In defence of a quick finish
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.