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Does players' satisfaction matter as the game gets shorter and shorter?

Honey, I shrunk the cricket: Test cricket gave way to one-dayers, which gave way to T20s, and now we're talking about 100-balls-a-side BCCI

If money speaks all languages, then in recent times it has become fluent in cricket chat. The lure of lucre is influencing most decisions in the game; the administrators are infatuated with the bottom line, and many of the players - underpaid by their countries - seek the ample riches of the T20 circuit.

The IPL set the pattern with lucrative contracts for not only star players but also others of varying standards and skillsets. This set off an explosion in T20 leagues and they are now popping up like daisies in the sunshine as boards look to capitalise on the latest cricketing fad.

While it's understood that large amounts of money are required to run the game in the professional era, there also needs to be a balance between player satisfaction and entertainment value.

The expansion of the season-old T10 league in the UAE and the ECB's plan to launch a 100-ball tournament in 2020 should trigger player concerns regarding that balance. The plan to have a 100-balls-a-side league appears to have been conceived without much consultation with the players.

The question arises, just as it did during the limbo craze: "How low can you go?" At what point will it be decided that the number of deliveries that constitutes an innings isn't enough to satisfy the desires of all 11 players? Where does natural evolution end and plain greed and overkill take over?

For around a century, the balance was probably too much in favour of player satisfaction. The Test match fulfilled the needs of all 11 players, and at its best, the game provided ample entertainment.

As the entertainment quotient of Test matches dipped to unacceptable levels, the one-day format appeared, and this appeased all parties. There was still enough cricket to involve all 11 players adequately, and the entertainment on offer enthused the fans. A combination of Tests and ODIs provided the ideal balance; the latter produced the funds required to run the game and the former allowed the players to hone their all-round skills.

After a concerted period of success, complaints commenced about the middle period in the 50-over game. The cry went up: "You might as well just watch the first 15 and the last ten overs." In response to this perception, the T20 game was invented, which prompted the obvious question: "What's the next step if fans become disillusioned with the T20 format?"

Judging by the latest incarnations, the answer seems to lie somewhere between 60- and 100-ball innings. Those formats might be good for impatient fans and broadcasters but what about the players?

The 50-over game works out to an average of 30 balls per wicket. When reduced to 20 overs, it's an average of only 12 balls per wicket, which doesn't seem adequate for the player-satisfaction quotient. Once a format requires less than 50 overs, it greatly favours opening batsmen, and for much of the rest of the line-up, it's a matter of too many sacrificed innings rather than satisfying ones.

To be good at fielding, you need to enjoy it, but it's more enjoyable when complemented by a few decent stints at the crease. The common complaint from bowlers is that cricket is a batsman's game, but a maximum of four overs compared to an average of two for the willow wielders seems to negate that argument.

The recent drastic reduction in the number of overs that constitute a game has tilted the balance way too much in favour of entertainment over sport. Fifty overs provided the ideal balance between the two aims - the players' needs and the fans' entertainment value.

These are delicate times in the evolution of the game and there's a need for more consultation between players and administrators on the appearance of that future. It's crucial to come to an agreement on the ideal number of versions for cricket and the length of those formats.

Once that is agreed upon, it's then up to the players to perform skilfully and entertain the public.