On Thursday December 17, the fifth KFC Big Bash starts. The Frank Worrell Trophy will likely be overshadowed by the hype, colour and massive sixes. Channel Ten, who did a wonderful job last year, will hype the “you-know-what” out of it and crowds will flock.
For some, KFC sponsoring the Big Bash is appropriate, as Twenty20 is the junk food of cricket; mass marketed to families and youngsters, eagerly devoured, colourful and soon forgotten, with occasional bloating.
The Big Bash has changed domestic scheduling. Rather than the Domestic One-Day tournament and Sheffield Shield being run concurrently, the Matador Cap has been shovelled to October to make room for the Big Bash.
Kevin Pietersen is a huge fan of Twenty20. In his book KP: The Autobiography, he wrote ‘The IPL has given me the kind of experiences that I hoped for when I left South Africa…I’ve had so much fun that the experiences with England…often seemed to have happened while I was wearing a straitjacket. Even just sharing a hotel with the other foreign players in your squad is an experience.’
For all the controversy and corruption that’s plagued the IPL, you have to admire its straightforwardness. The teams are franchises and players and sold to the highest bidder. While some may mourn the death of loyalty and the pride of playing for your country, IPL – and the other global Twenty20 competitions – reward their players handsomely, both financially and with opportunities to play with some of the world’s best cricketers.
At the 2015 IPL auction, players from Australia (37 entered, eight sold), England (six and three), India (232 and 43), Ireland (one and zero), New Zealand (13 and five), South Africa (22 and five), Sri Lanka (17 and one), West Indies (13 and one) and Zimbabwe (two and zero) participated. Half of India’s players were made up of inexperienced locals (a total of 41 matches between them) and sold at 10 lakhs (or one million rupees) each for two-three months’ work.
When Twenty20 cricket began, some feared for the health of spinners. Surely this batsman-dominated game would see the poor old spinners slogged to all parts? They’d either revert to military mediums to survive or give up completely. While mediocre spinners can get flogged, the best spinners adapted and used the lack of pace to their advantage. The top two international Twenty20 bowlers are Shahid Afridi (88 wickets at 23.68) and Saeed Ajmal (85 at 17.83) – both spinners. “Mystery spinner” Ajantha Mendis (66 at 14.42) is ranked fifth and former English off-spinner Graeme Swann (51 at 16.84) is ninth.
Rather than killing Test cricket, Twenty20 has influenced the faster scoring rates. In the recently completed WACA Test, Australia and New Zealand combined for 1,672 runs, cashing in on a flat pitch. Australia scored 2/416 on day one (in ninety overs) and New Zealand scored 4/370 in 87 overs on day three. Ross Taylor (290) and David Warner (253) scored double tons while Kane Williamson (166), Steve Smith (138), Usman Khawaja (121) and Adam Voges (119) made centuries. Tests and Twenty20s work well together because they’re so different. Test cricket has tradition and the ebb-and-flow of five days on its side. Twenty20 is fun, colourful, has lots of action (usually) and innovation.
The biggest victim has been one-day cricket. Despite lots of tinkering, the format is criticised for being stale, formulaic and boring. The middle 30 overs of an innings are usually full of risk-free singles and bowling designed to restrict boundaries. If a team scores 300 batting first and takes a few quick wickets in the first ten overs, the game is over. At least one-sided Twenty20 games are over quickly, while lopsided Tests are usually over in three days. One-day cricket has been cynically exploited as a cash grab, with meaningless tri, quad and bi-lateral series (another seven-game series between Australia and India?) generating little interest outside of the competing teams, their families, friends, advertisers and broadcasters.
Crucially, Twenty20 is brilliant for developing nations. The 2015 Twenty20 World Cup Qualifiers included teams from Asia (Afghanistan, Nepal, UAE, Hong Kong, Oman), Africa (Namibia, Kenya), the Americas (Canada, USA), Europe (Ireland, Scotland, Netherlands, Jersey) and East Asia Pacific (PNG). Compare that to the 2019 ICC World Cup, which is restricted to the 10 “elite” nations.
Domestic Twenty20 has become an alternative format for freelance cricketers: Australia, Bangladesh, England, Ireland, Nepal, Netherlands, Scotland, New Zealand, Pakistan, South Africa, Sri Lanka, West Indies and Zimbabwe host popular domestic tournaments, creating a new cricket community.
While one-day cricket may slowly die out, Test cricket will survive, especially if the marvelous day-night format is embraced, and be able to co-exist with Twenty20.