Saturday, April 11, 2009

Twenty20 – The Future?

If it ain’t broke don’t try and fix it? True of course but has the success of Twenty20 in its present form clouded thoughts as to whether the construct as we now have it is the best that we could have? These thoughts have been promoted by watching the Melrose Sevens in Scotland and considering why Sevens Rugby is such a success – without it in any way damaging the value of the “real” rugby game (80 minutes and 15-a-side). The answer in respect of Rugby Sevens is that it is an abbreviated form of the game in every way. It lasts 14 or in some case 20 minutes rather than 80. It has seven-a-side rather than fifteen. It eliminates things like line-outs which could slow up the action. In short it is a close cousin of fifteen-a-side rugby without the pretence that it is just a sidestepping variant of the big game. It’s a sport in its own right.

Consider the Rugby precedent for cricket. The parallels are clear. Twenty20 has 40 overs rather than 100 in traditional limited overs matches. It lasts a few hours rather than a day (or more). And yet it is still an eleven-a-side game. Why? With eleven batsmen available in just twenty overs wickets are somewhat devalued. Even if you are 30-4 after five overs you still have six batsmen available to help you out of the mire. Slog your way into trouble and you can finesse your way out of it. But what if wickets were given more value – the bowlers, currently seen as being economy rather than wicket-taking operatives, would surely come back into their own?

So why not make Twnety20 6-a-side rather than eleven? Suddenly the game changes and ironically it changes back in the direction of traditional cricket (with its battle between bat and ball) rather than further away from it. With six-a-side batsmen might thrash and slog a wee bit less because their wickets would be rather more valued. And if you legislated that of the fielding side all five players (i.e. other than the wicketkeeper) would bowl four overs each what fun that would be! The Captains would have to decide when to bowl their star batters who don’t normally bowl at all – and the batsmen would have to “go for” these bowlers in order to take advantage of their more limited bowling skills.

Warming to the theme there would be no need for field restrictions or power plays. With only five outfielders the captains would have to think hard about field placement. Putting them all on the boundary wouldn’t work because with the opponents only having six batsmen you have to go for wickets don’t you? Indeed the fielding captain would have a great challenge in respect of handling his bowling attack given that he knows that all of his players must bowl. Why not – bowlers have to bat, so why not have a rule that in the shortest from of the game batsmen have to bowl?

The recognition that Twenty20 is a different game from traditional cricket is surely not too great an intellectual leap to make. The creation of a revised version of the game that restores the balance between bowler and batsman and makes wickets valued (which in proper cricket they must surely always be) is a step forward. And the idea that all cricketers have to bat, bowl and field like panthers is surely an appropriate interest-raising novelty – and good for improving the for the athletic image of the game. Worth a try – why not?

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