Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Paddy's Sports View 3rd May 2005

From “The Emirates Evening Post” 3rd May 2005

Pakistan’s first ever Twenty20 cricket tournament was concluded in Lahore at the weekend with great success. 30,000 spectators clearly had an enjoyable day and Pakistan cricket has received a timely boost to its funds. No wonder the PCB has declared that this form of the game will have a regular place in the domestic season. At international level the first ever Twenty20 match took place in February at Auckland and it was both a cricketing and a popular success - nearly 400 runs were scored by the two sides at close to 10 runs per over.

There are those who feel that Twenty20 is not a genuine form of the game. For example the respected commentator, and ex Test star, Michael Holding has said "What is the point of telling youngsters to watch the game but not to copy the players' techniques? It is not cricket and is a total waste of time.” Holding’s criticism seems to be mainly that the batting technique required to score at ten an over is detrimental to the more pure and elegant style required of the longer form of the game. I think that this underestimates the talents of the really good batsmen who, if they are to succeed, have to be able to adapt their game to any circumstances. A few years ago there was a Test match between England and Sri Lanka at Old Trafford which was badly hit by the weather. After a few days of restricted play England managed to dismiss Sri Lanka late on day 5 and give themselves a chance of a surprise win. To achieve this, however, they needed to score 50 runs in six overs! Trescothick and Vaughan assaulted the Sri Lankan bowling attack to such an extent that they got the runs in five overs – a “Twenty20” scoring rate in a Test match. The point of this story is to illustrate that most cricket is not a continuum of activity but that it always has peaks and troughs. There will be moments even in Test cricket when very rapid scoring indeed is required, and there are certainly periods in One Day (50 over) games when consolidation is necessary. So at the very least Twenty20 can be seen as providing good practice for batsmen to prepare them when they need to score quickly in Tests or ODIs (and for bowlers in trying to prevent them doing this). Once the ball leaves the bat, of course, the fielding task is the same in any form of cricket so Twenty20 should help sharpen fielding skills as well.

The great benefit of Twenty20 is that it brings in new spectators and that income from the competitions goes into the development of the game. Some of the new spectators will come to One Day and Test cricket, although they will have to be a little more patient in their wait for fireworks! What is essential is that a balance is struck between the various forms of the game and that there is no presumption that any one form is superior to the other. Rather than this being inimical to the history of the game it is in fact quite consistent as cricket has always had many forms. In the nineteenth century cricket was played over one day, two days, three days or four days. There were handicap matches when Twenty-two players from a weaker club would play eleven from a stronger club. There were single wicket competitions (one to one match ups) and many other variants. Even Test cricket over the years has been played over three, four, five or more days (including “timeless” Tests, the longest of which was spread over eleven days!).

Whether we are talking about timeless Tests or forty over thrashes cricket is cricket and we need to keep flexible and open-minded about new forms of the game and also about changes to established forms. In this respect I think that one of the good lessons from twenty20 is that it ought to make us look again at One Day International rules. ODI innings sometimes become rather bogged down in that period between the end of the fifteenth over (when the fielding restrictions are lifted) and the thirty-fifth (when the chase to build a total or get a score to win) begins in earnest. Perhaps One Day cricket should learn from Twenty20 and find a way of tweaking the rules so that interest is maintained throughout?