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The World T20 was a three-week burst of entertaining and meaningful cricket; the administrators should resist the urge to expand the tournament and dilute its charm
October 9, 2012
Now the rains can come. Sri Lanka has waved farewell to World Twenty20 and, perhaps to its own surprise, has run a widely-praised, appealing tournament with considerable efficiency. The monsoon conveniently stayed away, the world's best cricketers have been on show in a meaningful competition and the game has shone with vitality and confidence. If only it was always so.
No sooner had World Twenty20 finished than the next show began. It is faintly ridiculous that opening media conferences for the Champions League Twenty20 were being held before the World Twenty20 final had taken place and that the Trinidad & Tobago players in the West Indies squad had only a few hours to celebrate their achievement before they headed to airport, after no sleep, for their flight to South Africa.
This is cricket's endless merry-go-round. Players find themselves team-mates one moment, opponents next, just by crossing a continent. Some do not turn up at all, such as Yorkshire's Jonny Bairstow and Tim Bresnan, whose priority is to get fit for England's tour of India. There is too much cricket, too many claims on too few players. So another tournament is denuded and spectators suffer as a result.
It is amazing that the players keep up. As they pull on new shirts, do they check the name tags to remind themselves of who they are and who they are playing for? When their agent tells them they have still to be paid for a particularly tournament, do some players scratch their heads and wonder: 'Did I ever play in that one?'
It seems counter-intuitive at best - some will say crazy - to consider the World Twenty20's place in cricket's overcrowded calendar and conclude that it should become an annual event, or at least take place in every year where there is no 50-over World Cup.
But the attraction of the World Twenty20 was that it had real significance at a time when so much one-day cricket serves little purpose at all. Do not doubt that this tournament mattered. Nobody needed a name tag on their shirts. They were there because they cared.
This was a competition that teams were desperate to win and supporters cared about. Coaches studied statistics and determined new strategies, particularly the importance of not losing early wickets, which had received little attention before. The shortest game suddenly felt longer.
Best of all, from start to finish, the World Twenty20 lasted a few intense weeks. The 50-over World Cup could learn something from that.
The tournaments that should be trimmed are the mountain of one-day and T20 internationals in bilateral series as cricket's caravan travels from city to city simply to fill the coffers of impoverished cricket boards and grounds and give the local fans a live game to watch that, for all their understandable desire to see their heroes in the flesh, will probably turn out to be much like the last one, contested by players running on empty.
|The danger for the World Twenty20 is not that the administrators might one day imagine it as an annual event, it is that the ICC will allow the tournament to become a swollen version of its fit, lithe self, becoming more corpulent with age and losing its appeal in the process|
The danger for the World Twenty20 is not that the administrators might one day imagine it as an annual event, it is that the ICC will allow the tournament to become a swollen version of its fit, lithe self, becoming more corpulent with age and losing its appeal in the process. Even now an influential TV producer is probably emailing an equally influential administrator to suggest how much more money could be made if it lasted twice the time, with twice the games, how much more television coverage, how much more promotion, how much more fun.
All such blandishments should be resisted. The short, quick game needs a short, quick format. Everything about it should recognise the impatience of its audience for instant gratification, a quick outcome and then the chance to move on to the next thing. Its momentum must be protected.
Then there will be an army of fiddlers tirelessly debating the tournament's structure. What can we do about the preliminary round, should points be carried forward into the Super Eights, do we need Super Eights at all, why should there be a Super Over for a tie in the group stage? All are fair questions. But when they are resolved, they should be resolved for a lengthy period of time and the administrators should be told to meet less and reduce their expenses. The 50-over game has long been undermined by such persistent meddling that it is a sign of sanity not to know, or care, how many people need to be outside a circle at any given time.
There is a warning, incidentally, for Zimbabwe and Bangladesh in the way they were often carelessly referred to in conversational shorthand during World Twenty20 as associates, mentally classified alongside Ireland and Afghanistan irrespective of the fact that Zimbabwe and Bangladesh are Full Member nations.
An overwhelming majority of onlookers paid lip service to the possibility of a giant-killing, but they did not want one so overwhelming that it would carry a weaker nation into the next round - instead they wanted to see it threaten, then fail. Afghanistan played the role perfectly. Too often, international cricket's appeal is restricted to the top eight and as Ireland and Afghanistan improve, Bangladesh and Zimbabwe decline. It is an unhealthy situation.
As for Sri Lanka, they have played their part well. It is impossible to put their achievement into historical context without being accused variously of being an LTTE sympathiser one minute, an apologist for Sri Lankan nationalist the next. But what is undeniable is that this is a nation free of conflict, full of new ambition.
Finally, with the considerable input of the ICC, Sri Lanka's hosting of the tournament embraced new standards. Gone was the confusion (many will prefer a more damning description) over ticket sales for the 2011 World Cup and England's Test tour of Sri Lanka later in the year. Instead, the World Twenty20 proceeded with an order and efficiency that Sri Lanka has never before achieved and new grounds at Pallekele, in particular, and Hambantota were uplifting places.
There is sadness and frustration in Sri Lanka at the loss of another final, but off the field the ICC has implanted a welcome maturity. It is those standards that their administrators, as they are once more left to their own devices, need to foster in the years ahead.
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