October 7, 2011

Twenty20 is cricket too

Why is the format looked down upon? The skills it calls for are different from those in Test cricket, but they're skills all right

In recent times, from newspapers and message boards, in informal conversations, I had begun to get the feeling that 20-overs cricket was the root of all evil in our game; a seductress out to tempt all the nice young men who otherwise would have worshipped in temples. And when I said I liked 20-overs cricket, I got curious responses.

"No, you don't!"

"That's Mickey Mouse cricket".

"So how much do they pay you to say that?"

I have always wondered why it has to be one or the other. Dravid or Tendulkar? Rap or classical? Pizza or dosa? Brazil or Argentina?

I'm sorry but I like both Test cricket and 20-overs cricket. And the one-day international. I realise they demand different skills but I am unwilling to create a hierarchy of skills. Because we have been brought up believing one form is superior, or that the skills it demands are superior, it doesn't necessarily imply that other skills are trivial. Some of us were conditioned to look down on people who weren't good at mathematics but were brilliant on stage. We weren't allowed to respect different skills equally. If you understood why the quality of mercy was "twice blessed", you were okay, but if you didn't understand the relationship between vapour density and molecular weight, woe upon you.

I fear we look at Test cricket and 20-overs with similarly prejudiced eyes. We grade them, we create our own class system, because that is what we were conditioned to do. But over two days in Chennai and Bengaluru, I saw performances that made me sit up and question this rigid adherence to a hierarchy of skills.

In devilish humidity in Chennai, and on a sluggish track, albeit one freshened a bit by dew, David Warner put up an extraordinary display of power-hitting. He made 135 not out off 69 balls against an attack that had three frontline bowlers who had made their country's World Cup team, and one who would have had he not been injured. Warner didn't resemble a blacksmith at any point, got runs when others struggled to get them; and when tired, hit a ball onto the roof of the stadium and beyond. If batting in 20-overs cricket was so easy, there would be many more innings like that one; if making a 20-second commercial was so simple, there would be many great ad filmmakers.

Warner played cricket shots, he timed the ball beautifully. He worked on a different definition of risk, maybe, but he did all that with a level of skill that was breathtaking to watch. How many contemporary cricketers can consistently deposit good balls over the boundary rope? If leaving a ball is a sign of good judgement - and it often truly is - hitting a good ball over long-on should be too.

And then, a day later, I was at one of the great matches I have seen. On an excellent batting surface, a group of tough Aussies who played hard and loved a scrap scored 214 for 2. They didn't smash every ball out of the park. In fact, Daniel Harris hit 17 boundaries before his first six, and almost all of them were in a lovely arc from extra cover to midwicket. Then, two outstanding talents, Callum Ferguson and Virat Kohli, timed the ball as well as anyone can, ran hard between wickets, and deposited balls over the boundary with great nonchalance. They weren't hitting the ball 62 metres, it was more like 80. And when 214 looked like it would be overhauled (a feat as unthinkable as South Africa chasing 434), Shaun Tait bowled fast and straight and knocked batsmen over. None of it was easy. And to add to the drama, a six was hit off the last ball to win the game.

I can hear people saying: but they didn't have to face any chin music, or deal with the ball seaming on a green top. Yes, batting in those conditions requires great skill, but you don't have to be good at everything. There isn't a hierarchy that goes down from sublime to respectable to crass. You don't have to know the precise calculations behind the working of the Large Hadron Collider to teach physics to 17-year-olds well enough. You don't have to understand dark matter or play Tchaikovsky at 10 to be respectable. Twenty-overs cricket requires slightly different skills and not everyone can be good at it either.

I enjoyed the World Cup, loved seeing the intensity with which England played Test cricket, and for many reasons have enjoyed watching the Champions League T20. Unlike in a good marriage, you don't have to love only one.

Harsha Bhogle is a commentator, television presenter and writer. His Twitter feed is here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • bani on October 10, 2011, 22:45 GMT

    Today's T20 is an unfair contest. What the hell is this? Power-play, free hit, 1 bouncer in an over and blah blah all in favor of batsmen and then you give them a national highway where a mishit goes over the rope in a 60 m ground. Give our bowlers a fair chance. Otherwise, no one will want to be a bowler, which is the real threat of T20 game. What is the difference between a dirk nannes or a bhatkal in that b'lore feather-bed? If hitting six only matters then play 11 batters. I think T20 gets boring after you watch a few matches. And the never ending IPL is the most annoying aspect of T20 cricket. It not only makes our top players injured but also makes them reluctant to play international games. In my opinion, play only club T20, reduce IPL to half of what it is now, don't play T20 internationals except the WCT20. Jio test cricket.

