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'T20 is a TV property masquerading as cricket'
Gideon Haigh and Sanjay Manjrekar discuss Twenty20, and analyse its impact on the game of cricket across the world (18:37)
March 9, 2010
Time Out excerpt
'T20 is a TV property masquerading as cricket'March 9, 2010
Harsha Bhogle: Gideon thank you very much for joining us. We have been speaking to Lalit Modi who has been bullish and gung-ho on the IPL. You have not always been that kicked about the IPL...
Gideon Haigh: Not enormously. We are certainly going to find out over the next few months exactly how resilient a form Twenty20 cricket is. We have got 60 matches between March 12 and April 25. We have got the World Twenty20 starting from April 30 till the May 16. We have a couple of Twenty20 games after that - South Africa v West Indies - and you have the women's World Twenty20 running simultaneously with the championship in West Indies. So we are going to have about 103 Twenty20 games between the March 12 and May 20 - 103 games in 10 weeks is going to test everyone's appetite for Twenty20 so at the end of it we might be happy for a boring old Test.
HB: Test matches have delivered some fantastic results. The last 12 months have been very good for Test cricket.
Sanjay Manjrekar: And the viewers start appreciating Test cricket because they get to see all dimensions of the game. You get to see tailenders surviving against a fast bowler which you do not see in Twenty20; you see fear in the eyes of a batsman when a fast bowler runs in to bowl; you see swing, seam, field placements being debated about. So those elements come in. It is a test for Twenty20 and I am not sure if this is a brand of cricket we will see thriving 25-30 years later. Who knows what will happen then.
GH: I think this was brought home for me recently when I saw Tendulkar make his 200. There was a time when 200 was a good team score in an ODI; Tendulkar had actually less than half the strike in Gwalior. You have Tendulkar and Ricky Ponting who are the two best batsmen of their generation. They have made 56,000 runs in Tests and ODIs and they have left no trace on Twenty20s. Sachin has played only one Twenty20 international I think, Ponting has retired from the form altogether. They are bit like silent movie stars who have not made the transition to talkies. It is an acknowledgement that you can be exciting and thrilling in Twenty20 but it is difficult to be great.
HB: I think Tendulkar will go down in Twenty20 as a modern reincarnation of Garry Sobers who played just one ODI in his career. Is there a democratisation of cricket: almost anyone can be good in a shorter period of time and it allows everyone their moment in the sun?
GH: I don't think everyone could be good. It is wonderful to see the variety of the physical type of players who thrive in the different forms of the game. And I think with the rise of Twenty20, it coaxes players towards a certain mould. Certain skills are privileged in Twenty20 and it doesn't necessarily showcase the full skills of cricket. I think Twenty20 is a TV property masquerading as cricket property. The activities it emphasises are the most telegenic: the hitting of fours and sixes, the essaying of trick shots, the catching of blinders and the launching of appeals. You see that in excelsis in the IPL where the cricket skills are posterior to the overall entertainment package.
HB: Do you see the cricket skills as inferior or different?
SM: I think you see excellence in Twenty20 at times in the big hitting. Yusuf Pathan has earned the reputation of being a ferocious hitter. We would have not have known that had there been no 50-over cricket or Twenty20. I think the players know if you excel in all three forms if the game that is when you wear the cap of greatness. Everyone wants to end up as a great player. Yuvraj Singh is a tremendous limited-overs cricketer but he hasn't excelled at the Test level so that is why he is not in the leagues of the Sehwags, Tendulkars and Dravids.
HB: What is the feeling in Australia? We asked Dravid what the young people in India are thinking about. There is a big debate going on in Australia about people giving up the longer format and becoming Twenty20 specialists.
GH: It is kind of spooky actually. I played a club game a few weeks ago against a team that had about nine guys between 16 and 40 and two guys in their 40s. It was interesting to see the young guys come out all guns blazing and they all got out between 5 and 15. And it was the two old blokes who knew how to build an innings who actually stuck around to get fifties. I think there is a huge generational gap opening up in what we privilege in terms of cricket skills and there is an ambivalent embrace of the IPL from this distance. I don't think it is regarded as serious cricket. The decisions that Ponting and Michael Clarke and some of the other Australian crickets have made is indicative of a general suspicion of a form of a game that Ponting has likened to U-16s cricket, where there were a couple of guys in each side who made all the runs and took all the wickets. Certainly the younger players have started to embrace it as they see it as a short road to riches. It is mind boggling that a player like David Warner will probably become a very wealthy young man and yet never play and innings longer than 60 balls.
SM: It is something that we have to come to terms with. It is important that we look at Twenty20 as something that is not serious as Test cricket, but one important thing that it does is everyone who is at the table shakes hands and leaves happy. The players, administrators, viewers and fans are all happy and it is just a few purists who don't like it who are not happy. We have to come to terms with the fact that Twenty20 is not pretending to replace Tests or 50-over cricket which have more meaning. Twenty20 is more like a cricket show on TV.
HB: I am glad you brought the seriousness up. I suspect that a lot of people who sit on the sidelines believe no one takes it seriously. My view is that the players playing it take it a lot more seriously than we imagine.
In England and Australia, largely Australia, the IPL has not really been accepted. Occasionally the feeling is that it is looked down upon. Is Australia emerging as the centre of orthodoxy in world cricket, something that was almost a very English thing to do?
