Cricket is an ever evolving game, and one that has constantly evolved and changed over its long history. These changes have ranged from change of rules to evolution of totally new formats such as T20.
Within the same broad structural framework, there are few sports which can boast of three distinct formats. Their closest example of a team sport one can think of is the sport of rugby, where two different formats – The Rugby League and Rugby Union flourish.
However, even Rugby with its two unique formats, is not a very accurate example of another sport which like cricket can boast of multiple formats. In cricket, even though the three formats have their own unique character and rules, but they are still retain the basic characteristics and rules of the game of cricket to be considered different branches of the same tree. For example across all three formats, a ball the crosses the boundary upon bounce, gets 4 runs for the batting team.
Across the two formats of Rugby, though, unlike the different formats of cricket, the differences are just too big, for Rugby Union and Rugby League to be considered as two different off-shoots of the same tree. One could not be faulted for calling them two different sports entirely. For starters, unlike cricket, where across all three formats (Tests, One Days and T20s), the same number of players (11) on each side take the field, the number of players that play in the Rugby League (13) and Rugby Union (15) are different.
Further, as we all know in cricket, scoring ‘runs’ is the target or objective, and hitting a boundary can get the batting team runs in a chunk (4) which helps the team along, towards achieving the objective, similarly in Rugby scoring points is the objective of the game and scoring a ‘try’ is, in a loose way, the equivalent of hitting a boundary in cricket. In the same way that hitting a ‘six’ in cricket can help get the most bulk runs (6), usually possible, in one go for the batting side, similarly in rugby scoring a ‘try’ can get the most bulk points possible in on go for the side scoring the try.
Hitting a ‘six’ across all the three formats of cricket, gives the batting team the same number of runs – 6, but in the two different formats of rugby, scoring a ‘try’ gives the side scoring the try different number of points (5 points in Rugby Union, 4 points in Rugby League). Just picture if in cricket hitting a boundary would give the batting side 7 runs in T20s and 6 runs in tests and 5 runs in One Days !! These are just some of the differences, among many more, between Rugby Union and Rugby League, which forces one to say they are two different sports with a few similarities, and not two off shoots of the same sport with a few differences, which the three definitely formats of cricket most definitely are.
While we may have gone off-topic a little, but the point was to show that there is no team sport that can really boast of even two different formats, let alone three, and the example of the two different formats of Rugby – the sport that many feel is the closest to cricket in this regard, is not really an accurate comparison to cricket in this regard.
Thus while cricket can boast of three unique formats, just where does the newest format of cricket stand? There is no doubt that at domestic level across most nations the impact of T20 cricket has been enormous. The advent of T20 and popularity of the format has meant that cricketers never had it better across the board financially. Sure there have been players every now and then who have made big bucks, but this financial affluence for cricketers had been reserved only for the rarest of the rare, of the very best, while the average or even the very good int’l players hardly got envy inducing paychecks, and lets not even get to those who never saw the heights of int’l cricket and remained confined to just playing domestic cricket.
With the advent of T20 cricket though, and the various T20 leagues that came up this balance has changed. Even the domestic players, and some may even say domestic players of limited talent, have started drawing fat salaries. The popularity of the T20 leagues across the world has been huge, and the crowds have flocked to the grounds, the sponsors have poured in the money and the administrators have gotten richer then ever before.
The Indian Premier League (IPL), which is by far the biggest T20 league in the world both in terms of the Int’l stars on display and also the money on offer, has taken the salary of cricketers on par with some of the top sportsmen in the world. According to the 2010 ‘Annual Review of Global Sports Salaries’, in terms of average salaries paid to sportsmen participating in a league, the Indian Premier League was the second highest paid league of the world. The NBA topped the table with an annual average salary of 2.62 million pounds, with the IPL close behind with an average annual salary of 2.50 million pounds. The English Premier League was very far behind with an annual average salary of 1.46 million pounds and was fourth on the table.
In the report for 2013 the IPL retained its position as the second most well paid league in the world, with an annual average salary of 2.58 million pounds behind the NBA (2.77 million pounds).
This is an astonishing statistic for a sport that is hardly the most popular in the world. A cricket match till the advent of T20 cricket, could last anything from a whole day to 5 days, and given how long it took for a cricket match to finish, clearly affected its popularity. T20 though reduced this disconnect between the sport and potential new viewers by introducing a format whereby a match lasts 3 hours, and this clearly has had an impact with the new viewers, and has led to the T20 cricket leagues boost.
