In de­fence of a quick fin­ish

CityPress - - Sport - Stu­art Long­bot­tom @Long­bot­tom_69 is an arm­chair cricket critic. He thinks bowlers like a quick fin­ish as much as bats­men do

As ex­cite­ment runs high ahead of the ICC World T20 in In­dia and in light of the Proteas’ good per­for­mances of late in the short for­mats of the game, I thought I’d take a step back to eval­u­ate my new-found lik­ing for T20 cricket. Call me “flaky” or “sus­cep­ti­ble to hype”, but over the past week or so I’ve had a re­al­i­sa­tion that, if not pro­found, is def­i­nitely worth writ­ing a col­umn about.

When one-day cricket started gain­ing trac­tion in the 1970s, some fans be­moaned the de­cline of the game, much like the purists of to­day when com­ment­ing on T20.

I’ve been guilty of rub­bish­ing T20 my­self. But re­ally, when you think about it, what is there to moan about? Bound­aries from the first over? Strike rates of 200 plus? Ut­ter con­tempt for bowlers? Packed sta­di­ums? An af­ter­noon’s dis­trac­tion in­stead of a week’s? (Well, maybe that’s marginal grounds for com­plaint, but it’s cer­tainly good for pro­duc­tiv­ity.)

“It’s cricket on crack,” lamented a fel­low fan and com­men­ta­tor a few years ago, when T20’s rise to promi­nence be­came in­escapable. Al­though some are more dis­posed to such pro­cliv­i­ties and oth­ers sternly op­posed, there’s no ar­gu­ing that this form of high-oc­tane cricket and the drug to which it was com­pared both seem pretty good while they last.

There’s been a great deal of talk about how the short for­mat has driven the sport’s evo­lu­tion, where the fo­cus on bat­ting gives bowlers lit­tle chance. I think our ris­ing supernova, Kag­iso Rabada, might have some­thing to say about that. But even if this for­mat seems par­tial to bats­men, is the chal­lenge re­ally in­sur­mount­able for bowlers? I’m not so sure, be­cause with the rise of su­perde­struc­tive bats­men, we’ve also wit­nessed the emer­gence of deadly bowl­ing, Rabada be­ing a case in point.

That not­with­stand­ing, laws will prob­a­bly evolve to re­store bal­ance, if that’s even a ne­ces­sity to be­gin with. Ei­ther way, it will be fas­ci­nat­ing to see how it all plays out.

Some have even sug­gested that the brand of cricket we’re see­ing to­day is not that far re­moved from base­ball, but I’d ar­gue that it’s still a far cry from its less re­fined Amer­i­can cousin. Not only do we marvel at the brute strength and su­per­hu­man tim­ing we see in T20 cricket, but the fi­nesse of a fore­hand swat over mid­wicket or a fielder fling­ing his body on the bound­ary to save a few runs three balls into an in­nings is truly some­thing to be­hold for any cricket fan ac­cus­tomed to wait­ing un­til at least the 20th over for any sig­nif­i­cant ac­tion.

Ob­vi­ously you’re bound to lose some of the nu­ances of the game in just 20 overs. I might never ad­vo­cate for a T20 over a good test match, but not ev­ery story told on a cricket pitch has to be an epic. There’s just as much, if not more, space for a punchy novella as there is for Moby Dick, es­pe­cially in the eyes of to­day’s In­sta­gram gen­er­a­tion.

If T20 is the fast-food equiv­a­lent to a seven-course, fine-din­ing test match, the Proteas seem to be run­ning more on Soul Fire than #ProteaFire at the mo­ment. And the tim­ing couldn’t be bet­ter, es­pe­cially ahead of the three-match T20 se­ries against the arch­neme­sis, Aus­tralia, loom­ing as a pre­cur­sor to the World T20. Call me crude, but I’m rub­bing my sweaty palms to­gether in an­tic­i­pa­tion of a March filled with bite-sized McCricket.

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