Once former West Indian cricket captain Clive Lloyd, while participating at an ICC forum, explained his views about the T-20 form of the game. The explanation was short, but full of substance. He said, “T-20 cricket is an exhibition and Test cricket is the examination.” At the same time a younger colleague of mine was [...]

The Sundaytimes Sri Lanka

T-20 a necessary evil


Once former West Indian cricket captain Clive Lloyd, while participating at an ICC forum, explained his views about the T-20 form of the game. The explanation was short, but full of substance. He said, “T-20 cricket is an exhibition and Test cricket is the examination.”

T-20 cricket has enveloped the entire island. This picture captured by Amila Gamage shows the scramble for tickets for the Sri Lanka, Pakistan semi-final on Thursday. There was pandemonium even, yesterday when the last lot of the final match tickets were released.

At the same time a younger colleague of mine was trying to argue that the T-20 form of the game is the best and in a changing world we must support this form, rather than hanging on to the age-old explanation that “Test cricket is the traditional form of the game and the values of the game protrude from there.”

Then there is another school of thought. This brainwave came from respected cricket traditionalist, administrator and former Sri Lanka opening batsman Sidath Wettimuny. He is of the view that if the T-20 form of cricket brings in 100 more fans into the grid, there is a chance that around thirty of them will also get interested in the traditional forms of the game resulting in the broad basing of boardwalk cricket.

The very concept of T-20 cricket was born along traditional lines when Twenty20 was introduced in England and Wales for professional inter-county competition by the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB), in 2003. This came about due to the thinking of some pessimists that the other two forms of the game were losing their sheen.

Outside England, Pakistan held their inaugural competition in 2004 in which thirteen teams from different parts of the country participated, with Faisalabad Wolves ending up as the first winners. However on February 17, 2005 Australia beat New Zealand in the first full international Twenty20 match, at Eden Park in Auckland, New Zealand.

Then some brainstorming at the ICC saw the first ICC-organised championship held in 2007 in South Africa, where India defeated Pakistan in the final.

The second tournament was won by Pakistan, who beat Sri Lanka by eight wickets in England on June 21, 2009.
The 2010 ICC World Twenty20 tournament was held in the West Indies in May 2010, where England defeated Australia by 7 wickets in the final.

It must be admitted that the T-20 form of the game is a television blockbuster and that is derived from the fact that India won the inaugural tournament in 2007, and then the BCCI branched out to have its own brand of the new derivation called the Indian Premier League (IPL). (To save space Musings opted to go without the India Cricket League part of this story.)

The IPL helped Indian cricket to build its own empire. With a billion plus TV audience in India, the IPL burst its seams and soon the Board of Control for Cricket in India became the ‘Godfather’ of world cricket.

Last year, according to the board’s annual report, the BCCI registered a surplus of Rs. 1.89 billion ($39.68 million) for the year ending March 31, 2011. This is an increase of 200% over the previous year. The 2010 IPL was the big money spinner for the board, generating a surplus of Rs 1.19 billion ($24.90 million).

With this kind of money the BCCI got on such a pedestal that it could have got anything in cricket if it was on the market. Every budding cricketer also wanted a piece of the IPL cake.

Once an influential Sri Lankan cricket administrator lamented, “If we push these cricketers too much, they may opt to play for the IPL rather than playing for the country. So we have to handle these situations very tactfully.”

But, on the other hand how much have the “Men in Blue” gained with the IPL? They won the T20 Championships prior to the IPL. Since then ‘Team India’ has failed to even get into a T-20 semi-final, leave alone the finals.

Besides their game against Pakistan, the Indian cricket team did not look like T20 champion material and they faded out from the Supereight stage.

What does this mean? If India does not keep winning the billion plus TV audience is bound to get disenchanted.

First reverberations came when the organisers found out there were so many return tickets left when the Indians crashed out of the current championship. However, it was good news for the Lankan fans who almost created pandemonium trying to buy them.

Already there are cracks on the IPL walls. At present the IPL is daubed in financial uncertainty. It is never too far away from news that has threatened the integrity of the competition. For instance, the ownerships of the teams or the valuations are not backed up by industry transactions.

Take the Deccan Chargers. Despite a rumoured price cut of nearly 40 per cent of last year’s figure, they had to be taken away from the competition. The title sponsorship is up for grabs, too; and sponsorship fees for the central or local revenue pools may not even come close to what the league routinely commanded in the first few years of its existence. With this in the background the Big Bash in Australia, the SLPL in Sri Lanka, the T-20 championships in England, the T-20 competition in Bangladesh bring in more options to players and if the IPL does not keep providing the players with the same lucrative terms the concept will get diluted. India getting poorer in cricket means bad news for cricket in general.

Coming back to this year’s ICC T-20 World Championship, there is no doubt the competition brought a surge of interest in cricket, especially among those who have not followed the game. For TV broadcasters this is their target market, and they are satisfied with one new viewer joining the club, irrespective of their choice in cricket.

T-20 cricket is fast becoming a necessary evil and as long as it does not hamper the other two segments of the game it can survive. But the irony is that the poor boards of cricket, like the SLC and WICB would sell a Test match for a penny if it suits their bottom line.
That is the absolute truth in the current status of the game. So, the administrators also must think and act accordingly when it comes to real cricketing decisions and the future sustenance of the game.


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