'T20 has added a lot to the game'

Sunil Gavaskar talks about how innovations brought in by the shortest format are helping cricket break new ground

Peter Della Penna

August 25, 2012

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Sunil Gavaskar displays the ball used in the 1983 World Cup final, London, June 25, 2008
"I think I would have loved to have played T20" © Bipin Patel
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Late in the afternoon on a warm Sunday in New York, a car pulls up outside a shop in the Jackson Heights section of Queens. It's not too far removed from where Eddie Murphy arrived inconspicuously from the fictional land of Zamunda in a classic comedy from the 1980s. Today, a fitting and princely welcome awaits a legend coming to America to greet his adoring fans, with a troupe of bhangra dancers stomping to the beat of the dhol as he steps out of the car.

"That bhangra dance, it was really energetic. It was fantastic, very lively," Sunil Gavaskar said of the raucous reception. "If I wasn't restrained, I might have actually joined them." There were other crowds just like it in Dallas, Toronto, New York and New Jersey, where fans had the opportunity to meet Gavaskar, on a promotional tour. Visiting the United States brought back memories of his playing days, and occasional exhibition matches in the country.

"We actually played a few games of cricket here, way back in the '80s," Gavaskar said. "That was a time when there was no money in the game, so we all came in here and stayed with families. Because the economics didn't quite work out always for everybody, we would be maybe a party of eight people coming in from India and there would be three other guys playing from the local team and 11 of the club team. If the club had, say, 14 or 15 players, then three of their players would be part of the team that we were in. That's how we played a fair bit of cricket. We played in Dallas, Houston, New Jersey, New York."

The influx of South Asian immigrants into America over recent decades, and the West Indians who came before them, is one reason why the USA now generates more internet traffic on cricket websites than every country except India. But long before the internet, Gavaskar said, the interest was strong.

"Whenever these sort of teams travelled to the USA, like the teams that we brought in, there used to be massive crowds," he said. "We had India v Pakistan matches here. Obviously we couldn't call it India v Pakistan because our cricket boards would have objected. So it was an Indian XI v a Pakistani XI or an Imran Khan XI v a Gavaskar XI.

"The first time I ever played cricket in the USA was at Shea Stadium. It was the American All-Stars v the Rest of the World. That Rest of the World team was a pretty good team. Tony Greig was the captain, and we had Barry Richards, Alan Knott, John Snow, Majid Khan, Bishan Singh Bedi, and I think Farokh Engineer, so it was a very good team. "I would say there would have been about 14,000 people - that sort of gave you an idea of the interest.

"Now they are getting to see cricket. There is live streaming. There is a TV channel that is exclusively for cricket. Such TV channels wouldn't be feasible if there weren't enough people subscribing, so the interest level certainly is there, no question about it."

The sizeable crowds for those exhibitions were generated by fans raised on Test and one-day cricket. As T20 continues to spread its wings, many administrators hope that the format will become palatable to Americans outside the expatriate community. However, for any standard of cricket to prosper in the USA, Gavaskar believes that infrastructure is the key stumbling block.

"I think the most important thing for emerging countries like USA and China is to be able to get good pitches. I think pitches are so important because the pitches will give the club-level players the opportunity to play on surfaces which they don't have to worry about. The T20 game is about batting. For the spectators, the T20 game is all about watching the ball sail over the boundary into the stands, where some of them try to catch it. That can happen if you have good pitches. I think one of the reasons why cricket has not quite taken off is that a lot of the emerging countries don't have turf pitches.

"If you have good pitches, I would think 75% of the battle is won. To be able to build on that is what these countries need to do. There is an interest level there. I have seen it in the USA, and in Canada as well. The interest is quite massive and the cricket that they play on Saturdays and Sundays is quite intense."

 
 
"I think the most important thing for emerging countries like USA and China is to be able to get good pitches. The T20 game is about batting. For the spectators, the T20 game is all about watching the ball sail over the boundary into the stands. That can happen if you have good pitches"
 

Aside from the rise in popularity among fans around the USA, who might gravitate toward cricket because it can be condensed into three hours, corporate sponsors and media in the United States are also taking a greater interest. This year's World Twenty20, will be broadcast for free on ESPN3 in the USA. In turn, cricketers are getting increasingly better known in the country, which Gavaskar says is due to T20.

"For a sport that is not as internationally known as, say, soccer or tennis or even golf, I think cricket is getting the prominence that it is has got because of the T20 format. That's the one that has excited spectators, has gotten brands to come forward to get mileage for themselves through cricketers and through sponsoring events. I think T20 has certainly played a big role in making cricket, which earlier wasn't a career option, a very, very good career option now.

"It doesn't necessarily have to be playing the IPL or playing any of the other T20 leagues. I speak as an Indian. Even if you play in the domestic Ranji Trophy, with the kind of funds that the IPL has generated and which have now come into Indian cricket, a guy who doesn't play in the IPL but just plays Ranji Trophy is able to make a very good living. He earns a lot more than he would if he was working for a bank, an airline or the railways, which were the kind of jobs we did in the 1970s and '80s."

