This World Cup reminded us of how good ODIs can be — but how long will it take us to forget?

Australia World

Australia is back on top of the cricketing world and, for a short while at least, so was one-day international cricket.

The much-maligned middle child of the sport has enjoyed its quadrennial time in the sun, albeit a sun that shines near constantly and in more places than ever before.

And although the general highlights were fleeting and belated, they were worth waiting for.

The two brilliantly contrasting semifinals were the highlights of a drawn-out tournament that extended over 46 long days of near-constant cricket.

The majority of the 45-game-long pool phase of the competition — that started all the way back on October 5 — was decidedly unmemorable, pocketed by rare highlights of individual brilliance.

Glenn Maxwell holds out his hands

Glenn Maxwell scored a stunning, unbeaten 201 against Afghanistan in one of the performances of the tournament.(Getty Images: Robert Cianflone)

But in the semifinals, when the pressure was on and every moment mattered, the matches and four teams stood up to be counted.

Those two gripping semifinals showed all the variety and intrigue that this thrilling and under-appreciated format can provide in the space of two glorious days, at two of cricket’s most storied venues.

India and New Zealand shared 724 runs in a thrilling slog-fest of high-octane hitting and carefully crafted stroke play that simultaneously appeased both the frenzied T20 crowd and the purists for whom the longer format still holds sway.

Rarely would the Wankhede have seen such powerful hitting prior to the T20 era than that employed by Rohit Sharma and Shreyas Iyer, while Virat Kohli’s masterful knock would sit proudly among any of the 25 ODI centuries scored at that venue since 1987.

And that’s not forgetting Daryl Mitchell’s intensely brilliant 137 in a losing cause.

India fans cheer Virat Kohli

Virat Kohli’s record-breaking century in the semifinal was joyfully received.(Getty Images: ICC/Darrian Traynor)

A day later, the Australia vs South Africa contest offered both that and more, the explosive hitting of Travis Head and David Warner stumbling into a gruelling dogfight where every run had to be carefully prised out of the sharply turning Kolkata clay.

That grinding, enthralling contest had a capacity Eden Gardens crowd in raptures and nervously chewing its fingernails in turn, a day-long roller-coaster simply not conceivable in the shortest format.

Of course, T20 cricket was supposed to consign low-scoring thrillers to the history bin — this was meant to be the highest-scoring Cricket World Cup of all time.

But low-scoring matches still have their place.

Tabraiz Shamsi leans back and screams in joy surrounded by teammates

South Africa contributed to arguably the game of the tournament by fighting back twice at Eden Gardens.(Getty Images: ICC/Matt Roberts)

South Africa brilliantly and courageously fought their way twice out of glaring holes with both bat and ball — the 50-over time frame giving first David Miller and then the spin twins Tabraiz Shamsi and Keshav Maharaj time to regroup, regather and recharge their nations’ hopes in a manner entirely befitting such a crucial clash.

It set up a final between the undisputed one-day World Cup masters Australia, playing their eighth decider, and cricket’s new kings for whom victory was as important for the sport as it was for the country.

The massive crowd that has been named as everything from 90,000 to 125,000 at the Narendra Modi Stadium in Ahmedabad was ultimately left muted and disappointed by the outcome as Australia claimed its record-extending sixth title, out-thinking an India team who appeared to believe they just needed to turn up to win.

That disappointment will sting and leave a sour taste in the mouths of plenty of supporters.

But had India bombed at a World Cup where crowd interest was varied to say the least, with paltry attendances in the early stages of the marathon competition, then surely it would have spelled the death knell for a format where bilateral series have long become a near-meaningless obligation to TV companies rather than important sporting contests.

England and New Zealand stand in a near empty stadium

The tournament started in front of near-empty stands in Ahmedabad, and ended that way too after a mass exodus following India’s final defeat. (Getty Images: Gareth Copley)

Questions were already swirling over whether or not this would be the last of the 50-over World Cups despite a schedule that sees the tournament head to southern Africa in four years’ time.

But if this tournament has told us anything, it is that there is a market for this form of the game.

During the pool stages, the ICC heralded a 43 per cent increase in broadcast viewing minutes, up to 123.8 billion minutes watched over the first 18 matches in India alone.

The India-Pakistan clash in Ahmedabad saw a peak audience of 76 million, while the India vs New Zealand pool-stage clash had 43 million people watch on digital alone.

“The news of the demise of ODI cricket has been grossly exaggerated,” the ICC’s chief commercial officer, Anurag Dahiya, told Reuters.

“We can clearly say that with what we have seen in the last month.”

Fans watch a game of cricket under lights from the back of a stand

Fans flocked to watch the rare spectacle of India vs Pakistan, both at the ground and on TV.(Getty Images: ICC/Surjeet Yadav)

Pat Cummins used his post-match press conference to hail the momentous nature of winning a Cricket World Cup as being “the pinnacle of international cricket”.

“You only get a shot at it every four years. Even if you have a 10-year career, you might only get two chances at it,” Cummins said.

“It’s just the whole cricket world stops with this World Cup. So it doesn’t get any better.”

And yet, for all the hype and excitement, the relentless churn of content continues almost immediately.

Australia will, incredibly, stay in India to play a baffling five T20Is, the first on Wednesday in Visakhapatnam, just four days after the final.

Travis Head walks with a backpack on

No rest for the World Cup winners — Australia has five T20I games to play in India, starting the week after the final.(Getty Images: ICC/Matt Roberts)

“It doesn’t right with me that the two finalists four days later will start a T20 series against each other,” former England skipper Michael Vaughan said on Twitter.

“Why can’t we allow players the chance to have a moment’s rest after a WC [World Cup] or whoever wins the chance to celebrate properly for a couple of weeks?”

Unfortunately, Vaughan and everyone else already know the answer.

“It’s complete greed and overkill,” Vaughan wrote.

Perhaps the format isn’t the problem after all, just the frequency at which each one is played.

So would it be too extreme to say this World Cup has saved 50-over cricket?

Almost certainly.

Just as was the case four years ago, questions like that are almost always a result of recency bias after having witnessed a series of ODIs that actually matter in contrast to a bland bilateral series played out for a generic sponsor name trophy that is forgotten as soon as it’s placed — at best — in a nondescript trophy cabinet.

But as this World Cup showed, particularly in the two semifinals, a tournament setting helps provide a meaningful degree of jeopardy, which in turn makes for some enthralling cricket.

That is a fact that should be celebrated. Not smothered by a suffocating background drone of other, less meaningful games.

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