Till the advent of T20, even the most ardent of cricket followers found it hard to follow a match, especially on weekdays, while after the advent of T20, even the most casual of cricket followers can accommodate a T20 match in their schedule. There are however some serious issues with T20 cricket, that make it the least ‘crickety‘ format of cricket.
Cricket as a sport is one of the rare sports that test a player on physical levels and his technique, as much as it tests a player on the mental level, their patience, endurance, etc. The longer a match lasts, the most a player is tested both physically and mentally, and that is why test cricket which lasts 5 days, remains the ultimate test of a player. The crux of the contest of cricket can be summed up in saying that there is a price on every wicket. A batsman must do everything to above all keep his wicket, and a bowler must do his utmost to get a batman’s wicket. This ‘price on a wicket’ is the axis around which cricket revolves. Everything else flows from this primary axis. If a batsman doesn’t get out he will score runs, and if he gets out he won’t.
A batsman can have all the shots and all the technique, but if he doesn’t have the patience and endurance to stay at the wicket for long periods, he will not score too many runs and thus will not have a long career. Similarly if a bowler loses focus towards the end of the day’s play, he is not going to get any wickets, and what is more, is going to be easy to score off. In this primary contest, the physical side and technique matters, but even more so matters the mental aspects of a player. Like what is his level of concentration, endurance, patience, etc. Be it a bowler or a batsman, or even a fielder, the mental side of a game is of utmost importance in test cricket, especially against a quality opposition.
Even in One Days, there is a definite price on a wicket, and for a good batsman it’s very close to the price on his wicket in tests. So the axis around which cricket revolves – ‘price on a wicket’ is still very much present in One Days, albeit in a slightly modified form. While One days don’t quite test a player on the same levels of endurance that a test match does, but One Days bring their own set of challenges for a player. Not only must the batsman try not to lose his wicket, but unlike tests he can no longer take all day to score runs. A batsman must keep his wicket, while also trying to score runs quickly. Similarly a bowler must still try to get the batsman out, but while in tests its okay for him to concede boundaries trying to get a wicket, in One Days the bowler no longer has that luxury.
It, in a way forces a batsman to score under the clock, so to speak, and that brings its own pressures and challenges. A batsman must give weight to offense and defense and only someone who is strong in both aspects can be said to be a complete player. In test cricket while it is unfathomable for a batsman without a good defence to even think of having any kind of career, the defensive side of a game is not exactly done away with in One Days. While in test cricket the defensive side of a batsman’s game is of greater importance than his offensive side, in One Days it is the offensive side of a batsman’s game that takes over and defensive side of a batsman takes a secondary role, but it is still always present and never becomes redundant.
While it is correct that in a One Day match, the number of overs the very best bowlers bowl is limited, unlike test cricket, but 10 overs is not exactly an insignificant number of overs. The good bowlers still gets to bowl in spells and can work over a batsman, especially one who has a poor defense and poor technique. Additionally in test cricket, a good batsman can still afford to just bide his time against the good bowlers, and then has all the time to score off the weaker bowlers. In one day cricket a batsman doesn’t have that luxury, and he must look to score off the very best bowlers too. This presents its own challenges, and its own dangers to the batsman’s wicket.
Since unlike test cricket, the batsman is forced to play and score (the objective of cricket) under the clock, he is allowed some advantages that he doesn’t have in test cricket, like for instance, the best bowlers (all bowlers) can only bowl 10 overs in the innings. 10 overs while a limited number, is not an insignificant number, but that the best bowlers can only bowl 10 overs, definitely helps the scoring. Similarly there are powerplays and field restrictions.
However in the search for offense the batsman cannot disregard his defense, and the bowlers over 50 overs can still take plenty of wickets to keep the batting side to a low score. If a side has good bowlers then they can bowl a good spell of upto 6 overs each (as is usual practise), and the batsmen who are poor can be found out and worked over. Additionally, while One Day field restrictions do impose a challenge to the bowling side, they also encourage placing of attacking fields. In tests a captain is under no obligation to place fielders in catching positions, but in one days, a fielding captain is mandated to place at least two fielders in the ‘catching’ positions in the first 10 overs.
