The debate whether T20 cricket is pushing Test cricket into extinction has been doing the rounds for a few years now. Also, is T20 killing real cricketing skills? While there cannot be a definite answer to these questions, at least in the foreseeable future, it’s safe to say that there are always two sides to a coin. Get my point?
Cricket, as a game, might be older than you think. The oldest known reference to cricket is from way back in 1611. In Sussex, England, two young men were punished for playing cricket on Sunday instead of going to church.
Picture a nice, yummy piece of cake lying in a plate on the table. But you are on a strict diet. Gobbling down that piece of cake will make you feel nothing less than in heaven, but the guilt of sabotaging your diet regime will not allow you to even look into the mirror after that.
The ongoing hot debate regarding limited overs cricket and Test cricket, and how the former is affecting the game, is something like that piece of cake. You can’t live without it, but it will derail the good work on fitness that you have been doing over the months, or even years.
This doesn’t conclusively imply that Twenty20 cricket is the face of the devil, and it is slowly destroying the white angels of Test cricket! But one cannot deny the huge impact of T20 on cricket in the 21st century. Traditional cricket enthusiasts would ask, is T20 killing even real cricketing skills? The newer generation would counter this by saying that the excitement of T20 cricket far outweighs that of Test cricket. This is nothing but a scene involving two groups, equally divided, throwing punches at each other, with no clear winner. Nevertheless, let’s weigh both sides in all aspects, and see for ourselves.
T20 V/s. Longer Version Cricket: The Ups and Downs
The first official test match was played in 1877 between England and Australia. This form of cricket is played over 5 days, with each side batting and bowling for two innings each. In 2012, the International Cricket Council (ICC), which is the governing body of world cricket, started allowing Test cricket to be played as day-night games under floodlights. That this hasn’t taken off in a big way as yet is a different story altogether. There are 10 Test-playing nations at present, but there isn’t a Test cricket World Cup, as yet.
T20, Twenty-20, or Twenty20 cricket, was started in 2003. This even-more-shortened-ODI-format was introduced by the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) as a domestic (county) competition. Immediately the world sat up and noticed this new format, and it spread like wildfire. The first T20 World Cup was held in 2007 in South Africa, with India emerging as victors. Since then, there has been no looking back, and it is easily the most popular form of cricket, as we speak.
The reason why cricket came to be known as the ‘Gentleman’s Game’ is because of Test cricket. The players in neat whites, the spectators sipping coffee and munching on sandwiches while they applauded every good shot or fallen wicket, a quiet family picnic over five days, players respecting one another but still being competitive; these aspects are the soul of the longer version of the game. Getting into your country’s Test team isn’t an easy task. One needs to be immensely talented and technically sound to make the cut. There is a certain sense of discipline that one can witness in Tests.
The game goes on for 5 days, thus making it possible for the team, as a whole, to discuss their plans and change strategies as per the need of the hour, or day. One need not be the best fielder around, and simply being a top class batsman or bowler is mostly enough. There can be times, if you are placed at say, long-on or sweeper, that you won’t see the ball coming your way for over an hour or so. The pitch and playing conditions change a lot over the course of five days, which is why one needs to be technically strong in batting, and versatile in bowling, to be able to adjust to the demand of the situation.
Tests are more about batsmen scoring more runs without worrying about the run rate, and bowlers looking to pick wickets without having to bother about conceding too many runs. Though this obviously becomes more and less relevant as the game progresses.
To play Twenty20 cricket, one needs to be extremely fit. The game is played for around three hours or so, and there isn’t any time for rest, either mentally or physically. Here, you need to be a good fielder too, besides your main domain of batting/bowling; every run you save is a run you score for your team.
T20 cricket mostly favors the batsmen more than the bowlers. This has been intentionally done to make the game more exciting for the viewers. So invariably, batsmen are looking to score the maximum in every ball they face, irrespective of how it happens. One doesn’t need to be technically sound to do well here, though it does help more often than not. But the basic mantra while batting is – bang whack boom.
For the bowlers, it’s a world away from Test cricket style. They can’t attack as much, both in their bowling style as well as field placements. Here, it all about containing runs, and though taking wickets is the best way to do this, it isn’t the sole aim always, unlike Test cricket. Which is why, a street-smart bowler can do well in this format. The captain has to be on his toes all through the game, shuffling players and plans around as time goes by. He needs to be extremely innovative in his ideas, and able to read the game very well. A match can be won or lost because of just one good or bad over.
