Twenty20 demands a World Championship
Let's have some vision
Aside from the Laws, cricket also has its rules of thumb. Rule 1(a) states that if the International Cricket Council thinks an idea is good, there's a fair chance it will be bad. But this rule is in danger of being superseded by a new one: if the Indian board thinks an idea is bad, you can be fairly sure it's good. Last week, the ICC floated an idea and the BCCI, like an annoying little brother, immediately rubbished it. But it was the ICC who were right.
The idea was a Twenty20 World Championship. To cricket fans who have tasted Twenty20, it looks like a no-brainer. This compressed form of the game was dreamt up by a British marketing man, but don't hold either of those things against it. Launched on the county scene in 2003, it has gone down a storm wherever it has been played, for a simple reason: it is the first professional cricket format to fit into the lives of people who have a job or a school to go to. A typical game starts at 5.30pm and is over by 8pm. For the first time, you can see a whole match without a meal break. Ergo, it attracts people who wouldn't normally have the time.
Fitting into everyday life doesn't come naturally to cricket, and Twenty20's wildfire success has left the world's administrators floundering. They have staged a few matches, as if anxious not to miss out, but all have been one-offs, while the 50-over game carries on regardless in blocs of five or seven matches, even though any fool can see that, like a piece of industrial farmland, it has been tilled almost to death. Meanwhile, best-of-three would suit Twenty20 better. One format is crying out for more while the other is gasping for less.
Now the ICC has lurched from one extreme to the other, possibly because its Champions Trophy is under (justifiable) threat and it needs to bulk out its next parcel of TV rights. You can understand the BCCI's wariness. But when asked to give a reason, they said it was that India hadn't played Twenty20 yet. And whose fault is that?
They also said, what if another country were to start Twenty-five25, would the ICC want a World Championship of that? Which is a really flimsy argument. It's like saying you can't play 50-over cricket in case someone wants to try 40. Behind these objections lies the whiff of snobbery, the suggestion that Twenty20 isn't proper cricket. If Niranjan Shah went to a game, he would see how wrong that is.
Twenty20 is much less of a mad slog than expected. Batsmen have found that the way to score ten an over is to play good cricket shots into gaps, with just the occasional six (well, one every nine balls). Mr Shah's namesake, the cultured Owais, is brilliant at it. So is Mark Ramprakash, a batsman so orthodox he will soon be put in a museum. Spin bowlers have proved effective, and captaincy highly testing. The only snags are that seamers are often cannon fodder and you get some awfully one-sided games. The first also applies to 50-over cricket, the second to all forms of the game. The ritual cry goes up: "It's not cricket" - but it is.
Thirteen countries want to stage a Twenty20 World Cup, including six of the big eight. Only two are being sniffy, and I bet the Pakistan board didn't consult Bob Woolmer before supporting India. The whole thing is expected to take just take nine days, less than a two-Test series. It should be longer, but even at nine days, it's worth a go. Come on, admit it: you'd tune in.
On Saturday, my son and I went off to the park to play football. Soon we heard the unmistakable thwack of leather on willow, and spied another family in the distance: a kid in cricket whites, a toddler, a pram, and a dad, clearly mad. It's all very well for people who grew up near a maidan, but in February, in northern Europe, in the open air, cricket is unthinkable. It's too cold, too dank, too muddy. We thought about joining in, but decided we weren't quite that insane.
The kid in whites was good - keen, purposeful, capable of making Dad take evasive action, and not too self-obsessed to let the toddler have a bowl. The toddler struggled to land it within the batsman's reach, but then so did Steve Harmison a few years ago. Presently the family wandered in our direction.
The kid in whites turned out to be a girl of seven who belongs to a local cricket club. Dad is a senior editor at The Guardian who was once mentioned in Wisden. After reporting on a cricket club in Cuba that had no kit, he arranged for some to be sent out, and the Almanack duly hailed him as (in his words) the saviour of Cuban cricket. The club was at Guantanamo. These days, something else is going on there, and it's definitely not cricket.
Tim de Lisle is a former editor of Wisden and now edits www.timdelisle.com