WHEN T20 cricket was being taken up at the apex level, cricket purists were told by the sport’s world governing body that it was the need of the hour. They said that the audiences did not have time at their hands to watch a cricket match for a whole day and only a three-hour-long format had the ability to keep the fans from leaving the game.
The T20 format was widely marketed and in less than two years an international championship of the format was launched. Despite reservations from India and Pakistan, the World T20 went on to become a huge success. Ironically the arch-rivals competed for the silverware in the final.
Initially, the players did not take the format with any seriousness which was best articulated by the clothing and hairdo of the Australian and Kiwi players in the first-ever T20 game on February 17, 2005 in Auckland. But that changed in 2008.
After the inaugural World T20 in South Africa in 2007, the launch of the IPL next year made boards and the ICC aware about the potential this new format had, strictly in terms of finances.
Naturally, the World T20 became a biannual event and every major board initiated its T20 league. The revolutionaries, which seem to be in abundance in the corridors of the ICC and various cricket boards, continued to sell the format calling it as the Messiah to save the game. The same Messiah would go on to revive Test cricket, they said.
Seemingly, none of that happened as those at the echelons of world cricket now feel that more needs to be done to save the game. In one of the most radical proposal, again to save cricket from some sort of extinction, the ECB is pondering over a 100-ball an innings competition.
Well, the ECB has been one of the pioneer boards to implement radical changes at the competitive level. But, would this format thrive and become the next big thing like the T20 did is for the time to tell.
The question here, however, is whether cricket needs such shakeups? And, would such overhauls bring people to the longer version of the game?
If T20 cricket is to be seen, it has attracted audiences. It has also helped in improving cricketing standards with the fitness levels getting better than ever and the players’ skill levels surging day by day. Not to forget the abundance of money that it has brought. After all, it is all about the mighty dollar. Isn’t it?
The audiences for the Tests would have been much bigger had the ICC and the boards invested a quarter of the money they invest for the marketing of their T20 leagues, something greats like Shane Warne and Michael Holding said during their discussion on SuperSport on the future of cricket.
But, there is a lot that can be done in the current set up. The first and foremost, the game needs context. Tens of bilateral series are played in a year which have no relevance. With the rankings altering after every series, the system has lost its significance.
The introduction of the two-tier ODI league may help to solve that. But, with context, the game needs competition. The ICC awarded Test statuses to Ireland and Afghanistan last year ostensibly to promote the longer format of the game. But, is it a right way to build the audience? Especially, after how it has limited the 2019 World Cup to only 10 teams?
What would get more traction? A closely-fought Test between South Africa and India — that has an extraordinary display of all-round skills — or a one-sided affair between Afghanistan and England?
Moreover, a cricketing contest becomes riveting when ball starts to do something in the air or of the pitch. That’s why Test matches played in England, Australia, and South Africa are widely followed as compared to the ones played in the United Arab Emirates or Sri Lanka. India gets to attract innumerable pair of eyes to the TV sets because of their massive population and, of course, their skilful display.
It is time that cricket moves towards uniform balls and adopt Dukes as the only ball. This English-made cricket ball not only allows more swing, due to its prodigious seam, but also doesn’t get soft after 30-40 overs like its Australian counterpart, the Kookaburra ball, keeping the possibility of reverse-swing open.
Another thing that can enhance the game is by allowing the best bowlers of a side to bowl more and more overs by removing over restrictions on them in the limited-overs cricket. That way a team can play three or four of their best bowlers and enlarge their batting order by having specialist batsmen bat till number seven.
Perhaps, a stable approach at this juncture would be to experiment with what we have before any knee-jerk reactions to ‘rescue cricket’. There’s a lot that those at the helm of affairs can do within the current parameters of the game to make cricket more intriguing rather than shaking up the whole system and introducing newer formats.
Published in Dawn, April 25th, 2018