GH: It is a nice thought. There is a feeling that India in describing the IPL as a domestic tournament is trying to pull the wool over the eyes of the rest of the world. I think there is a thoroughly respectable argument that it is an international tournament which features international players, almost exclusive international coaches, it has international management in IMG and international sponsors like Citibank and Vodafone, global broadcasters in Sony. Last year it was played offshore, something Modi said was likely to be repeated. I don't mind that. One of the reasons why India is proud of it, and justly so, is that it does make it the centre of the world. It is a genuine international export. It is a showcase of Indian progress and prosperity and technical sophistication. There wouldn't be nearly as much of nationalist tub-thumping if it was a purely domestic tournament. I have never heard an Indian make a worldwide boat about the Ranji trophy for instance.
HB: While India has achieved financial supremacy in world cricket, the feeling is it is not quite taking its position as the leader of the game more seriously in the playing of the game. Is that a valid thing?
GH: The calendar in 2009 contained about 150 ODIs, there were 48 Twenty20s including the World Cup and there were 82 games in the IPL and the Champions League. I don't think anyone can miss the inference that cricket has become a duopoly market in over-supply. The ICC is producing international content; the BCCI is producing its super-national content. The ICC's FTP is only three years old but it looks as obsolete as the Julian calendar. It is a real worry that there is so much cricket and there doesn't seem to be any real consensus or idea about what is going to give.
HB: Sanjay do you think that is inevitable with so much money chasing cricket in some parts of the world? I believe that India, Australia, England and South Africa are the only self-sufficient nations and it was inevitable that it would lead to the boom in this game.
SM: I think cricket in India is a bit unique. The administrators of the game are a bit different where they have reacted to the demand of the viewers and what TV wants instead of saying this is their vision and the best way forward for the next 10-15 years and then finding the suitable TV partners. It has gone the other way around. I am sure there is tremendous pressure on FIFA to have two soccer World Cups just to get more money in. but they have stuck with the format that they think is the best for their sport which is something cricket has not done. We have never had vision for things, we have always reacted. People like something good about the IPL then we always give them more for next time instead of keeping it going for the next 5-10 years. We always cater to the demands till it is done to death and becomes dry and insipid.
GH: It is underestimating to say Modi was simply responding to the needs of the viewers. I don't recall anyone walking around three years ago saying "we need a franchise-based Twenty20 tournament in India". For all the things I don't like about Modi, this was a great feat of imagination and it could easily have been blown up in his face.
SM: I was talking about the administrators and the events of the ICC. I think the IPL is a novel concept but if you look at the ICC calendar, the tournaments they have come up with are purely because of the demands of the viewer.
GH: The ICC was invented in 1909 and one of the reasons it was invented was to stage the triangular tournament in 1912 which was a very adventurous thing in its time. It was a disastrous failure and I don't think the ICC made the mistake of being ahead of its time.
HB: Is one of the reasons for the opposition to the IPL outside the Indian diaspora maybe the sense of opposition to this brash nouveau riche` kid who is coming on the established gentry and whether it is time for the world to say, "just as lot of things are different from what we see in India, the way we organise cricket is different"?
GH: I guess so but I think when the BCCI accounts for such an overwhelming proportion of global cricket revenues there is a tendency to want it to act in an interest greater than itself. There is a crisis in the making at the ICC which is the massive financial inequalities of its members. The BCCI is so much wealthier than its near neighbours, Cricket Sri Lanka and the PCB but it provides precious little encouragement for each. Probably the more successful IPL franchises have extracted more money from cricket in the last two years than the PCB has in its entire history.
HB: Sanjay, do you see a world evolving where people say: we wont be able to bring in as much money as the IPL but we can have our own Twenty20 league as different from the KFC Big Bash or the Pro20 tournament but as our own global jamboree? And in course of time it will become like the EPL or the La Liga where each country is organising its own thing.
SM: I have no idea if that can happen. The success of the IPL can get a few others to think differently. The ICC has to take care of the sport in general. They will have to make sure they can keep an eye on the IPL and make sure it fits in within the general scheme of things. That is the role they could take in.
HB: Do you think increasingly as we are getting to a free-market world, people will say the ICC is there but we don't really care much about it?
GH: I think that is right. It is a little bit like the period ten years ago in the financial market when the dotcom boom was at its height. No one was sure how the world would spin out but they were busily trying to make partnerships on the off chance that they would be at the right place at the right time. It is astonishing to see how the game of cricket has developed over the last two and a half years. I wouldn't care to hazard a guess on what it will look like in two and half years.
HB: Let us try and see what impact the IPL will have five years from now.
GH: One of things that worries me is while the IPL has generated huge enthusiasm among fans, it has also bred some degree of cynicism. Last year although the tournament was more interesting, the IPL seemed to degenerate into a series of three-hour advertisements through which sometimes some glimmers of cricket were discernible. If Lalit Modi holds to his promises, that effacement of cricket by spectacle will grow and that will further corrode cricket's standing in the short-to-medium term.
SM: It will still be a strong force in the next two or three years. Nobody is sure where our game is heading. I think 50-over cricket will come down to 40 overs and will the people start getting bored with the sameness of Twenty20 cricket with the batsmen dominating, with a few nail-biters here and there. India, typically will go excessive and whether that will hurt the IPL in a few years is for the viewer to decide. At this stage I have no idea.
HB: I think we are still at the stage where we are getting out of the traffic lights at one of the Indian crossroads where everybody is jostling for space in the first 200 meters and it creates its own rhythm as you go further and further. That is where I think we are. The success of the IPL will lie in giving cricket as much respect as it deserves and maybe a bit more respect than it does now. But that's just my point of view.
Gideon, if you are around for five years from now, still interested in cricket then we will do this again.
GH: [Laughs] The funny thing is that my club will be exactly the same in two and a half years, five years and 10 years. That won't change. I think Australian cricket fans are quite conservative. Australian players are conservative. So I don't think they are going to suddenly sign up with the IPL. In fact, I think that it could be a further source of resentment.
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