Twenty20: The Good, the Bad and The Ugly
Ever since it was introduced Twenty20 cricket has definitely thrown up a lot of questions, within the cricketing fraternity as well as among the fans. There is no doubt that Twenty20 cricket is something unique and different. But the debate has essentially been about whether it is ‘cricket’ at all. For some (within and outside the cricketing fraternity) Twenty20 cricket is nothing but a travesty. It is a mockery of the game in a sense that it seeks not to glorify the skills that the game of cricket has traditionally been associated with.
For example, in a Twenty20 format the batsmen don’t exactly have to be technically correct, they just have to be able to hit the ball hard and score as fast as possible given that they have just 20 overs to do the scoring in. So what this format does is it reduces the gap between the good and the ordinary batsmen. The definition of a good batsman has come down to be as someone who is skilled and well versed in the proper orthodox techniques of batting. Someone who can play every shot in the book. But in a Twenty20 game that might not be true. In Twenty20 a good batsman is someone who scores runs quickly, plain and simple. And you really don’t need to be technically correct to do that. The crux of the matter is that in a Twenty20 game if you get out playing a technically incorrect shot no one will blame you. The maximum they’ll say is, “well at least he went down swinging”. This is the biggest problem that the critics of Twenty20 have with the game. Traditionally the saying goes that there is no excuse for playing a bad shot. Well in Twenty20 there is always one.
This brings us to the next argument that the opponents of Twenty20 level against the game. Influence on youngsters. If there is always an excuse for playing a bad shot in Twenty20 then how do you expect the youngsters watching to learn the finer points of the game? If their Twenty20 heroes do it then can we turn around and tell them that this is all rubbish and technically incorrect? And this is where we actually enter the red zone for the very next question that will be shot back at you is “ is it really necessary to be technically correct?” Let’s face it; cricket has always differentiated between the ‘great’ technically sound players and the exciting, effective and not-so-technically sound ones. Sachin Tendulkar, Brian Lara, Sunil Gavaskar, Sir Donald Bradman, Alan Border etc will always be clubbed together in a different elite category as compared to Mahinder Singh Dhoni, Shahid Afridi or Lance Klusner, even though on occasions they were the ones to get your heart racing. There will always be the classy masters of the game and the unconventional but exciting entertainers.
But what Twenty20 does is in one sweep it wipes out the difference completely. In a Twenty20 match someone like Mahinder Singh Dhoni can be as good if not better than a Sachin Tendulkar or a Brian Lara or maybe even Sir Donald Bradman if he were alive and playing the game in his prime. And this is what irks the opponents of Twenty20 the most. How can you compare the great Sir Donald Bradman with Mahinder Singh Dhoni?
However, let’s look at the opposite viewpoint. Those in favour of Twenty20 do not shy away from the fact that it is nothing but pure entertainment. But then again what’s wrong with entertainment? Isn’t cricket supposed to be entertaining? So what if there is loud music and pretty little cheering girls and rock bands and what not. The crowds seem to enjoy it. So what if the cricket being played out in the middle isn’t technically correct? It doesn’t seem to bother the crowds anyway. Besides bigger crowds mean bigger money and now that all the cricketing boards have agreed to the format, theirs and the ICC’s pockets are going to be that much heavier. And at the end of the day that money will go into promoting cricket as a whole; well at least it is supposed to.
Another strong argument in favour of Twenty20 cricket is that it is good format to introduce cricket to the non-cricketing world, which is used to more compact and fast moving games such as soccer. They argue that once they get hooked onto Twenty20 their curiosity in other cricketing formats such as ODI’s and Test cricket will increase. As ex Australian all rounder, Tim May, described it, “ It is like tasting a new beer. If you like the taste you will buy another can. And if you still like it you might even buy an entire crate.”
Promoters of Twenty20 say that the format is not trying to compete
with the other established formats of the game; rather it is trying
to create a separate niche for itself. Besides they say that the entire
argument that it demeans the skills involved in the game
is completely not true. It’s just that in Twenty20 a player needs different sort of skills; he needs to hit big, field well and get quick wickets. Plus they argue that the truly great players of the game will always look good no matter what format of cricket they are playing. It’s the cricketing mind that is important, skills come later.
All in all the case of Twenty20 cricket is exactly that of a new boy trying to join an already established group in school. However, that is not to say that it does not have any potential. There is no reason why all the three formats of the game can’t exist simultaneously. For the educated cricket fan Test cricket will always remain the classic form of the game and will forever set the benchmark in cricket. One-Day cricket will always be the perfect match of skill and luck and nothing can ever replace that. Whereas Twenty20 cricket can be the more fun loving version of the game, which will be great advertising for cricket in general. The reason there has been some opposition is because people haven’t really seen it happening. Well come September Twenty20 cricket will have its chance as the world will witness the first ever Twenty20 World Championship. I guess till then we will all have to wait and see.