20/20 excitement promotes cricket
Over the past several weeks the sporting world was filled with the excitement generated by 20/20 Cricket. From the very first day of the competition through to its grand finale the International Cricket Council’s 20/20 World Cup held in the land that created this particular variant of the game, England, cricket enthusiasts everywhere tuned in to the remarkable event.
But the excitement generated by the 20/20 tournament, which saw Pakistan defeat Sri Lanka in the final at Lords was not the only feature that attracted the attention of cricket enthusiasts. Aficionados of the sport were also engaged in an ongoing discourse as to the impact 20/20 would have on the longer version of the game, test cricket, and on the future of the sport itself.
Test cricket has been around for a very long time. The five-day version of the game of cricket became the accepted form and the finest players were determined by their performances in test cricket.
Donald Bradman of Australia is considered the greatest exponent of batsmanship in the history of test cricket. We refer to his remarkable batting average ain support of this claim.
By the same token, Garfield Sobers of Barbados is recognised as the greatest all-rounder the test version of the game of cricket has ever known.
Trinidad and Tobago’s Brian Lara has distinguished himself among the recent batsmen in the longer version of the game for his 375 and 10 years later, 400 not out. No other batsmen in test cricket has ever scored more double centuries and none seemed to have enjoyed batting for such lengthy periods so consistently and which such concentration.
In the sphere of bowling there are mixed reviews. Some still see Australia’s Dennis Lillee as the greatest fast bowler in test cricket with his partner, Jeff Thomspon as the game’s most devastating. There are some who would place Barbados’ Malcolm Marshall as being among the best of all time.
Among the spin bowlers, Shane Warne has been held aloft while, Muralitharan, swamped by the controversy surrounding his arm action, has emerged as the spinner with the most outstanding record in the number of wickets taken during his playing career and he is not done yet.
For all of the accolades that we can place on players of test cricket we have endured the game over a five-day period for decades without being unduly critical of the time spent in the stands. The artistry of the players was enough to command our attention and we kept trekking to the arena day after day hoping to get more excitement each time.
In the Caribbean the test match was a necessary part of our culture. The West Indies cricket team espoused all of our aspirations and we enthusiastically followed their fortunes because of this inextricable link. Their success was ours as much as their failures.
When the team was playing down under in Australia or New Zealand, successive generations in the Caribbean slept early only to wake up in the middle of the night to tune in to the coverage of the test series.
When the series was held in the Caribbean attendance at the test matches was an occasion for a picnic. People woke up early to cook and make their way from all parts of their respective countries to get to the matches on time.
Test cricket generated much excitement. The craftsmanship was often startling. The crowds erupted in euphoric cheers each time some outstanding feat was performed, regardless of which team was involved. We were taught to appreciate good cricket and to be unbiased in our analysis but that did not deter us from showing where our loyalties were. We were also taught that it was improper to make noise since it would disturb the concentration of the players. Cheering was therefore restricted to after the phenomenal feats.
Time was unimportant. We all knew that the match was scheduled for five days, with a rest day after the first three days. Some time ago, it was decided to play five straight days, removing the rest day. No one complained.
Test cricket was however only suited to countries with relatively large populations and sound economies. Not surprisingly, when St Vincent and the Grenadines was awarded its first test match – West Indies versus Sri Lanka, there was never any doubt within the country that unless there was an influx of visitors, Vincentians would probably only be out in their numbers on the weekend.
Kerry Packer brought much innovation to test cricket. He introduced technology onto the field of play. Microphones and cameras were placed everywhere. Suddenly we were hearing the click of the bails as the stumps were struck. We heard the comments of players. We were provided with visuals of the wicket in a manner hitherto unknown. These innovations were intended to make test cricket more attractive, less boring.
One Day International (ODI)
The introduction of the One Day International version of the game of cricket was innovative. Everywhere people thought that it was timely.
