This year’s non-stop T20 season started on March 12 (the beginning of IPL) and continues through to May 16 (the World Cup final). It’s a two-month period without ODIs and Tests, but no-one seems to be complaining. A question: Can T20s drive ODIs and Tests totally to the background in the future?
A similar argument for Test extinction had come after the ODIs burst into the scene, especially after the Kerry Packer series in the late seventies.
But ODIs have been around for nearly 40 years and Tests are very much alive. The two co-exist perfectly. The long and short of it is that hardly anyone has time to sit for five days in a stadium or in front of the TV.
When a Test is on: You leave the live scorecard on in your browser while you go about your work, watch highlights, read reports, discuss a day’s play and finally if the match is heading for a close finish, watch it live or head to the stadium (if it’s happening in your city).
Now that’s how you can follow an ODI too, but you wouldn’t mind taking a day off and devoting your time watching it live, especially if it’s on a weekend. This patchwork worked quite well till T20s offered something more workable than ODIs.
I’ve been watching ODI cricket for 25 years and I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but the matches are getting a tad boring and predictable. How many times have we won a bilateral series on Australian or South African soil? How many times has Sri Lanka won a series on Indian soil? Next to zero!
Then take those tedious triangulars. You take two strong teams and a weak team. In the leagues you go through the motions and kick out the weak team. If by chance the weak team enters the final, then no coconuts for guessing who finally lifts the trophy.
Every ODI also follows a pattern. You hit out in the beginning, consolidate in the middle and hit out at the end. If it’s on Indian soil, then you can chase 300 easily and it there’s dew, then you can chase just about anything. Fast bowlers are becoming totally toothless thanks to things like the free hit rule, understandable in a T20, but not so in any other form of game.
ODIs versus T20s
It will be difficult to envisage all three forms of the game flourishing in the future. I still think Tests are in a different league. ODIs and T20s share the same space and are in competition.
I personally would rather see India and Australia play five exciting back-to-back T20s than a boring ODI series. I’d rather see a triangular, where any team could win.
With T20s anything is possible. They are short and exciting. You can’t predict the outcome. You can’t predict a pattern. It is over before you know it. So the potential is limitless. Why not rule that all international T20s should only be held on either weekends or week day evenings? You’d have packed houses and soaring TRP ratings. T20s suits the modern lifestyle fantastically. You finally won’t have to miss work to watch all your team’s matches.
Truly global potential
There’s another thing. The ODI World Cup can effectively be won by only the top eight teams (and has been won by five teams only). West Indies and Australia were undisputed Test champions in the past. In addition South Africa and India have held the ICC Test No. 1 rankings. That’s a really select club. You can’t call that truly “international”.
With T20, things are different. Non-cricketing countries will finally have time to play the game. Audiences new to cricket won’t mind watching a game which is over in less than three hours. Plus, there’s more of a level playing field here. Within a short span, teams outside the “Top 8” could be great T20 teams.
Promote T20 in a big way in 12 non-Test countries and in the next five years and you could have a World Cup with 20 teams with any one of them in a position to cause an upset. T20 is the only chance of cricket making it to the Olympics or the Asiads or the Commonwealth Games.
ICC suppressing T20s
But if you notice, then the ICC is going out of its way to suppress international T20s. You might say that there is too much of T20: The World Cup takes place every two years.
The IPL has already finished its third season. To counter that: 1. The IPL is merely a domestic cricket with international stars. 2. That the World Cup is the only major tournament around for international T20 teams should tell you something.
In the period between the first T20 WC final and the warm up matches of the second edition, India played 22 Tests, 51 ODIs and just five T20s. Yes, you read right, just five T20s. That’s barely an average bilateral ODI series.
Considering the fact that they are over in just half a day and draw full crowds, you’d expect that India could well have played much more T20 matches than the 51 ODIs. Maybe 70-80? So where are the 5-match bilateral T20 series? Where is the T20 Asia Cup? Where are the T20 triangulars and quadrangulars? I don’t even hear people talking about that.
The ICC in general (and India in particular) looked at T20 with suspicion when it was introduced in 2003. It takes years for old and established bodies to promote something new.
Secondly, one of the biggest roadblocks is that ODIs make too much money. T20s last half the time. And make less than half the money. I don’t think the authorities have figured out how to make that kind of moolah from international T20s. But the IPL has shown how much hype and money can be created from the very shortest version of the game. So it may be a game-changer in more ways than one.
T20 is the only way cricket could compete with games like football in the future. Purists may be alarmed, but that’s where the future is heading and there’s no point in fighting that. Here’s hoping for more long T20 bilateral series and T20 tournaments!
The author is a Bangalore-based journalist and blogger