September 30, 2011

The Twenty20 candyshop

Nick Compton
The Twenty20 experience at the Champions League has exceeded all expectations

Arriving in Bangalore for the latest stage of the Champions League Twenty20 has been wonderful. Seven-star hotel treatment, touching shoulders with Sachin Tendulkar at the hotel bar and watching Chris Gayle strutting his stuff on the catwalk in the evening fashion show is a further reminder that this is not everyday life. Most of us are getting an insight into what Twenty20 cricket is offering and I can see why the likes of Gayle, Kieron Pollard and Yusuf Pathan don't pay too much attention to the longer format. Why would they?

It's interesting how my views have shifted slightly with regards to how I see the different formats of the game, from first-class cricket (whether that's four-day or Tests) to one-dayers and Twenty20, especially when it comes to how the game is potentially impacting Indian cricket. If you watched India in England recently it was nothing short of embarrassing. As soon as the ball moved, or was bowled quickly with any hint of aggression, their technique - and sometimes courage - was brought into question. And these weren't ordinary cricketers, yet many were made to look ordinary with the obvious exception of Rahul Dravid, who showed outstanding batsmanship.

However, over here many of the same batsmen step away, crash the ball clear over the boundary, earn millions of dollars and, what's more, they are huge celebrities. It begs the question; what is a good cricketer these days? The answer is multi-dimensional, of course, but how many can actually do it? Tendulkar, Jacques Kallis and Michael Hussey are three who spring to mind, otherwise there aren't a great deal of cricketers who excel in all three formats.

It has been clear for a while that Twenty20 has had - and is still having - a revolutionary impact on the game, raising questions, and some uncomfortable ones at that, about where it is all heading. Playing for three hours once every three or four days isn't very difficult. It's actually fun. The games are intense and fast and there are thousands of fans. Even though the stadiums haven't been packed, county players may experience this sort of atmosphere once or twice a season. Sometimes never. Yes, you are expected to whack a few out the ground, and there are often hugely pressurised situations such as our chase against Kolkata Knight Riders, but it's not a grind.

The debate then evolves towards what sort of cricket people want. It's not as simple as saying we are heading towards the fast-food culture of Twenty20 as opposed to the fine-dining of Test cricket. True cricketing connoisseurs still value Tests just like real foodies love a classy restaurant. Yet, there is no one-size fits-all and Twenty20 is proving a valuable tool to sell the game.

It's tempting to be drawn into the glitzy world that is currently surrounding us and wonder if it's the way to go. However, I still sit firmly with the older guard and regard temperament and the ability to face quality bowling - including pace, bounce and swing - as the real attributes to be a good cricketer.

Without a doubt, though, Twenty20 can instill great confidence in a player, which is invaluable. Having that freedom to forget about the stumps behind you, let go of inhibitions and think "what the heck," is a hugely liberating feeling. Maybe in trying to grind out county runs day-in and day-out that fear of failure has been too prevalent. In this tournament the cricket is played with a more raw instinct and a freer spirit.

One thing that is certain, however, is that this experience of Twenty20 at the Champions League has exceeded all expectations.

Nick Compton is playing for Somerset in the Champions League Twenty20