Saturday, September 5, 2009

A makeover for cricket

With the arrival of Twenty20 there has been much debate about the future of One-day cricket, the 50-overs format. The situation is not dissimilar to the one prevailing two decades ago when it was decreed by many who knew no better, that Test cricket was on the verge of extinction, that One-day cricket was the future of the game. Now it is being preached that Test cricket will, and must, co-exist with Twenty20, while the 50-overs game will perish.
Despite the huge popularity of Twenty20, one wonders what has changed so dramatically that the format that was said to be imminently suited to modern times only two years ago, is now thought to be languishing. Is it just the temporary stupor brought about by the dazzling success of Twenty20, or is there a deeper malaise?

One is inclined to think that Twenty20 is a bunch of freshly-cut, sweet-smelling, brightly-coloured flowers added to the splendid bouquet that we are already blessed with. Just as the new flowers, or a new, pretty girl on the arm, will attract greater attention, so is Twenty20 hogging the limelight. What can also not be ignored is that there was a fatigue setting in as regards the One-day game, and the sheer predictability and mechanical certainty of the format was beginning to get dreary. New ploys like super-sub, power play, and change of ball after 35 overs were tried, but this version was quickly losing its sheen.

Twenty20, and more specifically the Indian Premier League (IPL), arrived at the right time to give a fillip to the sport. But just as One-day cricket did not finish Test cricket, Twenty20 will not eclipse the One-day version. The English cricket authorities may appear to have over-reacted by scrapping the 50-over format, while retaining the 40-over game on their domestic circuit, or maybe they are on the right track.

Perhaps 100 overs are too many in a day. After all the English once played 60 overs-a-side One-day Internationals, and so were the first three World Cups on their shores, before they acquiesced to the 50-overs format. It is, therefore, ironic that they are the first to point towards the scaling down of the One-day game to 40-overs-a-side. Maybe that is indeed the solution. The crowd would get enough cricket in a day without looking for too much of a good thing. Here one would disagree with Sachin Tendulkar’s view that there should be two 20-over innings per team in a One-day match. That would be akin to playing two Twenty20 matches in a day, and will not have the One-day flavour in which players get a bit more time to express themselves.

If television makes sports viable in present times, then it is logical that the more live sports on television the more advertisement spots there are to earn revenue from. A One-day match offers two and a half times more opportunity for television commercials than a Twenty20 bash, and a Test match affords up to four and half times more advertisement time than a One-day International. So it makes commercial sense too to play all three forms of the game. To those who profess that Twenty20 will take over the game, one has only one question: Would you like to see 100 Twenty20 international matches per team in a year?

The key word is balance. One of the reasons for the fatigue with One-day cricket was the overkill, too much of it. The administrators failed to keep a proper balance between Test cricket and One-day cricket, and played too much of the latter. There was no need for an International Cricket Council (ICC) Champions Trophy after every two years when a four-year World Cup, One-day cricket’s Olympics, was doing fine. Individual boards like Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI neglected Test cricket in their greed to make extra bucks in the One-day arena.

Cricket’s administrators should be thankful for the bounty they are blessed with, the myriad hues of the game: Test matches, One-dayers and Twenty20. They should evolve a consensus, after due deliberations with the players, about the number of days of international cricket that each country should play. One would imagine that 90 days would be the threshold, comprising 12 Test matches, and 15 each One-day Internationals and Twenty20 games even in World Cup years. And the World Cups - One-day as well as Twenty20 - should be held once every four years. That is a lot of cricket, and when you add domestic tournaments and the IPL, it should be more than enough to satiate the fans and fill the coffers of the ICC and the Boards, and their partners - the television channels.

The agenda of the administrators should be sporting pitches that make for an engrossing contest between bat and ball, a four-year championship of Test cricket encompassing a points system that is easy to follow, with disincentives for batting too long and bowling too negatively, World Cups that are no more than a month long with a maximum of eight to ten matches per side, and a window for the IPL in April.

Everyone should accept that world cricket is governed by the Indian television market and so the IPL must become an international carnival of Twenty20 cricket for which all the mega stars of the world be made available, and each board should get a financial slice of. That is perhaps the road map for cricket at this juncture.


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