Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The T20 debate: Every cloud has a silver lining

If you haven't already, have a read of the affirmative side of the debate – Blame T20, for everything?! – there are two sides to every argument.


Negative – everything in moderation:
As it was pointed out by the affirmative, T20 is having an effect on international cricket – but is it necessarily a negative one? If its evils were so divisive and detrimental to our great game wouldn’t cricket’s shortest format have died out before it even got started? It hasn’t, and that in itself holds the key – the simple principles of supply and demand mean the format is flourishing.

At its base, sport is about competition and entertainment. Competition drives players, entertainment attracts fans. In a modern world where entertainment choices are greater than ever before, has T20 filled a void that was missing in our great game? For the most staid of traditionalists T20 may offer very little – it’s seen as the antithesis of what they believe cricket is, if only because of a closed mind. But for those on the fringes, cricket is seen in a light that’s never shone on an outfield before.

It’s worth considering the calibre of players that now regularly grace grounds in countries where previously they may have only toured.  County cricket aside, players seldom played across international boundaries until near the end of the last decade, now they’re on first name terms with airline staff and fill a passport in a matter of months.

The players that have graced New Zealand’s HRV Cup in recent years are a who’s who of excitement – they have brought fans back to domestic cricket grounds which were once the domain of students and the retired. Mahmood, Gibbs, Hodge, ten Doeschate, Napier and Warner (among others) have offered fans an x-factor and a point of difference – a reason to gather their mates, kids and work colleagues and venture to once dormant ovals.

It has also offered an opportunity for some of our favourite sons to return. Andre Adams, Scott Styris and Lou Vincent all left our shores for pastures green – the HRV Cup has allowed them to return, if only for a few weeks. Would they have come home to play a diet of one-day and first class cricket?

The superstars get fans into grounds. Last year’s HRV Cup final was one of the better cricketing crowds I’ve been a part of – more than three thousand fans encased the Colin Maiden Park wicket. Children everywhere, families, women and cricketing fanatics mixing and mingling - enjoying a fantastic afternoon of cricket. How many would have turned up to watch the Ford Trophy final (one day domestic cricket)?

Coupled with the players, a new upbeat attacking mind set has helped T20 expand cricket’s fan base – regardless of how the format may be perceived by the blazer brigade that can only be positive. T20 has helped attract non-traditional followers to our great game, many of whom want to see what the hype is all about – for them to return is a bonus, that they even make the effort is a huge step in the right direction.

I’m loathe to break into song and wax lyrical about how “the children are our future” but for any endeavour to progress it requires the next generation to want to be part of the action - T20 is reigniting children’s passion for cricket. As both a playing format and viewing option youth, it is a strong option for kids with a short attention span and an array of sporting choices. Would the younger demographic choose to spend their whole Saturday playing cricket when they could pursue something less time consuming and still have the larger part of their day free for other pursuits? Is it not better than they are involved at any level rather than be lost to our game because we want them to play “proper” cricket?

What of the fiscal benefits? Cricket is no longer an amateur game played by professionals – though at times the game is still mired in the administrative choices of ex-players over successful businessmen, money now rules the cricketing roost. T20 has caused cricket to confront the balance between preserving its tradition and selling it down the road for a king’s ransom. What T20 has offered, both at domestic and international level, is the opportunity to capitalise on modern society’s need for instant gratification – skill, music and fireworks in a concise entertainment package.

T20 competitions have brought spectators to grounds, new television audiences to primetime slots and unheralded sponsorship dollars into the game at a time when businesses need a strong return on their investment. At times does the commercialisation run riot? DLF probably don’t think so, or at least they didn’t in previous IPL tournaments. Whilst a balance needs to be found, much of the money that T20 has brought into the game has given provincial associations and international boards the opportunity to develop the grassroots of their game; to build a player base that will lead the game into the next decade. Whether they have chosen to follow that path or reinvest heavily in the upper echelons of the game will play out in the next generation – I understand the need for a strong “shop front” but every window needs redressing at some point.

For all the perceived ills (there are some actual ones – ask the Australian players about Cricket Australia’s attitude) of the IPL and the Champions’ League (CLT20), prize money and fees help bankroll the second tier of nations, and their domestic provinces. On the back of each edition of the IPL, New Zealand Cricket gets a payment from the BCCI equivalent to ten per cent of all player fees – in the realm of USD400,000. While the winner of the CLT20 earns in the vicinity of USD2.5 million, all teams receive a healthy participation fee – money that adds to the scarce resources of provincial associations struggling with the financial rigours of the professional game.  