Thus while fielding restrictions do make run making easier, with the catching position regulation they also put the batsman at greater risk of losing his wicket, trying to make use of the field restrictions.
Thus in tests and one days, both defense and offense have a place, and depending on the format one or the other could take precedence, but they both have a role and neither is to be ignored and forgotten.
In T20s, the axis around which cricket as we knew it (till the advent of T20s) revolved – the price on a wicket, no longer exists. This is why I said, T20 is the least ‘crickety‘ of the three versions. There was never a lesser price on a batsman’s wicket, especially a top order batsman’s than it is in T20s.
In T20s the defense side of a batsman’s game is totally and completely done away with. A good defense in T20s is actually more a hindrance than a help. Cricket, whether Tests, One Days or T20s, is primarily about runs and the batsmen. However in tests and one days, there is also a huge role other side of the coin – the bowlers. There is a price on a batsman’s wicket, and a bowler getting a wicket a cause for celebration. Getting a wicket matters in tests and one days, in T20s not so much. The general approach of batsmen to T20 cricket is the chief reason for it. In general every batsman looks to play the same way, and hit every ball out of the ground, and while some batsmen try and bring some method to the madness, for the most part, the approach of all T20 batsmen is the same. If one bloke swinging his bat around gets out, then the next batsman will look to do the same. All batsmen are capable of hitting sixes, especially with the boundary ropes brought in.
In the Tests and One Days getting a particular batsman out had its own advantages. Teams looked to get Dravid and Tendulkar out for two very different reasons. Dravid’s wicket was important because he could completely block one end and bat long periods, and though the runs would not be scored very fast, the sight of one Batsman for long hours, makes the fielding side think that they cannot get him out and lose the mental edge, which could make batting easier even for the person batting with Dravid at the other end. In Tendulkar’s case he could absolutely dominate the bowling and score big runs quickly and while the runs would hurt, but what would hurt even more was that kind of dominance by a Batsman, which has its own effects on psyche of a fielding side. So getting their wickets was a prize but for different reasons, and these two legends could not be more different in their approach to the game.
In T20 the batsmen have lost their individuality and invariably all T20 batsmen are essentially the same. One guy looking to hit every delivery our of the ground gets out only to be replaced by another guy looking to hit every delivery out of the ground. Thus getting one batsman out is no longer a cause for celebration, as the one that got out is no different from the one who will walk in next. This is the extent to which batsmen have lost their individuality, and have become one giant mob of zombies, looking to hit as many sixes and fours as possible in 20 overs. That a delivery which took the wicket was a dot ball (as is often the case), is sometimes more important in T20s than the fact that a wicket fell.
If sides don’t really care about losing wickets, then there is nothing really to celebrate much about picking one, is there? Thus bowling has been reduced to the status of ground fielding. It’s important to field well and save runs, but similarly its now just important to bowl well to save runs. While the larger logic applies that taking wickets will stop runs anyway, but that doesn’t stop the batsmen from playing some senseless shots trying to score runs and getting out, anyway. The emphasis is on stopping runs than taking wickets, and losing a wicket to a senseless shot has never been more acceptable.
It’s all about just trying to score runs, and the concept of a good defensive shot doesn’t exist in the world of T20 cricket. It’s about just one aspect of batting – the offensive side of the game. It’s alright for a batsman to not possess any defence at all, as long as he can attack. Defense has no place in T20 cricket.
The aspects of patience and endurance are not even remotely tested in T20s. Patience is such an important aspect in tests and tested at a reasonable level even in one days, but in T20s is something that is actually looked down upon. A batsman, in tests and one days, when he finds the going tough, in the face of quality bowling, is encouraged to hang in there, to put a price on his wicket, to not get out, to be patient, the runs will come later. In T20s though, batsmen looking to be patient is looked down upon. Losing a wicket is preferable to not scoring, and hanging in there.
Further there are all other aids given to a batsman, including shortening the boundary ropes, that make T20 cricket a very one-dimensional game, and even the batsmen of questionable talent, flourish against the best of bowlers. That is how handicapped a bowler is in T20s. He cannot bowl any kind of spells whatsoever, cannot work a batsman over, and because of the shorter boundaries even mis-hits carry over the fence. It is one thing to aid batsmen, and another to take the bowler completely out of the game. Just picture if in football, to aid goalscoring, the defenders were made to play with both their feet tied together !