The cricket match was now an event that ran for one day with each team being allocated a total of 50 overs. The players of the fielding team were restricted in terms of where they could locate their players for a specified number of overs.
The ODI innovation was intended to generate excitement of an order hitherto unknown. The game responded to those who just did not have the time to spend watching one game spread over five days each with six hours of cricket. Many who found test cricket a most boring experience were eager to join the One Day crowd.
The ODIs were also found to meet the requirements of people who could only spare a limited amount of time at sporting events and who wanted to be able to leave the competition arena with a definitive result. At the end of the day there was a result and the patrons could celebrate or mope around depending on who they were supporting.
For the television owners the ODI was a much better product to sell. The excitement generated on the field of play mixed with the uncertainty of the game itself made the product increasingly more viewer-friendly. More commercial enterprises were prepared to advertise during the ODIs.
The ODI also seemed to require a different approach to the game. While it still seemed necessary f or at least one batsman to steady the ship of his team the other players could readily go after the bowling taking far more chances in a shorter time frame than is possible in the test match. Additionally, coaches placed greater emphasis on the run rate per over.
The ODIs also saw the introduction of large videoboards at match venues that encouraged greater interaction with the fans in the arena. Music too became a part of the fun that was the ODI. Antigua and Barbuda became world-renowned as an ODI venue for the showmanship of the ever-popular Gravy and his association with Chickie’s HiFi, a characteristic feature that spilled over into the test matches played at the Antigua Recreation Ground
Competing countries soon began to establish teams whose specific focus was the ODI as distinct from those prepared for test cricket.
The changes brought about by the ODI suggested that the sport had moved on in keeping with global trends in the industry and that nothing would turn back the hands of the clock in this regard.
Enter 20/20 cricket
20/20 cricket has been the latest innovation in the sport.
The English brought this variety to the sport and it has threatened to transform the way the game is played and impact audiences even of people who do not know the sport.
20/20 has many things going for it.
It is a very short version of a game of cricket. This means that essentially a match should take no longer than four hours. This offers patrons the opportunity to complete a day’s work, time to go home and change before going out to a full match, with a definitive result, accompanied by all of the members of his/her family.
20/20 cricket has become a family affair with great appeal if only because it offers a better utilisation of one’s time and a sense of gratification for having received one’s money’s worth.
The 20/20 version of the game of cricket has led to no shortage of innovations.
In South Africa, for example, it is not uncommon to find a Jacuzzi bar with the patrons viewing the game on large screens.
At some editions of the 20/20 matches the opportunity is provided for the children to play in designated areas with attractions for their interest and entertainment while their parents watch the particular match with great enthusiasm.
Several other innovative entertainment options are put on the table for patrons, inclusive of those who do not know the sport.
Cricketers have also found the shortest version of the game to their liking. They too value their time and recognise the reality of earning more for less contracted time out in the centre of the playing arena. We should therefore not be surprised at the interest of some of today’s players of the game to openly criticise test cricket and declare a distinct preference for the 20/20 version.
Several cricketing nations are now offered the opportunity to participate in qualifying competitions on their way to the World Cup Finals much like Football. This innovation gives the International Cricket Council a veritable new lease on life.
Television loves the shortest version of the game and given the mass appeal of the recently concluded World Cup in England the television rights can only move in an upwards direction, enhancing the coffers of the ICC.
In a sense, as with so many other sporting events, the sustainability of cricket rests with its ability to present itself as an attractive, entertaining and income generating experience. While some continue to quibble over whether or not 20/20 is cricket in the classical sense, the ICC knows that it still involves bat and ball, a wicket of specific dimensions and an outfield and that each team is composed of 11 players. The shortest version carries the nomenclature, ‘cricket’. Table Tennis and Volleyball have made significant changes that connoisseurs would never have thought possible and initially may well have rejected. They are very much rejuvenated sports today. The same thing will happen in cricket. 20/20 cricket is the newest version of an old sport changing with the times and satisfying ever newer patrons.
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