pissed, get caught up in a beercan fight on the hill, go streaking across the pitch, and end the night in a paddywagon having watched barely a ball bowled.
Ah yes, Australian culture at the blokiest entered a new era. But regardless, the triseries concept did eventually catch on in the rest of the world, once two important elements of infrastructure were set in place. One: TV-strength floodlights at cricket stadia. Two: privately-run cable/satellite TV channels rolling in advertising cash.
For a while in the late 1990's it looked like the ODI Triseries would devour world cricket. Abdurrahman Bukhatir took them to Sharjah. They popped up in India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Kenya, South Africa. They even emerged in England in 1998.
Possibly my favourite of all was the Silver Jubilee Independence Cup, staged in Bangladesh in January 1998 to mark the, er, 26th anniversary of Bangladeshi independence. And what way better to celebrate than to invite the two countries that went to war over Bangladesh in 1971.
It was a tri-series at its most minimal, namely three games, each team playing each other just once. And at the end of the three-game round-robin, take the top two teams on the ladder (playoff for wooden spoon, anyone?) and put them in a final. A best-of-three final.
Yep, a three match league building up to a three match final. Not even the NBA could achieve that proportion of finals overkill. It was, of course, all a ruse to set up yet another meeting of the world's two most populous cricketing nations.
India won the first final, Pakistan the second. The decider, Bangabandhu National Stadium, Dhaka, January 18, 1998. Pakistan batted first. When their innings ended they were 314 for 8. Ten years ago, no international team had scored as many as 315 to win a one-dayer.
India reached 315 for 7 with one ball to spare. The re-enactment of the 1971 Bangladesh War of Independence had ended with the same winner. It couldn't have turned out better if someone had written the script.
The 1998 Silver-Plus-One Jubilee Independence Cup was perhaps the nadir of the competition format created by KFB Packer's minions, but the floodgates, and the cash registers, had opened, seemingly for good, certainly for the remainder of the millennium. Nothing could stop the juggernaut, not even the warrant for the arrest of Hansie Cronje that led to the outrageous suggestion that (gasp!) the results of some matches may have been pre-arranged to satisfy certain gambling transactions.
But the Triseries, having boomed in one millennium, would start to bust in the next one. Two tournaments encapsulate the problems besetting the ODI Triseries:
One was the 2000-01 triseries in Australia. Going to the SCG was not the fun it had been twenty years earlier. The Hill had all but disappeared. Beer was served in plastic cups. Streaking cost a small fortune in fines, and the TV cameramen were instructed to look the other way.
All of which meant that The Great Aussie Cricket Yob had to pay attention to the game out in the middle.... and it was West Indies playing Zimbabwe!
But reality was starting to bite hard in August 2002, when it became clear that no one gave two hoots about South Africa playing Sri Lanka playing Pakistan in Morocco.
The final decline and fall of the ODI Triseries came from two opposite directions, those strange and frequent bedfellows, regulation and market forces. The structure of the ICC's Test and ODI Championship calculations made three-way series unattractive, as did a player-driven cap on the number of Tests and ODIs to be played each year.
In an increasingly brutal marketplace for media companies and sports administrators, the empty seats and lost ad revenue for games between the two visiting teams became too big a burden. This summer, for the first time, Channel Nine refused to telecast one of the India-Sri Lanka games, palming it off to pay-TV channel Fox Sports (in which Nine's owners just happen to have a 50 per cent stake). But they knew that there was not going to be a triseries in 2008-09. After all, reports have it that it was their idea...
And then there is Twenty20, which is threatening to leave Fifty50 high and dry. If you want to watch slogging, tonking, diving and tanking, you can get all that in three and a bit hours. If you want strategy, balance between bat and ball, and dull bits so that you can queue up for the loo, spend a day at a Test match.
If you want to get blotto, go watch the game on Fox Sports at the pub.
Congratulations to India, winners of the 29th and final B&H/CUB/VB/C/CB WSC/WS/S. The Triseries is dead. Long live the Five-Match Head-to-Head. Long live the Chappell-Hadlee. Long live the IPL, the ICL, the Stanford. Long live Bangladesh.