The point is not to belittle T20 cricket. However, at the same time it is important to note that the game of cricket is not just about a select few aspects of the game. Cricket is not cricket till a player is tested on all aspects that the game of cricket is designed to test him on. A good defense is just as important for a batsman as the ability to score. Patience is as important as the ability to hit a cover drive. Endurance and concentration for long periods matter. It is one thing to be patient to score a 50, but to score a 150 very high levels of concentrations and patience are required. Similarly for bowlers its important to bowl on the spot all through the day, and that too requires high levels of concentrations, and sometimes a great spell may not yield a wicket, and the bowler has to be patient and keep plugging away.
Test cricket most definitely tests a player on all aspects, sternly so. One Days while they test some aspects more than other aspects most definitely test all players on all these at least on some levels, while bringing some interesting challenges of their own to the table. While the bat matters, but the ball is still very much a part of the equation, and bowlers are not irrelevant. A batsman scoring a hundred in one days still usually has to bat atleast 35 overs, and at times be patient, and batting 35 overs against quality bowlers is not an easy task, whether in tests or one days. While its true that the test for a player in one days can be said to get easier on some levels, but that all aspects are still tested at least on some level is also equally true. While the focus is on offense, but a defense still matters, good bowlers, still get a good spell to have a go at the batsmen, and weak batsmen can be found out and most importantly there is a price on a wicket.
The same cannot be said for T20s. In T20s many aspects of the game go completely untested. There is no question of any kind of test of defense, or patience of endurance, of concentration etc. In light of this it’s not incorrect to say T2o is not cricket enough. This is why I feel T20 cricket should not be played at the international level. T20s are not serious enough cricket to be played at the highest level.
It is true that T20 has many things going for it. Like I said, it is the format that has brought cricket on financial parity (supremacy in the case of IPL), with the rest of the sports of the world. It is a useful tool to bring in new viewership to the sport, and then some of these new viewers then transfer over to One Days and more importantly Tests too. That T20 has given cricket a big boost off the field is undeniable, but that it has failed, completely on the field to match up to the standards of any kind of serious cricket is also equally true.
While everyone is awed by the off-field power T20 wields, everyone is equally unimpressed by what T20 cricket offers on the field. While T20 domestic leagues have flourished. but they have done so because of totally off field reasons, (financial ones primarily). No one can realistically try to argue that T20 leagues are so popular because the quality of cricket on display in these leagues is of a very high standard. Casual cricket viewers, who do not understand the complexities of a test match, or the need for proper field placements towards the end of an innings in one days, flock to the grounds to see sixes being hit, and consequently where the crowds go, the sponsors follow. So the administrators get rich, and so do the players.
This financial affluence is absolutely fine and if players earn a good living, it is great. Also if the administrators use the money to build better cricketing infrastructure then nothing like it. These T20 leagues are also an excellent way to help bridge the gap that exists between the top 8 and the rest.Its not debatable that the more the players from associate nations play with the top players, the more they will learn, and T20 leagues is a great way to do that. So I feel that the T20 leagues are doing a very good job in cricket for these reasons.
However, I find absolutely no rationale as to why International T20 fixtures exist. T20s have not found any kind of footing in the international calender despite having been around for a while. Once a bilateral tour (the bread and butter of International Cricket) finishes, if a team wins the test series it feels great, if it loses the test series, but wins the One Day series its a consolation in at least we won something kind of way. The T20 whether won or lost, has absolutely no bearing at all to the tour at all. The reason is that at some level everyone knows that T20 cricket is just not cricket !
T20 still has a lot going for it and I have listed them above. However that T20 is not serious enough cricket to be played at the highest levels is also undeniable. I am not proposing T20s being scrapped, and T20 brings too many good things off the field to be scrapped, but that is no reason for T20 cricket to be played at the highest level. Let T20 cricket exist and flourish at the domestic level, and let more T20 leagues flourish, the more the better for the finances in the sport overall.
However the limitations that exist in T20 for on field reasons definitely make one question the wisdom of playing it at the highest level. Let T20 flourish at domestic levels, but T20 Internationals need to stop.