Time for Twenty20 to pay some of Test cricket's bills… it's what families do
12:02 GMT, 17 April 2012
Last week, in a different forum, I tried to make the case for Test cricket in the era of Twenty20.
Broadly speaking, the responses came from two groups: from those who view cricket primarily as a sport; and from those unable to escape the conclusion that cricket has become a product. Wake up, they scoffed, and smell the bottom line.
This may be a simplification. Lovers of the game – including this one – acknowledge the economic imperatives that drive it, while even the most gimlet-eyed businessman presumably still enjoys the sights and sounds of a straight six.
Yet this is contemporary cricket’s battle ground. The lines have been drawn.
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If you argue, as I did in Wisden, that no Test series not involving Bangladesh or Zimbabwe should include fewer than three games, the chances are you will be told you are out of touch. The money, you see, comes from elsewhere (unless you are English, in which case you are clinging to an outdated ideal).
I won’t patronise you with the argument that money doesn’t buy you happiness, because you know that already.
But I will offer the suggestion, and a near-heretical one, that the moment a sport becomes a business, it ceases to be a sport – at least not in the terms any fan who fell in love with that sport will understand.
There are a couple of points here. The first is that, outside England and occasionally in Australia, Test cricket plainly fails to attract the crowds we all wish it did. (The debate about how to save Test cricket is for another column: what interests me here is a principle.)
On one level, this is indeed the market speaking. But can cricket’s administrators really look themselves in the mirror and say they have not given the market a helping hand by overloading the schedule with Twenty20
The question, of course, is which came first: the market or the bending of the knee in its general direction I would argue a bit of both. Yet to listen to some, you wonder how it was the BCCI survived all those years with only 50-over cricket to keep the advertisers happy.
If the national boards showed as much zeal and enthusiasm for their (forgive me) product as, say, the owners of the IPL franchises lavish on theirs, we might now be looking at a more balanced fixture list – and not one in which most players, while by their own admission preferring the challenges of Test cricket, are barely minded to have a pop at Twenty20.
It would at least be logical to watch the disintegration of all but the major Test series if the game’s administrators held their hands up and said: ‘What choice do we have!’
Where is everybody There were empty seats when England faced Pakistan in Dubai earlier this year
Instead we are constantly told Test cricket needs to be protected, even while another batch of meaningless two-match series is added to the roster. Come on, guys! Show some faith in a form of the game that you continually tell us means more than any other.
The second point is that, contrary to a few of the straw men erected last week, I quite like Twenty20. It’s clearly not the game Test cricket is, but it has a crucial role to play in the sport’s future. That role, though, should not include closing down Test cricket.
Forget, if you possibly can, the economic argument, and try to imagine a world in which sport is not in thrall to the suits who demand a return on their investment.
In this world, the three forms of the game co-exist harmoniously. And if Twenty20 pays some of Test cricket’s bills, so be it. That’s what families do from time to time.
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After all, without the handouts the 18 first-class counties receive from the ECB each year, there would be no counties to provide players for England’s Test team. And without Test cricket, there would have been no big-name players to fill the IPL franchises when the tournament got under way four years ago.
Test cricket helped Twenty20. Here’s Twenty20’s chance to give a little back – or even a lot.
If you believe that every aspect of every organisation should pull its financial weight absolutely equally, and that there is room in the world only for the money-makers, then you may not lament the decline and fall of Test cricket.
But it’s just possible you’re not thrilled with the idea of a sport in which 20 overs is the longest a player can bat and four overs the most he can bowl.
Test cricket tells us the game is at its most riveting when there are so many shades of grey you hardly know where to look.
My motivation – a long way, incidentally, from jealousy – is to preserve those shades. Black and white can get a little dull.
THAT WAS THE WEEK THAT WAS
A good month to break a finger
Batsmen around the country last week could barely buy a run – and we’re not just talking about Northamptonshire (132 and 116 in the innings defeat to Kent). But then what are we to expect when the schedulers are trying to squeeze in four County Championship matches before the end of April
Even with this year’s slightly truncated Friends Life t20 tournament, the concertinaed fixture list (four out of 19 chunks of matches before May, for goodness’ sake!) is a consequence of the domestic game’s determination to get everything out of the way before the Champions League starts in September. A tournament in which the ECB do not even share a financial stake is now eating into English cricket’s landscape. And county bowlers everywhere suddenly resemble Richard Hadlee.
Yardy fights back
Still, not everyone struggled. Was any innings more poignant than Mike Yardy’s 110, as Sussex – touted by some for relegation – hammered reigning champions Lancashire by 10 wickets at Aigburth Yardy wrote movingly in this year’s Wisden about his battle with depression, which makes every run he scores and wicket he takes even more pleasurable. We wish him very well indeed.
Dar and the DRS
One of the arguments frequently used against the Decision Review System is that it undermines the umpires. Simon Taufel is said not to be its greatest fan. So it was instructive to read the views of Aleem Dar, who last September was named ICC’s umpire of the year for the third year in a row and is generally regarded as the least flappable official out there.
‘I’m fully supportive of the DRS and other technology and don’t see it as interfering with my umpiring or detrimental to my performance,’ he told PakPassion.net. ‘Even the best umpires will make mistakes and if technology highlights those mistakes and gets the right decision made, then that is good for the game of cricket.’ Not exactly an undermining, then…
No, Watto! Yes, Watto! Oh, Watto!
It used to be said of Denis Compton that when he called his partner through for a quick single, it was no more than a basis for negotiation. But Shane Watson is in danger of making Compton look like the epitome of certitude.
Don't look back in anger: Ricky Ponting
His part in the run-out of Ricky Ponting during the Barbados Test was instalment No 8 in a sequence that may already have been made into a DVD, which is perhaps what Watson had in mind when he said: ‘I made sure that I’ve given Ricky a few presents and provided him with a number of things I could to try to cheer him up a little bit, because it did affect me a lot.’
Many ways to skin a cat
How does a Pakistani get to play in the Indian Premier League Answer: he becomes a Brit (and even then, he can only play in Chandigarh and Delhi). Such, it appears, is the fate of Azhar Mahmood, the bustling all-rounder who played the last of his 143 one-day internationals for Pakistan (he has also won 21 Test caps) during the defeat to Ireland at the 2007 World Cup.
His British citizenship, which was confirmed last year (he is married to a British woman), has circumvented the problem of Pakistan’s exclusion from the IPL – opening up the possibility that it won’t just be South Africans who decide a cricketing life in England is the way head.