Call me a biased classicist. I always believed that the 20-20 format was a cricket killer. Those of us who watch test match cricket (E.g., England vs. Australia, India vs. South Africa) would know that the standards of cricket in any 20-20 match is not the greatest in the world. Yes, we do see an occasional great catch, a run out, a stolen single, and a big six, but they do not add up to form cricket.
To attract more people, to generate income, and to sustain domestic cricket, English county cricket clubs started playing the mini-format of the game. They were competing with another sport (football) that had and still has an unmatched mad-following in that part of the world. Other cricket playing countries picked up the 20-20 format at various junctures mostly because of business reasons. In India, 20-20 did become a super hit once India won the inaugural edition of 20-20 world cup in South Africa. Looking back, I just feel how unlucky we were to have won that. There is no doubt that IPL has generated an unprecedented fan following for cricket in India and to an extent abroad. I don’t know how good it is to generate an artificial fan following when those fans don’t even know what they are cheering for. To be honest, those fans who started following cricket because of 20-20 should ask themselves why they did so.
I shouldn’t be kicking a person when he is down. However, I would take an exception today. Perhaps, I might even ask all of you to participate in a “DharmadEtu” event performed on IPL. (DharmadEtu= a phenomenon where in, a person, who is perceived to be a criminal is beaten by a mob). I hope it shows how angry I am to know the recent developments in IPL. The muddiness had to come out someday. It would be unfair to paint every one involved with the same brush. There is no doubt that the IPL has had some financial irregularities. One may try to forgive that. But, I just hope and pray that the allegations of match fixing are untrue. A tragedy called Hansie Cronje was enough to cast a huge cloud over the world of cricket. We are not ready to digest one more incident of such magnitude.
Some of those who played test cricket at the highest level (former and current) wholeheartedly embraced the concept of IPL when it came into being. Some of the Indian domestic players did get a chance to rub shoulders with legendary cricketers, which they could not have done otherwise. Some of the cricketers who had finished their international careers returned to the field. They knew that they could easily do it. After all, they were experienced in playing real cricket. Many Indian batsmen who had successfully played for several years in domestic circuits (Ranji Trophy, Duleep Trophy etc) got a chance to show their talent. They had failed to break into the national team unfortunately because of the virtuous golden Indian middle order. As far as bowling is concerned, the playing surfaces in India made sure that we did not encourage either spin or pace bowling. No hopes what so ever. In came ICL and then IPL…to be fair to many Indian domestic players who went with them indeed received some sort of financial security. I am sure it was the primary reason why they chose to play for these leagues. I don’t want to talk about either ICC or BCCI because there is nothing worthy to say. There is no doubt that if 20-20 were to come into existence in an ODI free world (or pre-ODI era) , then it may have evolved in a different way.
Cricket is not new to foul play. I am sensible enough not hold the 20-20 format responsible for all the wrongs in cricket. However, there is no doubt that from the beginning, the IPL had all the recipes for a disaster. It was not if but when. I do have some sympathy for the players who have taken part in it. The only thing that made me watch a certain IPL match was the fact that some retired international players were playing again. Some unsung heroes of domestic tournaments got their much-deserved moments in limelight. But, almost everyone knew from the beginning that IPL is not going to give us solid TEST cricketers. I wouldn’t mind that provided it did not convert the existing potential test-talent into crap. We could see how easily Kallis and Dravid translated their games from a ‘classic true story’ (hardbound, library edition) to a ‘best seller fiction’ (paperback, economy edition). We saw how Warne and Kumble bowled their effective short 4 over spells because they had bowled countless gruelling 10 over spells in their career. Nonetheless, I am sure we are not going see the hard-hitting (ugly), bottom handed batsmen and quick bowling-spinners transforming their mindset to play the real format.
Those who argue in favour of 20-20 always try to draw a parallel between the emergence of 20-20 with the onset of ODI in the 1970s and point to the survival of test cricket. I just want to tell them one thing. If you do want to support the 20-20 format, it has to be in a world cup tournament played once in four years. I would go a step further and ask people to stop playing/ supporting bilateral ODI series as well.
If every test playing country doesn’t play at least 10 test matches per year, then we may do just as well by settling for base-ball. Again, I just hope that the 20-20 mania has not caused an irreversible damage to the game of cricket. The 20-20 format has an outside chance of helping the game of cricket if and only if we started playing on fair surfaces in a groud where boundaries are at least 75 yards away. This applies first to test cricket. If, test cricket continues on dead surfaces, then forget the impact of 20-20…we may have to legitimize bowling machines.
PS: A great test cricket match played on a fair surface has the potential to nullify the effect of several wrongs in cricket. It is said that people tend to have short memories. Memories are neither short nor long, they are convenient.
A quote from rediff.com news site (added on May 20th): West Indies bowling great Michael Holding did not watch a single match of the Twenty20 World Cup in the Caribbean, refuses to call it cricket… A staunch critic of cricket’s slam-bang format, Holding said he did not bother to watch the T20 World Cup even though it took place in the West Indies. “Not one ball. I don’t watch Twenty20. It is dumbing-down cricket. They should find another name for it,” said the 56-year-old Jamaican, who was called ‘Whispering Death’ in his playing days for his quiet approach to the bowling crease.