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Only time will tell whether Monday night was a performance out of the ordinary from a pumped-up England, or a fatal flaw in the seemingly endless allure of Twenty20 cricket
June 14, 2005
Only time will tell whether the heady fare that was witnessed at the Rose Bowl on Monday night was a performance out of the ordinary from a pumped-up England, or a fatal flaw in the seemingly endless allure of Twenty20 cricket - the fact that one early breakthrough in the pursuit of a stiff total might cause even the best batting line-ups in the world to crumble in the face of an Eiger-like run-rate.
One thing is for certain though. Ignore February's farce between Australia and New Zealand: Monday evening's three-hour Ashes hors d'oeuvre was the first bone fide Twenty20 international, but it will not be the last. The appeal of the format is simply too great, as evidenced by the full houses that turned up for the triumphant domestic competitions in Pakistan and South Africa, two countries who would die for the level of support that an ordinary county match attracts. Last night's tussle might just have brought the prospect of a Twenty20 World Cup one step closer.
That's if it is not in the pipeline already, mind you, for every stakeholder in the game is currently scrapping over the possibilities that Twenty20 cricket has awakened them to. On Monday morning, The Times served notice of the challenges to the established order, when it revealed that two new competitions were being set up to milk the Twenty20 cash-cow.
The first, an over-35s "classic" tournament in Bermuda, was of little consequence. The second, however - a mooted Champions League for the various domestic Twenty20 champions around the world - prised open a whole new range of possibilities, not least the chance that a club like Surrey, that has taken Twenty20 cricket seriously from the very earliest days, could attract a global following as it attempted to beat off competition from the likes of South Africa, Pakistan and, after last night's drubbing awoke them to the challenge, Australia too. Cricket needs to tend to its grassroots, so what better way to do so than broaden their horizons.
Of course, Twenty20 has to be managed carefully, and the ECB has given an understandably cautious reaction to the prospect of a four-way mini-tournament between Sussex, Essex, Glamorgan and Derbyshire - the four counties who have had the foresight to install permanent floodlights at their grounds, and so now understandably view this as an opportunity to reap the benefits of their investment. Cricket is after all a business, even more so now that the counties have been persuaded to put aside their self-interest and buy into the ECB's new blueprint for the future of the game. And after all the talk of attracting a new generation to the game, what happened last night was the best damn publicity that any new initiative could have hoped for.
Everyone who has a say on Twenty20 cricket has a love of the game, but currently that game is being torn between those who fear that the shortened form is a cuckoo, that will push frail old Test cricket out of the nest, and those who believe that the game is precisely the new blood needed. The figures don't lie. A packed house at The Rose Bowl, phenomenal interest among those that do not traditionally put aside much time for cricket, and perhaps most pertinently of all, back-page deification in the tabloids. Love them or hate them, the red tops remain the barometer of public opinion, and on this evidence, Twenty20 is what the people want.
"Thrashes!" screamed The Sun, a paper that can usually find some football-transfer rumour to relegate cricket to the inside pages. Not on this occasion. "Are they Bangladesh in disguise?" was the next question. This result has fired the imagination, and you can bet your life that some ten years down the line, a future England cricketer will refer to this day as the day the game grabbed him for life.
Cricket can be notoriously patriarchal at times, and so the gravest fear of Twenty20 cricket is the precedent that it sets to the "Instant Gratification" generation - those who have been brought up on fast food and text-messaging, and simply do not know how to sit still for one over, let alone five days.
That, however, is precisely the point. Cricket has discovered a means to attract these tearaways. And if, come July 21, the Ashes Tests prove to be anything like as competitive as they ought to be, then at least some of them will discover quite what a magnificent show a full five-day Test can be. What comes around goes around, and it could even be that kids of tomorrow will tire of their parents' endless channel-surfing, and will want take more stock of their surroundings.
Until that happens, however, the game must keep alive its link between the last generation and the next. The here and now of the game is what counts, because the one thing cricket cannot afford to do is die wondering.
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