It’s Time to Ad­dress the Para­dox of Twenty20 Cricket

Cricket’s elite need to bring struc­ture to the in­ter­na­tional T20 fixtures to en­sure they of­fer mean­ing for fans and players

The Economic Times - - Sports: The Great Games - Tim Wig­more

In­the­li­tany­of­greatEng­land­bat­ting­col­lapses, Ban­ga­lore 2017 now stands un­sur­passed. Never have Eng­land lost eight wick­ets for as few runs. Only one coun­try, New Zealand in 1946, have ever suf­fered a worse col­lapse.

The ig­nominy ex­posed a num­ber of is­sues about the Eng­land side. Most obviously, it reaf­firmed Eng­land’s frail­ties against spin. Even with In­dia rest­ing Ravichan­dran Ash­win and Ravin­dra Jadeja, they still found an­other pair of spin­ners to flum­mox Eng­land: Yuzven­dra Cha­hal, who took 6-25 with his googlies and flip­pers; and Amit Mishra, whose par­si­mony pushed Eng­land into heav­ing for­lornly at Cha­hal. Per­haps more wor­ry­ing, given that Eng­land will not play in Asia again un­til 2018/19, is the team’s ap­par­ent vul­ner­a­bil­ity un­der pres­sure. While the de­ba­cle in Ban­ga­lore can be seen as an aber­ra­tion, it is also part of a dis­con­cert­ing trend. It was the eighth time in 11 win­ner-takes-all white ball matches, stretch­ing back to the fi­nal of the 2013 Cham­pi­ons Tro­phy, that Eng­land have lost.

Nes­tled in th­ese sta­tis­tics and th­ese de­feats is an un­palat­able truth. For all the thrilling élan that de­fines Eng­land’s bat­ting in lim­ited overs cricket, their star­tling evo­lu­tion since the 2015 World Cup has been far more pro­nounced in style than re­sults. Eng­land are still only ranked fifth in ODIs and sixth in T20Is.

Yet the salient point, per­haps, is how much theird­e­feat­inBan­ga­lor­e­re­al­ly­mat­ters.Last month, Mickey Arthur, the Pak­istan coach, ad­vo­cated that T20Is out­side the World Twenty20 be scrapped al­to­gether, be­cause they lack mean­ing. And just be­fore the start of this Twenty20 in­ter­na­tional series, Eoin Morgan was asked to ex­plain what, ex­actly, was the point of the three games. Morgan’s an­swer was to claim that the three-game T20I series was good prepa­ra­tion for the Cham­pi­ons Tro­phy: a dif­fer­ent for­mat of the game, played in com­pletely dif­fer­ent con­di­tions in four months.

It­summeduphow­in­ter­na­tion­alT20cricket is de­meaned by a sched­ule un­wor­thy of the name. There is a cu­ri­ous para­dox in the in­ter­na­tional game to­day: T20Is are watched bythe­high­es­tau­di­encesyetare­treat­ed­with the least care by cricket’s gov­ern­ing elite.

Bi­lat­eral T20I cricket amounts to a ran­dom hotch­potch of matches, hanging to­gether as awk­wardly as an Ital­ian po­lit­i­cal coali­tion. As the games have no ob­vi­ous mean­ing - the world rank­ings are ir­rel­e­vant, and bi­lat­er­als lack any sense of his­tory to de­rive sig­nif­i­cance from - they are prime op­por­tu­ni­ties forteam­storest­play­ers,asIn­di­a­didAsh­win and Jadeja. The up­shot is that tus­sles between full strength teams are lamentably rare, and matches are played more out of a sense­of­con­trac­tu­al­du­tythanany­thin­gelse.

All the while, do­mes­tic T20 leagues grow in num­ber and sig­nif­i­cance. While the struc­ture of T20Is is un­fath­omable - matches tacked onto the end of tours with all the

sig­nif­i­cance of glo­ri­fied In Dubai this friendlies - T20 leagues week, the ICC have the great virtue of a is dis­cussing sim­ple struc­ture: easy to how to im­bue un­der­stand leagues that T20Is, and the cul­mi­nate in a cham­pion. wider in­ter­naAl­low­ing T20Is to stum

ble on in such an undig­tional game,

ni­fied way not only be­litwith more

tles the for­mat; the vacumean­ing

um also lets do­mes­tic T20 com­pe­ti­tions es­tab­lish them­selves as the pin­na­cle of T20 cricket, the WT20 apart. The as­cent of club over coun­try is al­ready hav­ing huge im­pli­ca­tions for the game, with greater in­ter­est in do­mes­tic fixtures trans­lat­ing to players be­ing paid more than for play­ing in­ter­na­tion­als. In­evitably, that will mean more players shun­ning in­ter­na­tional cricket pre­ma­turely, as al­ready seen in a spate of Caribbean players and the re­tire­ment of Bren­don McCul­lum, leav­ing the in­ter­na­tional game di­min­ished in qual­ity and rel­e­vance.

There is a grow­ing aware­ness of th­ese dan­gers. In Dubai this week, the In­ter­na­tional Cricket Coun­cil is dis­cussing how to im­bue T20Is, and the wider in­ter­na­tional game, with more mean­ing.

TheICC’sso­lu­tion­totheir­rel­e­vance­ofT20I cricket is two-fold. First, re­store the WT20 to be­gin every two years: the next tourna- ment is not sched­uled un­til 2020, de­spite the roar­ing success of the 2016 WT20. Sec­ond, and more rad­i­cally, the ICC would like to in­tro­duce a 13-team league for T20I cricket, which would be played in ad­di­tion to the 13-team league planned for ODI cricket. All coun­tries would play one three-game series against all the other teams over a three-year cy­cle - 36 games each over three years, be­gin- ning in 2019. Matches would count to­wards a league table, pro­duc­ing a cham­pion and also rel­e­ga­tion, thereby cre­at­ing in­ter­est at the topand­bot­tomend;ratherthanbe­ing­prepa­ra­tion for a tour­na­ment in an­other for­mat, Eng­land’s T20I series in In­dia could in­stead have been a tus­sle for supremacy in the T20 in­ter­na­tional league. And by in­clud­ing three As­so­ciate na­tions, cricket would also be tak­ing a be­lated step to­wards em­brac­ing ex­pan­sion­ism.

A year ago, the WT20 tour­na­ment in In­dia show­cased­how­in­tox­i­cat­ingT20Icrick­et­can be: not just when the sport is thrilling, but when matches are in­fused with real mean­ing. That much was ev­i­dent not just in the West Indies’ ex­tra­or­di­nary heist in the fi­nal, but also in the Nether­lands’ an­guish at their elim­i­na­tion through rain, Afghanistan’s ju­bi­la­tion at reach­ing the Su­per10 stage and Eng­land’s cock­tail of dis­be­lief and re­lief at chas­ing230a­gain­stSouthAfrica­tore­mainin the tour­na­ment. This was not just cricket as en­ter­tain­ment,but­sportwith­con­se­quences.

Re­turn­ing to In­dia for this T20I series has been an oddly de­flat­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. At Ban­ga­lore,Cha­hal’sju­bi­la­tio­nandMor­gan’s fury aboutEng­land’smeek­bat­ting­could­not dis­guise that this was a match, and series, that ex­isted largely for rea­sons of com­mer­cial ex­pe­di­ency. In T20I cricket and be­yond, col­lapses as spec­tac­u­lar as Eng­land’s de­serve to be in matches that re­ally mat­ter.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from India

© PressReader. All rights reserved.