Here, you’ll see the coach mostly sitting calmly inside the dressing room having a sandwich or talking to someone. When the team is batting, the captain (when he isn’t batting) would be near the coach. There is a lot of time to discuss the strategy ahead. The coach can also have team meetings at the end of each day’s play, and the team can discuss the broader picture as such. Most decisions taken during a Test match would be after the coach and captain agree on them together.
Cut to T20, and here is a coach who is all fidgety and on the edge. He is with the team in the dug out, and you can be sure that after every over his instructions are being passed on to the team and captain out there on the field. This is a 3-hour affair, so the intensity is at its highest throughout. Though the coach has a team meeting before the match, and the broad plans are discussed according to the opposition and one’s own strengths and weaknesses, once the game commences, the captain has more of a say, because things keep changing after every over, and sometimes with every ball being bowled. The coaches role, along with the support staff, is more of analyzing things off the field before and after a game.
There might not be a calmer sport in the world than Test match cricket, at least for the spectators. Matches go over 4 – 5 days, so you’d have to have the time to spare to go enjoy the whole match. Of course, there are daily passes available too so that one can choose a particular day to go watch a game. Comparatively, the crowds here are quieter and go about their business (eating, talking, relaxing) while the match is being played. There will be applause from time to time for certain milestones or some spectacular shot or great wicket taken. Everyone’s nerves usually start getting hot and bothered if and when the match is thrilling and coming to an end, usually on the fifth day. On the other hand, there can be extremely boring matches with no results too. Since a draw is an option, some teams are happy to get away with a draw, rather than a loss. So the cricket can also become very slow and boring sometimes.
Here, spectators come to have a blast. They’ll all be dressed up in colors or waving banners and posters around, dancing and shouting their lungs out. If you are looking to have a quiet evening, a T20 game is not something you should consider going to. There will be music, noise, announcements, and everything of that sort all through the match. Obviously these games are more thrilling and exciting as compared to other forms of cricket. People want to see sixes, fours, a wicket falling, and a great diving effort to take a catch. There wouldn’t be a dull moment in a T20 game, unless, in the rare instance, when it is a totally one-sided match. The biggest factor in favor of T20 is that a game goes on for just a part of the evening. So even those who have a workday can go watch a match after that. In today’s fast-paced life, this formula seems to fit in perfectly.
The interest in Test cricket has diminished over the decades with the advent of ODIs and T20s. Obviously, this has spilled onto the mood of sponsors around the world as well. As such, TV and ground advertising is relatively cheaper for these matches. Teams have fixed sponsors, so they do not have an issue here. But grounds and broadcasters have to work that much harder to get substantial sponsoring on board.
Getting sponsors for T20 games or tournaments is mostly a cakewalk. These games generate so much interest, that sponsors are inevitably lining up to work hand in hand with the organizers. The flip side here is that there is extreme competition between corporates to become a sponsor, and the rates for ground and TV ads obviously skyrocket. Word was that, during the previous World Cups, broadcasters were charging anywhere between $150,000 to $200,000 for a 30-minute advert. Now that’s some big money. But then, the companies were getting that much more exposure too, which is why everyone wanted a piece of the cake.
Effects of T20 on Cricket
Back to our question whether T20 is killing real cricketing skills! Besides the rules being way different, the impact of T20 on overall cricket is there for all to see. The answer would mostly be a ‘yes’. You can be a ‘bits and pieces’ player, and still get into a T20 squad, and be pretty successful.
A batsman need not be technically sound; just some innovative swinging here and there might do the trick. Bowlers cannot be aggressive (the way we love seeing them in Tests), and they just look to contain the flow of runs. A wicket is mostly seen as a bonus along the way. Yes, this is so evident on their expressions during Twenty20 encounters. Why, even bowlers like Dale Steyn and Mitchell Johnson, who terrorize batsman around the world during Tests, seem like sitting ducks here. Of course, this is one downside to having all the rules stacked in favor of the batsmen. But organizers and sponsors say that is exactly what is needed for the fun and thrill factor, and to keep the crowds coming back day in and day out.
T20 has definitely improved two aspects of world cricket―fielding and captaincy. If you are a slouch on the field, unless you are the best batsman or bowler in the world, you can kiss your chances goodbye of getting into a team. Runs saved are valued as much as runs scored. It all adds up in the end, with all the close encounters that we see. The captain has to think like a computer, or even better. Things keep changing so fast that one late move and the team will be left behind in the contest.
Concluding here, one can argue that T20 has killed the real essence of cricket; the skill, strategic planning, technique, healthy level of competition, etc. But then, it is the factors of thrill, big money, and entertainment that has seen T20 rise so fast. It is here to stay. As for Test cricket, the ICC will have to think of ways and means to bring back the crowds, just the way they used to come to the grounds in the ’70s and ’80s.