  • Kunal on October 9, 2011, 16:06 GMT

    Harsha, here are two reasons to detest T20 cricket: it has killed the deceptively-calm face of cricket. Two, over the past three years, it has evidently injured highly-skilled cricketers (de Villiers, the most recent instance) with its attritional demands, even if one accounts for the poor scheduling. Let's face it: if it weren't for the money, so many cricketers (and coaches) wouldn't have been flocking to play T20--their hearts were once in Test cricket. Neither would commentators have gotten so excited. So let's, at least, concede T20 for what it actually is, and stop pretending that the stakeholders (cricket boards, media, analysts) care for the public or the sport. A money-spinner and short-term gains for young minds -- that is what T20 is. I want to see how many of the well-paid T20 cricketers of today will have enduring careers before I sing praises of this glamorous format.

  • Aidan on October 9, 2011, 12:52 GMT

    One of my issues with it is you bowlers primarily get wickets when batsman are playing attacking shots. You don't have much of the dynamic in tests and even to some extent One days with players playing and missing outside off. It is different in this regard. 20/20 has its place but can never over take Tests.

  • abhijeet on October 8, 2011, 18:46 GMT

    @shrikanthk, I guess. we both are saying same thing. Only time will tell whether it is better or for worse. However, I personally know a couple of Ranji players and trust me, they don't earn a lot. Also an average career guy makes more money as his age increases. FC players have to retire from game at 35 and start in "real world" careers as newbies.

  • Ramana on October 8, 2011, 18:24 GMT

    Well said Harsha.The overdose of cricket since the World Cup ended in April had turned me away from cricket for a while. It dint help that India's performance in England was really too painful to watch. I chanced upon watching the CLT20 and was quite amazed at the batting prowess on display. Whether it was Gayle, Dilshan, Kohli or Warner, you simply have to applaud the performance of these cricketers. Its certainly not just blind slogging. But T20 cricket can be improved. Bowlers need a more level playing field. (1) A greentop occassionaly for a T20 match perhaps ? (2) Abolish the 'free hit' concept, I think its too humiliating for the bowlers (3) No runners for batsmen (is this one already implemented ?) (4) more relaxed rules on bouncers.

    I think more people will appreciate T20 more as new skills learnt here get transferred to ODIs and Tests- and this will happen !

  • Shrikanth on October 8, 2011, 17:19 GMT

    johnnyrook: You're wrong out there..... I've been told that Ranji players make well in excess of what most software developers make in their early-mid twenties earn. BTW, this debate wasn't about the "whether X deserves his salary amount of Y" anyway. I never said that his Ranji wage is "fairer" than his potential IPL contract next year. All I'm saying is that T20 riches are a sign of changing times. It is pointless to argue whether it is for better or worse.

  • Amjad on October 8, 2011, 14:46 GMT

    Harsha, to be honest with you, T20 cricket never would come close to test cricket or even ODI's. Anyone who follow cricket knows this, I know this and you too know this very well. T20 maybe be the baseball version of cricket but its not real cricket, you wana call it cricket well fine, each to their own but you do sound like a salesman for BCCI when you say its cricket too.

  • Richard on October 8, 2011, 13:46 GMT

    I too watched RCB v SA and thought it was crap. How many fours were scored off edges through slip, how many catches were dropped, how many miss hits went for 6 on the tennis court sized pitch, what chance did the b have with a seamless ball on that pitch? Come on, it was crude rubbish. Gloryifying all Chris Gayles sixes is a bit like being impressed if Lionel Messi scored 20 goals at the next world cup, nut the goals were twice as big and a goaly was only allowed for half the match

  • abhijeet on October 8, 2011, 13:18 GMT

    @ shrikanthk, A Ranji player earns a lot less than an average software developer. Rahul Sharma might get $50k a month from some big shot businessman in next IPL auction. It may be too high for his calibre. He may not deserve that much. But it is still a lot fairer than him getting barely 200$ a month if he stays just a Ranji player.

  • Ali on October 8, 2011, 13:11 GMT

    For once I do not agree with Harsha! T20 is not cricket, period! Test cricket and ODI's, yes! They do test the skills of a player but T20, no way! And the comparisons he has mentioned do not work here! For every good shot you see here, there is another shot which you would not see a hundred miles around a cricket stadium! Skills, what skills?? It is a zero risk game. If a players gets out playing some outrageous shot no one blames hims because its part of the game. If a bowler goes for 60 runs in his 4 overs its par for the course. It is better for people to go to a movie house and get entertained for three or four hours. Do not sully the good name of cricket.

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