May 29, 2009

Mike Holmans

Twenty20's novelty wearing off

Mike Holmans
Joy and sorrow: Indians celebrate while Misbah-ul-Haq is left to ponder what could have been, India v Pakistan, ICC World Twenty20 final, Johannesburg, September 24, 2007
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Five years ago, the first domestic Twenty20 match at Lord’s attracted 30,000 spectators. The two matches at Lord’s played so far this season have attracted about half that number – not each, but together. All the counties are seeing smaller crowds this year than last, and last year’s were lower than the year before. TV ratings for the IPL this year were down about 15% on last year.

The novelty value of Twenty20 seems to be wearing off. It has undoubtedly brought new people into watching cricket, whether live or on TV, but long-term success depends on whether these new cricket spectators carry on watching.

If their continued loyalty is dependent on the games being exciting, though, the prospect is fairly bleak, because relatively few Twenty20 games are particularly exciting. Only about 30% of games in the IPL have come down to the last over, a figure similar to the English domestic competition. In international Twenty20, fewer than one game in four goes to the wire. At least half the games are pretty much done and dusted by the end of the second innings powerplay, the remaining hour of the match merely giving concrete form to the inevitable.

Not that these figures are bad - in cricket terms. Longer games are even less likely to change their obvious trajectory in the last hour of play. But it compares very unfavourably with other mass-appeal sports.

In huge numbers of soccer games, the result is still uncertain with five minutes to go: a single goal would still be enough to equalise or one side to take a late lead. Hoping to get five runs in the bottom of the ninth in baseball may require huge optimism, but making up a one or two-run difference remains within most teams’ capacity - it only takes one big hit.. With their higher scores, oval ball codes of football tend to be more or less decided rather earlier – once a team needs to score more than once and at least every five minutes, they are very likely to lose – but the tension usually lasts well past the two-thirds point.

Twenty20 moves considerably faster than the longer forms of cricket, but by comparison with other sports it is like watching people racing through treacle.

Longer forms make up for inevitability by offering a stage for individuals to shine. Within the context of a virtually-decided match, there are often subsidiary dramas to sustain interest. Bowlers can get useful hauls and batsmen can play innings long enough to be memorable. Twenty-wicket cricket, whether four-day or five-day, has the further advantage that while it may be obvious that one side cannot win, the possibility that they will not lose remains open right until the end.

Twenty20, though, depends almost entirely on the result for drama. In four overs, a bowler is doing well to take even two wickets, and it takes something spectacular for an individual batsman to stand out. There is much less to talk about with your mates on the way home.

I am not trying to knock Twenty20. I enjoy Twenty20 a great deal. It doesn’t bother me that it does not in practice live up to the ambitious marketing of thrills and spills all the way; I am wholly accustomed to watching matches where not much happens, so one close game in three is quite OK in my book. What is far more dubious is whether the casual fans who have been sufficiently attracted by the new format to give boring old cricket a try will persist with it once they’ve rumbled that underneath the glitz, flashing lights and dancing girls, the central attraction is still cricket.

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Posted by MV on (June 2, 2009, 4:01 GMT)

As said before, let the game be more bowler friendly, as one who enjoys the Tests the most of all forms, its terribly boring to see ever alternate ball being hit for a 4 or 6. Even more, In cricket there is no place for all the side attractions (cheerleaders, fireworks, etc), get rid of these and i may watch. Also the IPL is absolutely irritating with DLF MAXIMUMS, stop using the format as a cash cow and more a expansion tool. The ultimate is the bat Vs ball and see who wins. lets keep it at that.

Posted by mikkey on (June 2, 2009, 1:12 GMT)

IPL was huge, i myself stayed glued all the matches and when i picked DC as my favourite team, excitement went sky high, The real fun starts in IPL when you pick your team and start supporting it. I dont think T20 world cup will match IPL, The quality cricket that was dispalyed in IPL was amazing.. I bet KKR team from IPL can defeat most of the teams that are playing in T20 World cup.

Posted by anton on (June 1, 2009, 19:26 GMT)

I suspect English players love 20-20 cricket and love to play it, but it is portrayed negatively in the English press by writers and journalists, most of whom are in their 50s and 60s. One of them being the author of this very article (not that I have anything against Mike, he is an excellent cricket writer), but you can imagine they won't take to it because they like the gentle form of the game.

[Mike: I think T20 is a wonderful form of the game, and have said so consistently since it was introduced in England. But a lot of the younger people who got enthusiastic about when it started here are already drifting away. Whether the same will happen elsewhere I don't know - but it could. In India, where cricket is the number one sport, any dropoff is likely to be less, but I'm not at all confident that T20 leagues in Australia or South Africa will be major money-spinners.]

