September 21, 2012

When will the World Twenty20 catch fire?

It has been a bit damp so far. Hopefully the Super Eights games, with their context, will help move things along

There are often very good reasons why schedules are the way they are, and those commenting on schedules have fewer variables to consider than those making them. So there must be logic in why the first four games of the World Twenty20 have been so underwhelming. I am writing this with the tournament three days old, and that compelling game is still somewhere in the distance.

Hopefully, one of the qualifiers, or Bangladesh, will get this jamboree up and going, because otherwise it doesn't really begin till September 27, when the Super Eights start. That is a new beginning because teams don't carry over their points from the qualifiers, and that means there are a few dead rubbers, like India v England on September 23.

As the tournament hopes to gather steam, it is suddenly up against what should have been a marquee game but is really a warm-up game. To allow people to choose the matches they want to watch - a valid scheduling exercise - teams are pre-seeded into the Super Eights, so whether India beat England doesn't really matter to the tournament. Maybe there is a case for carrying points against the other qualifiers to inject greater value to the earlier games.

That is not to say it hasn't been fun following them. I enjoyed watching Afghanistan's spirited cricketers try to make the most of the few opportunities thrown their way. Theirs has been the story of world cricket over the last five years, and the good news is that it doesn't seem likely to end very quickly. They have withstood political turmoil, violence and displacement to come so far. Hereafter, other barriers must seem like small hurdles in the way of their spirit.

Already a few of their cricketers look like they could fit into more established teams. Seamers Dawlat Zadran and Shapoor Zadran and allrounder Mohammad Nabi have looked impressive. Word is that youngsters are flocking to camps, and that the Under-16s are doing well. These are good signs but we can do more to help them along. It is very unlikely, given the way the world is progressing (both politically and in cricket), that Afghanistan's future will lie in Test cricket. So they need as much access to one-day and T20 knowledge as possible.

One way to do that is to allow them to be part of IPL squads. I can imagine Dawlat Zadran spending six weeks with Wasim Akram or Shaun Pollock, or Nabi picking up tips from Jacques Kallis or MS Dhoni. This might be a nice way of promoting talented cricketers and helping them find their way in world cricket, quite apart from the fact that these two, and I am sure a couple of others, won't be out of place either.

Things don't look as positive for Zimbabwe. They were disappointing against Sri Lanka, not just with bat and ball but in their fielding, which has been an area of great strength in the past. Unlike players from the subcontinent - and we must put Afghanistan into this sub-class too - who learn traditional skills like batting and bowling first and acquire fielding somewhere along the path, Zimbabwe were doing it the other way. Because their fielding was always exceptional, they were able to stay competitive. But the signs now are a touch ominous.

I'm hoping that the crowds come in as the tournament moves along. With the amount of cricket played around the world, and the easy accessibility through television, a cricket match is no longer a novelty anywhere. I get the feeling that people need a context to watch. Non-home games aren't drawing crowds, and even though it was only a warm-up game, India v Pakistan was played in a near-empty stadium.

Generating that context in tournaments like these won't be easy (in the Big Bash or the IPL, every game is a home game for someone) and maybe that will become the new order in world cricket. Maybe the Super Eights, where every game will have a distinct value attached to it, will provide more clues.

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