ODI, England, Australia
Rod Marsh takes a diving catch during the maiden ODI [Image Credits: Getty]

“You have seen history made,” said the then head of the Australian Cricket Board, Sir Donald Bradman, after England and Australia played out the first-ever One-day International [ODI] at the Melbourne Cricket Ground- the same venue where the first Test had been played a century ago- on this day in 1971.

That Adversity is a mother of all inventions is a saying that fits perfectly to what happened exactly 50 years ago on this day at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. When England had embarked on their 1970-71 tour of Australia, there were no initial plans of staging a One-day fixture, even though limited-overs cricket was a regular feature in English domestic circle in the form of the 65-over-a-side Gillette Cup.

The Gillette Cup was introduced in England back in 1963 as a response to dwindling attendance in First-Class fixtures in county championships and a plethora of draws owing to defensive tactics from both captains as well as batsmen.

First-ever ODI was played on this day in 1971 [Image Credits: Getty]
But even though it was considered a commercial success, there was less enthusiasm elsewhere as Test cricket still ruled the roost. The Australians had their first taste of limited-overs cricket in 1969 and just as in England, it proved to be equally popular. However, it took over eight years and a damp squib in the New Year Test at the MCG for One-day cricket to make its international debut. The first three days of the Test were washed out due to heavy rain, eventually forcing the match to be abandoned.

With the Melbourne authorities facing losses close to £80,000, both ECB and the Australian board decided to add an extra 7th Test at the end of the series. As a short-term measure, it was also agreed that a ‘Gillette Cup’ style 40-over-a-side fixture would be played on what would have been the fifth day of the 3rd Test.

However, this was met with reluctance from the English touring party who demanded extra money for the last-minute addition of the fixtures.

‘The players were treated pretty badly. There was nearly a riot in the dressing room. The manager just wandered in and told us what was happening. We were never consulted”- Ray Illingworth was quoted as saying by the Daily Mail.

‘It wasn’t in our contract to play the extra one-dayer or an extra seventh Test, which they just tagged on. We could have refused to play. It wasn’t a very happy situation. The manager just had a chat with Donald Bradman, and all they were interested in was making some brass for Australian cricket.’ he added.

And even though the players were on a cusp of becoming a part of history, Illingworth revealed that England did not take the game seriously but they were relieved that to play some cricket after having spent so much time in the dressing room.

Even the authorities were skeptical about the popularity of the match and the teams were named as ‘England XI’ and ‘Australia XI’. There was a lot of discussion as to what to call the game and most reports referred to it as ‘One-day Test match’


What happened in the match?

Maiden ODI game [Image Credits: Getty]
On a pitch that was rendered slow, England XI, on the back of John Edrich’s 119-ball 82- who recently passed away- posted 190 in 39.4 overs.

In the very first ODI, the signs were clear that spinners would go on to play a major role in years to follow as Keith Stackpole (3/40) and Ashley Mallett (3/34) starred for Australia, claiming six wickets between them.

“They called it the first one-day international which rather surprised me years later. I thought, ‘Gee it’s part of history’. That game we thought was a bit of a joke.”- Ashley Mallett was quoted as saying by ESPNCricinfo.

In response, Australia chased the target down in 34.6 overs thanks to a half-century from captain Ian Chappell (60), a 51-ball 41 by Doug Walters, and an unbeaten 29-ball 22 by Greg Chappell.

John Edrich was adjudged the ‘Player of the Match’ for his 119-ball 82 despite his innings coming in a losing cause. The players earned an extra 50 pounds for the match while Edrich received 100 pounds as Man of the Match.


What happened next?

The game proved to be a roaring success as a total of 46000 spectators turned up to witness history. The Australian newspapers deemed the experiment as an ‘overwhelming success’ while David Clark, England manager at the time, said that he could see a week set aside for a short one-day series in the following summer when Australia visit England.

The Guardian noted that ‘One Day Test are here to stay’. In the next four years, the first-ever Women’s (1973) and Men’s ODI World Cups (1975) were staged but it was not until Kerry Packer’s World Series Cricket in 1977 which showed the world how productive ODIs can be that the establishment finally woke up to the money to be earned.

Kerry Packer’s World Series cricket [Image Credits: Wisden]
Colorful clothing, players focussing more on fitness, protective helmets, field restrictions, day-night games played with a while ball were pioneered during the Packer era and cricket was never the same again. The first day-night fixture was played at the SCG between Australia and the West Indies in 1978, exactly a year after the same was played in the Kerry Packer World Series Cricket.


The turning point in the history of ODI cricket

While ODIs were being played for over a decade and two World Cups had already been staged when 1983 rolled around, it was India’s triumph for the ages in the third edition that proved to be a turning point in the history of limited-overs cricket.

Until then, limited-overs cricket was mainly popular in Australia, England, and the West Indies, and the sub-continent-led by India still considered it as ‘pyjama cricket’. India played its first-ever ODI in 1974 against England but for the major part of the 70s, it did not take it seriously, often fielding second-string sides.

That all changed with the emergence of cricketers like Kapil Dev at the fall of the 1970s. Dev was appointed as the captain for the 1983 edition of the World Cup, but with India having managed just 1 win across the past two events, no one really gave the Men in Blue a chance.

But a 27-run-win against world champions West Indies in the lead-up to the World Cup gave Kapil’s devils the confidence that they could indeed compete against the best in the world.

On This Day In 1971: The Accidental Birth Of ODI Cricket
India’s 1983 World Cup Victory proved to be the tipping point in ODI cricket history. Credit: Twitter

India started their campaign with another victory over the West Indies and then Australia but the most poignant moment for the underdogs came in the game against Zimbabwe where their captain led the way with a match-winning 175.

India went on to win the match and qualify for the semi-finals. They then proceeded to beat England in the semis before doing the unthinkable: humbling Clive Lloyd’s men for the second time in the competition to lift their maiden title.

India’s World Cup win was not only significant for them but also for the future of limited-overs cricket. The Indian public- just like it did with T20Is two decades later- immediately fell in love with One-day cricket.

On This Day In 1971: The Accidental Birth Of ODI Cricket On This Day In 1971: The Accidental Birth Of ODI Cricket On This Day In 1971: The Accidental Birth Of ODI Cricket On This Day In 1971: The Accidental Birth Of ODI Cricket

‘Pyjama cricket’ had suddenly transformed into thrill-a-minute glamorous must-see cricket with multiple triangular, quadrangular tournaments taking place in Sharjah and other parts of the sub-continent. The sub-continent hijacked the format game has never been the same again.

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Yash Mittal

Just a student of this beautiful game called cricket. Writer. Storyteller.