May 10, 2014

T20 is where cricket can experiment

This is the format in which to try new stuff, keeping the need to entertain fans uppermost in mind

What if the captain could substitute a batsman at any point during a T20 innings? © BCCI

A T20 event has ended, producing a different winner from before, and another T20 event has begun. Sri Lanka can be relieved and pleased with their World T20 victory, as it was timely, in particular for the time it took since their last triumph. Timely also for their two great servants, who bowed out after the winning run was struck. Now the seventh edition of the BCCI's naughty, precocious prodigy is running loose once more. Will it behave? It is already on notice, along with, by all accounts, 12 unnamed people and father bear N Srinivasan, so the BCCI can't afford any more juvenile behaviour from its rock-star kid.

The "T" in T20 really stands for "time", as that is what this short format is all about.

Time. It allows a game to be done and dusted in three fast and furious hours, therefore critically allowing us all to go back to living a normal life, leaving us time to do something else. Like any form of entertainment it fits into what remaining time is left, after work, that we have to spend.

Since the first World T20, when a young Indian side came alight at the Wanderers, the format has literally taken no time to take off. A year later the inaugural Indian Premier League launched into space courtesy of a brash young Kiwi called Brendon McCullum. That night he smashed Royal Challengers Bangalore to the tune of 158 not out in a lazy 73 balls. You had to be there to believe it - which I was, on the receiving end, as RCB's chief cricketing officer.

T20 had already been tested in one or two countries over the previous five years, but what happened at the Chinnaswamy Stadium that balmy April evening in 2008 was the greatest natural advertisement for the third-generation version of cricket you could wish to release.

Six years on, T20 has settled into its cruising axis, patrolling the airwaves and cyberspace with a dismissive nonchalance, an arrogance that portends danger for the other forms. It has the potential to rule the world. Yet, its only true grace, if we are brutally honest, is the number of folk who can enjoy its three-hour duration. The evolution of cricket has seen it drop its playing duration once again in order to capture a young market. It's a natural move.

Over time, here is where I think it's heading.

Firstly, T20 is a game initially derived from real cricket that now incorporates a few other sports too. And that is absolutely fine and dandy in this funky day and age.

Baseball first comes to mind, as we watch batters (not to be confused with batsmen) who can wing the ball 90 metres and more to all parts in a wide arc. Also, the throwing from the deep and at close range mirrors the outfielders from Major League Baseball. Both skills are spectacular and important to providing the fan a new form of instant gratification.

Of the other sports, you will see a bit of tennis in some of the shots played; the synchronised slide when both fielders chase the ball and hit the ground together side by side; then a bit of rugby in the flick pass from one to the other, the move completed with an all-in-one-movement javelin throw. Athletics definitely has a place, with frenetic sprinting on show as twos are stolen on a regular basis now that no one fields inside the circle in front of the wicket on the leg side in this format.

The beauty of T20 is that it can and should continue to embrace new rules and ideas to improve the spectacle. Without hesitation, the captain should be allowed to remove a batter from the crease at any point, and replace him with another, a probable better choice for the occasion. "Subbed off" should be part of the rules, with the rider that the substituted batsman can go back in anytime too.

Imagine the captain wandering out to the pitch, whispering in the batter's ear, then seeing the batter steam off past his new replacement. We could call it the Sam-Sub law, in recognition of its potential instigator Marlon Samuels, who during the World T20 could for four innings in a row easily have been subbed off and replaced by Darren Sammy, such was his complete lack of attention to run-scoring.

In the very first match of IPL 7, Kieron Pollard was introduced far too late in the Mumbai chase. Ideally he should be subbed in at any stage to suit and not have to wait for a wicket to fall. Not once but a few times recently I have wished for Yuvraj Singh to be subbed off, such has been his consistency at stalling when his team needs forward progress, just like an engine dying deep in the middle of heavy traffic.

Same with specialist fielding replacements. Only one, mind you, outside of the playing XI. Let's not get carried away, because part of being a cricketer is to field, but it's a waste of entertainment if the worst fielder is left out there while a young, fit player, a la Roger Harper, is ready to create havoc but is sitting in the dugout wearing a bib. So there are two easy additions to T20. Happy so far?

I wonder, too, if it is really necessary to bother with using two ends to play T20. Will it really change much in three hours? Hardly. So why not save an extra half hour with all the fluffing about switching ends? Captains would love it, as they can stay in one place to talk to their baller (not to be confused with bowler), and chat away about variations and handling pressure. This way the captain doesn't get suspended for a slow over rate as he contemplates why he didn't have another spinner to exploit the Bunsen burner in front of him. Much more sense, I reckon, to speed the game up and save having to find a new leader at short notice.

T20 is the place to try new stuff, always with entertainment in mind. It is the format that should be exploited to ensure the fans are on edge, having a ball, getting their cricket fix.

Let's be honest, T20 is here to stay. So isn't it best if we ensure that it covers all bases, so we can serve up a faster all-encompassing bang for our buck and then when all is done in quick time, we can race off to get our next fix? And that is what it is: a sporting drug that will fool a few to believe that is what cricket is really about.

But it is not really cricket and never will be. Yet it may rule the world.

Martin Crowe, one of the leading batsmen of the late '80s and early '90s, played 77 Tests for New Zealand