May 14, 2008

Twenty20 is cricket too

The IPL has shown that the shortest version provides as many insights, dramas and stories as any other form of the game
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The seriousness with which the likes of McGrath have approached the IPL has done the tournament credit © Getty Images

The IPL continues to provide rich revelation of character. Twenty20 continues to offer a hundred short stories in the space of a few hours. Like all sport it is about the rise and fall of man, naked and sudden, shocking and irreversible. It is an attraction of sport - beauty alongside brutality, hope sitting beside despair, all waiting upon the unknown outcome, sometimes delayed till the last delivery or else so long obvious that players seem shrunken, mere shadows on the stage.

That the matches are brief does not mean they lack emotional impact. To the contrary, these 20-over capers have provided plenty of penetrating insight into the personalities and abilities of the players. In Test cricket there is no place to hide; in Twenty20 there is no time to rest. Everything must be done on the hoof. Batsmen play themselves in on their march to the middle. Bowlers say a little prayer before every ball. But, repeatedly, the best players produce the performances. Fifty overs allows players to consolidate. It is possible to disguise loss of form or competence. No such luxury is given to players in these vigorous enterprises.

Twenty20 puts players through a mangler. Already several veterans have been found wanting. Haunted by the ticking of the clock they have been searching for their gift - the force that has sustained them, the combination of mental strength and technique that allowed them to walk onto fields nervous but confident the deed could be done. Now they seem strained, isolated, aware of the finality.

Rahul Dravid is a case in point. Last season his bat sounded tinny and seemed to have as much middle as a waif. Still, he managed to play his part in the Test series Down Under, defying dud decisions to score as many runs as some colleagues. An old trooper, he defended his wicket stoutly, proving as hard to get past as a dutiful doorman. Twenty20 has permitted no such indulgence. Accordingly Dravid has been lost in his thoughts, his anxieties sensed by his aged and threadbare outfit. It is not the IPL that is the problem. One senses that his team is having too many meetings, making too many plans. It is usually a bad sign. Dravid's cricket has lacked vitality. Jacques Kallis has been the same, a mighty player unable to break his patterns. It is not possible in Twenty20 to think your way to triumph. Audacity is more important than analysis.

But it is not only the Bangaloreans who have faltered. The Deccan plains have not exactly flourished either. By rejecting icon status in the interests of the side, VVS Laxman set off in the right direction. Alas, his humility has not been rewarded. Perhaps his noble gesture also revealed an acute sense of his own likely contributions. Despite his delightful strokeplay, he has been unable to muster the power and audacity required to dictate terms in these contests. If Test cricket is a chessboard, Twenty20 is a deck of cards. Certainly, it is important to play the odds, but a man must also be able to take a plunge. Those seeking security before launching an attack have wasted too much time.

Nor has Yuvraj Singh been as formidable as expected. Although he has led the side with panache, his batting limitations have been revealed. Simply, he hits a heavy ball but lacks finesse. Certainly he cannot open the face of the bat at the last instant and tickle the ball to the third man boundary, a stroke deftly played by Shaun Marsh in his recent impressive outings. There are many ways to bake a cake. Like many of the aspiring young Indians, Marsh has taken the chance to catch the eye. Throughout, he has shown the robust common sense that sets Australian cricketers apart. By and large Australian sportsmen do not sit on a psychiatrist's couch till their playing days are over.

Upstarts have also been exposed. Some terrific pace bowling has been seen from the likes of Dale Steyn, Ishant Sharma and Mohammed Asif but others have been found wanting, Munaf Patel among them. Probing medium-pacers have been more effective, with Glenn McGrath leading the way and several strong locals following in his wake. As might have been predicted, Irfan Pathan has contributed something to most matches. But Praveen Kumar is not yet a finished product. At times he seemed to regret having given up wrestling, especially after another fumble in the field. India took the right fast men to Australia.

 
 
The IPL has a part to play, providing entertainment, fascination, theatre, recreation and revelation. No version of cricket featuring fearless tacticians, shrewd selections, daring strokeplayers, fast bowlers, legspinners, swift running and athletic fielding deserves to be scorned
 

The only regret about the IPL is that it has given charlatans another payday. But they will be found out, and much quicker than previously. Owners forking out a fortune for players will expect them to perform. Nor will they be inhibited by crowds and comments in newspapers. Businessmen are more exacting than administrators.

Of course, the Australians and bolder Indians have been the dominant forces so far, with a few South Africans and New Zealanders also making their marks. Australians always expect themselves to get the job done. One former politician called his autobiography Whatever It Takes, which sums up the local outlook. Among them, Shane Watson has batted with the sort of clean power advocated by Al Gore. As might have been predicted, both Husseys (Michael and David) and Matthew Hayden were effective. Adam Gilchrist has seemed bemused by his team-mates. James Hopes has chipped in more often than Jose Maria Olazabal, and several more obscure players have played with impressive pragmatism. There is an old political saying: "When in doubt, side with the workers." As far as cricket is concerned it can be rewritten: "When in doubt, sign an Australian."

Far from destroying the supposed fabric of the game, the IPL has a part to play, providing entertainment, fascination, theatre, recreation and revelation. No version of cricket featuring fearless tacticians, shrewd selections, daring strokeplayers, fast bowlers, legspinners, swift running and athletic fielding deserves to be scorned. Cricket has dared to dance.