Posted by pks on (June 1, 2009, 15:30 GMT)

t20 is going to give cricket soccer status in next few years.... Bcos in 50\50 or test cricket any new country will take years to register a win against established teams but in 20\20 anyhting can happen..

Posted by T20man on (June 1, 2009, 15:21 GMT)

I doubt very much that the novelty of T/20 cricket will be wearing off in a hurry. I think the recent success of the IPL (played in a foreign country!!) is proof enough of that. I've been a huge cricket fan for 30 years now and I do love my Tests and 50 over versions of the game. But if there is a more exciting and action-packed sport out there somewhere (than T/20), then I'm yet to see it.

Most soccer and baseball matches are bore-fests in comparison. In soccer most of the after game highlights centre around how somebody ALMOST scored...while running around like a maniac for 90 minutes...:-). Then once in a blue moon you see a match with a few goals, and they call it the game of the year.

T/20 is the 1 cricket format which gets people through the turnstiles (me included) and is capable of introducing new fans (and maybe even new countries) to the game of cricket. This should be encouraged.

The 20/20 World Championship starts next weekend...I'll be watching!!

Posted by andy on (June 1, 2009, 14:31 GMT)

I think the English should be banned from T20 games. Why do they play this game if they hate it so much? This I can not understand. They have been whining ever since the IPL started about 20/20 games, and talk about the sanctity of the test match (mind you they are not even very good in that - we will know their worth after the Ashes!) ever so constantly. If they are so obsessed with this, just ban all the players who play 20/20 from English cricket and for heaven sake why host the World Cup T20 in England. They better believe that it is too late to beat the IPL success now and so either they shut up or put up with 20/20 games.

[Mike: Like so many, you have completely missed the point I was making. This is not about knocking T20 or wanting to see it buried, or wanting the IPL to fail

. The question is whether the current popularity of T20 will be sustained once the novelty has worn off. Those who already love cricket have no perspective on that: it's the long-term loyalty of the new audiences that is uncertain, and no amount of saying how wonderful T20 or the IPL are is going to make it any more certain. Only time will tell.]

Posted by Anton on (June 1, 2009, 13:39 GMT)

I say there is room for 20-20. If 20-20 creates new fans, why do the traditionalists oppose it? Isn't it good for cricket to have more fans? One of the great things about 20-20 is that it you feel its never too for away from finish, which you cannot with ODIs and test cricket. The shortness of it is one big attraction. Having said that, I still much prefer test cricket because I grew up with it. But I feel 20-20 could seriously grow new markets like China, Japan, Malaysia, Uganda, Namibia, Holland, Kenya, Canada (with its big Indian and West Indian population). These countries won't take cricket seriously if they only see the longer form, its too long for most peopel who have't grown up on cricket.

A country like Japan where baseball is pretty big, but if they saw how action-packed 20-20 is compared to baseball where the batters hardly lay bat on ball, they could take to it.

Posted by OJP on (June 1, 2009, 11:44 GMT)

I like to think of T20 like a snack and test cricket like a banquet. Sometimes you feel in the mood for one, sometimes the other.

T20 is absolutely here to stay, and that's a good thing. However, if Test cricket disappeared overnight, someone would re-invent it sooner or later.

Posted by Adam on (June 1, 2009, 11:41 GMT)

I think the idea of "overkill" is a gross simplification. What we need to avoid is too many meaningless games. T20 is a great version of cricket, but spectators will only enjoy watching it, and players will only enjoy playing it if the games have context.

What we need to avoid is a situation where there are several competing tournaments, no-one is sure which is the "real deal" and the confounded public ends up watching none of them. Lets have a sensible and well organised calendar including:

A world cup every four years, interspersed with international best-of-3 series which count for qualification and rankings (so they actually mean something).

One Indian domestic league in March/April One Southern hemisphere domestic league in January/February One English domestic league in June/July One champions league in October

Best of four test series which are arranged in between.

Far fewer ODIs (best-of-3 series only) - but again with seedings for the 50 over world cup up for grabs.

Posted by Arun Jose on (June 1, 2009, 10:59 GMT)

Couldn't resist commenting here!

I enjoy watching test cricket. The sight of Akram trying to dislodge Dravid or Warne trying to outwit Sachin might not happen anymore. Still, I love watching Test Cricket as I understand it.

Consider an American cheerleader who had to do the cheering during IPL. I am sure by the end of the tourney they would have started understanding the game as well. And I clearly read some lines mentioning the same in Mischief Gal blog in Page 2.

And through the body of this poor effort, Mike, you are trying to compare T20 with Soccer and Test Cricket at different points. I am sure that was clearly meant to show T20 in bad light.

Shed your apprehensions and embrace this format as this is what is going to take Cricket to newer audience and Market, not 50-50 or Test Cricket.

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