As a young man I read every cricketing (auto) biography I could get my tender hands on – the thing that stuck in my mind - that enlivened the imagination, were the countless stories of international players discussing our great game after a day’s play. Legends and debutants alike shared a beer and their experiences - young men developed a greater understanding of the game in quiet conversation than they ever did during hours spent in the nets – they learned things practise can’t teach.

However, as tours have shortened and professionalism (read: commercialisation) has taken a stranglehold, much of that learning has fallen by the wayside. The IPL and many of the other domestic, franchise-based T20 competitions have reinvigorated the lessons. How often would players from a myriad of cricketing nations get to spend a protracted period of time with many of the game’s greats? The benefit of time spent talking cricket with the likes of Dravid, Gilchrist, Warne and Tendulkar is an education of the highest quality – a cricketing master class absent from the development of many young men in the years prior to the growth of the game’s newest format.

I’m a cricketing traditionalist – there is little better than a summer’s day spent watching test cricket from a grass embankment in one of New Zealand’s picturesque ovals. But cricket isn’t the domain of any one person, or demographic. For our great game to move forward cricket needs to draw new crowds and start competing in an overcrowded entertainment market – T20 offers that chance. Ignore it at your peril.


Adjudicator’s summary:
Cricket is in a state of flux – not since Kerry Packer persuaded Clive Lloyd to don pink has the game endured such a period of upheaval. Change can be a fantastic fillip, but it needs to be measured. The ICC and its member nations need to find a balance between all three formats, and across the explosion of domestic T20 competitions that threaten to draw players away from the international game for prolonged periods. Each of cricket’s formats has its place, though if one is likely to go it’s doubtful it’ll be the shortest.

T20’s critics; those who have closed their mind to its benefits, would do well to remember that professional cricket is a business. Many want to see a professional product with a return to amateur values – it’s saddening but going forward it’s likely the two will continue to take a divergent path. Money is often characterised as the root of all evil but it now goes hand in hand with our great game – the key is to find a balance between the relentless chase for riches and retaining cricket’s integrity.

Has T20 changed the way the game is played? Yes, but the transformation shouldn’t be a fundamental one. It has simply altered the tempo and the timeframes – players and coaches have been responsible for growing their skill sets and tactical awareness in order to succeed – shouldn’t they also have the ability to pull back their exuberance when moving into the test arena. But isn’t change inevitable? Doesn’t the quickening nature of our game simply reflect societal changes?  The want for more flair, entertainment and an attacking mind set is as much a generational thing as a purely cricketing issue. Have Lalit Modi and the T20 movement facilitated the change or have they simply provided a more suitable vehicle to showcase such talents?

It’s worth taking a step back and considering the number of youngsters attending one day or test cricket – then compare that to T20 – in New Zealand one is a ghost town, the other the realm of cricket’s next generation. That is the key – if numbers dwindle, or we forget about what players and the paying public want, the game is already dead.

It’s worth remembering that none of us own the game we all love. It is ours to partake in and celebrate, but the torch is always passed and cricket will always change – it’s one of the few constants.  Does the establishment still look on Kerry Packer as a pariah or a visionary?

Test cricket will always be my king - the enduring battle between willow and leather should be savoured not forced, but it’s all cricket – all a part of our great game.

And as for the debate, do we really have to choose sides?


If these piece seems sycophantic or lopsided, have a read of the previous argument – Blame T20, for everything?! - there are two sides to every discussion. 

Tell me what you think – I’d love your thoughts. Post a comment below or tweet me @aotearoaxi.

5 comments:

  1. This is an excellent piece and virtually sums up how I feel about T20.
    Unfortunately we have it all wrong in England, we deride the IPL, have constantly tinkered with our own competition to the point where hardly anyone cares anymore, and look down on the format with an increasingly po-faced attitude.
    The fact is T20 has probably got more people into cricket over the last 10 years than any format in it's previous 30.
    I'm no lover of the format, Test Cricket is the best sport in the world as far as I'm concerned, but it more than has it's place and managed correctly by the ICC can be a force for good, not evil.

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  2. Thanks for the comment, Neil. Like you, my allegiances firmly fall on the side of test cricket, but cricket needs to expand its fan base not exclude them. If the ICC and its members get the balance of formats played at the correct levels, then T20 can offer a lot - but, everything in moderation.

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  3. I agree. T20 is cricket for the masses, and should be embraced as such. It's fun for goodness sake!
    Enough of this cricket snobbery about the pure form of the game. If it gets people along to fill the grandstands then it's a good thing!

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    Replies
    1. ...and isn't that the point. The game belongs to no-one, yet belongs to us all.

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  4. you know at that time I could not access to any information about T20 debate because I did not have internet, I wish I could have read this post back then

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