It is only a first attempt. Next year a gap must be found in the international calendar for a month of IPL. It's the only way to avert a rebellion, ensure that New Zealanders and West Indians are properly paid, and stop money going to impostors. Even England must be accommodated. As usual, England invented the game and now must abandon their usual custom of turning it into another form of suffering.

The IPL offers as many insights, dramas and stories as any other form of the game. Beneath the razzmatazz, it has its truths and sincerities. Recently the television cameras cut away to McGrath as a close match slipped through his team's grasp. He was highly animated, waving his arms around like a child trying to grasp a butterfly. On another day it was the same with Shane Warne. It was important. Cricket is a game not a show. The IPL has the excitement needed to entertain the masses and the depth required to satisfy enthusiasts. Is it such a bad thing to look forward to the next IPL contest as much as the forthcoming Test match between England and New Zealand?

Peter Roebuck is a former captain of Somerset and the author, most recently, of In It to Win It

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • azaro on May 16, 2008, 18:04 GMT

    I don't get it...I have to say that while watching the odd game, particularly actually attending one is fun, watching a daily surfeit of twenty/20 a la the IPL is really boring! The pitches are the same, the cacophony of noise the same, the comments from the commentators the same, the poor shot selection the same etc. etc. The IPL has achieved something for me that is a totally new experience - napping in the middle of the day!

  • 1stSlip on May 16, 2008, 12:40 GMT

    Enjoyed reading your article Peter.

    20:20 is only just starting as a concept in the wider international cricketing world. Time must be allowed to let the concept settle and people to become accustomed to it before it is fully evaluated.

    The early signs are encouraging particularly ref. "entertainement" value of the concept.

    However much more work needs to be done on the question of how 20:20 will take a place alongside the other forms of the game namely Test and One-day 50 over per side games. It is vital for the integrity of cricket that the Test version of the game continues to prosper and flourish and that 20:20 does not dominate the agenda just because it is more convenient commercially for TV coverage and therefore advertising.

  • SGBatsForever on May 16, 2008, 5:09 GMT

    Solid article Peter. Been loving the IPL over here in the States. What a great contest that match between Kolkata and Delhi was a couple of days back. IPL has silenced the critics of the true Princes of Cricket- Shoaib, Gautam, Rohit and above everyone else, Saurav Ganguly. Saurav has played and captained brilliantly. On the other hand it has exposed the pretenders like Dravid. Dravid is no longer the batsman he was 4-5 years ago and he always was a duffer of a captain. IPL has left Bangalore naked and Dravid no place to run (literally) or hide. The IPL has been an unqualified success!

  • SteelBeatle on May 15, 2008, 19:11 GMT

    Wonderful article Peter - really balanced and thoughtful even though I am a doubter - it is really tough to cook up a rooting interest from this far away (Canada, even though we get almost evry game on TV). Even if I was in India I would have a tough time, what with these huge squads of disparate players.Hard to fathom who plays for what team! I think the real danger is going to be the overkill factor - the duration may be a little too long and if they start doing this a few times a year in different countries, I think people will tire pretty quickly.

  • Mohan3978 on May 15, 2008, 11:50 GMT

    T20 make bowlers better than they are in oneday format. In oneday format bowlers lose their hope when they get thrashed in the death overs. In T20 they know they still can recover and even win the game if they bowl just a good over. It makes the bowler to be as perfect as they wanted to.

  • Chinchin on May 15, 2008, 5:56 GMT

    I don't agree with Peter Roebuck that Munaf Patel has been found wanting . Shaun Marsh bats the same way as Yuvraj and there is almost no difference between them . Praveen Kumar too has bowled well . There have been some surprises like Ashoke Dinda and to some extent Manupreet Gony as also Swapnil Asnodkar .

  • Sqwak on May 14, 2008, 23:07 GMT

    We can safely add Ricky Ponting to the "found wanting" category. Misbah, Afridi, Gibbs and de Villers have performed below par. One surprise is Ganguly who is turning out to be a match-winning prospect. The teams standings tell you the story about how unexpected T20 can be. Rajasthan and Punjab at the top and Hyderabad and Bangalore at bottom.

  • ackie on May 14, 2008, 19:47 GMT

    T20 is here to stay and will probably be the end of 50-50 cricket but not tests. 50-50 came at the right time and did it's job in bringing some to cricket who may not have otherwise watched. It also improved fielding, introduced inovative bat strokes, not all pretty but they keep one's interest up, it also improved bowling. These in time rubbed off onto test cricket hence the higher scores and the shorter matches these days. T20 fits todays lifestyle much better and as one American newspaper put it, cricket is now ready for the USA. I watched a game with a man from the USA and he was really getting into it. There are some great strokes like Marsh straight back over the bowlers head for six, graceful not a slog and fielding like Tatinda Taibu?, fantastic. Batsmen and captains mainly have to think quick and react quicker. This is not a slog fest as plcement, shot selection and execution is still paramount. It now needs all parties to agree and work together for the betterment of cricket.

  • GlovesOff on May 14, 2008, 18:00 GMT

    With all due respect to players like Rahul Dravid, Chanderpaul, Kallis and VVS Laxman (and maybe some other players), they need to get out of T20 cricket and concentrate on purely Test cricket for the remaining part of their career. Their game is not just suitable to T20 and they should just realise that.

  • SoaringEagles on May 14, 2008, 16:17 GMT

    Hats off to Peter Roebuck. This guy writes from his heart no matter what- fearless, analytical and straight. IPL has been entertaining at the same time good for the game too. Not to forget that am a strong supporter of ICL too.

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