New on-field strategies have helped make the game more dynamic and helped make it grow more popular in the USA and elsewhere. As a regular fixture in the television commentary box, Gavaskar has gained an appreciation for the way all forms of cricket have transformed as a result of T20 cricket.

"The innovation that the batsmen have in playing some shots, the innovations that the bowlers have to resort to, to try and stop the batsmen from smashing them out of the ground, the back-of-the-hand bowling, the slower bouncers, the slower deliveries, the change of pace - these are all innovations that have added so much to the game.

"I just like to see the athleticism in the field. The fielding over the years has been outstanding. Also, the kind of physical training that they do. They are a much fitter and much stronger generation. So they hit the ball a fair distance more, they are able to last a little bit more. I love to watch that."

"I think I would have loved to have played T20. But on the other hand I'm very happy to have played in the time that I played in. Being in the commentary box gives me the opportunity to see the modern heroes, how the game is changing, how the approach and the attitude toward the game is changing. I can't thank the good Lord enough for having given me this opportunity to be able to travel around the world, meet different people and see the game that I love so much."

Sunil Gavaskar was interviewed in connection with MoneyGram's Ultimate Cricket Fan promotion, in which two people will be chosen to travel to the ICC World Twenty20 in Sri Lanka. More info here

Peter Della Penna is a journalist based in New Jersey

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© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Posted by Cpt.Meanster on (August 26, 2012, 20:03 GMT)

@YorkshirePudding & Grizzle: We can agree to disagree. I am not a fan of test cricket and you guys are not fans of T20. Fine with that. There will always be polarized opinions in that regard. If T20 is 'hit and giggle' for you guys, then test cricket to me 'drag and sob'. It's long, boring and way too complicated. It's a format that is OLD and cannot be embraced by new cricket playing countries. T20 is much more sweet on the eye and is a lot of fun. It can be easily understood by anyone who has never seen a game of cricket before. It provides every team with a realistic shot at winning games. In test cricket, the usual teams keep winning which is a poor advertisement for modern sport. A lowly ranked team has no hope in that format. The arguments against test cricket is MANY... but the arguments against T20 are far and few. The argument against T20s is usually about the money on offer. As if we all work in our jobs for free ha !

Posted by warneneverchuck on (August 26, 2012, 18:21 GMT)

@David pk. Not only this guy even any player from your country will do anything to play in IpL provided they get a chance

Posted by landl47 on (August 26, 2012, 13:11 GMT)

@Ashish_514: Gavaskar was only 25 when he made his momentous 36*, so I'm afraid you're just plain wrong. @Mark Demos: Yeah, right- and I don't know how to use a computer either, I still write letters. @Nigel Bradshaw and Cpt. Meanster: comparing the strategy in T20 with test cricket is like comparing cooking burger and fries with cooking a three-course gourmet meal. One requires a few basic cooking skills, the other requires careful planning, selection of numerous ingredients and a whole variety of skills necessary to make the different courses. The result is much the same, too; one is instant gratification but not very memorable and the other can be looked back on for years as a great experience. You stick to your fast food, I'll take the gourmet meal any day.

Posted by BnH1985Fan on (August 26, 2012, 12:08 GMT)

Sunny says "I would have loved to play T20", yet, he is the one who score 36 runs in 60 overs in a World Cup .. funny Sunny!

Posted by bumsonseats on (August 26, 2012, 10:44 GMT)

this guy will do anything to keep his job in the ipl and his workings with the bcci hes so much out of his time and depth and for a cricketer who so played for himself.

Posted by YorkshirePudding on (August 26, 2012, 6:45 GMT)

@Ashish_514, OD games have been played since the early 60's at domestic level, and 70's at international level, however at club level OD games choice as people simple couldnt fit in 3 days to play 4 innings so they resorted to playing one innings of ~60 overs a-side games, which could easily be completed on a saturday/sunday on the village green.

Posted by YorkshirePudding on (August 26, 2012, 6:37 GMT)

@Cpt.Meanster, in the 90's the same was said of test cricket in regards to ODI's, yet it survived. Yet it is ODI cricket that is quite sick at the moment as its niether the purist form of the game (Test), or the ADHD form (t20). I'm sure that at some point T20 will replace bowlers with static bowling machines, bowling random Quick, Medium, spin deliveries. In the end T20 is hits and giggle fun to watch over a few beers after work, it doesnt even get interesting until the last 5 overs of a game anyway, yet if you want a game that can ebb and flow then tests have no equal as a team thats on top one day can be at under the khosh the next.

Posted by grizzle on (August 26, 2012, 5:55 GMT)

Cpt.Meanster: Fallacious reasoning this! If *any* team can win the game (irrespective of how good they are), then why does strategy play a role? The teams might as well just land up and hope for the best! For what it's worth, I agree with you entirely: in T20, winning has nothing to do with how good a team is. That is because 20 overs a side is too short to allow a contest to develop.

Posted by   on (August 26, 2012, 0:07 GMT)

"I just like to see the athleticism in the field. The fielding over the years has been outstanding. Also, the kind of physical training that they do. They are a much fitter and much stronger generation." End of the day, let us agree fielding in relation to batting and bowling has not the due recognition it deserves. Catches win Matches, yet "FIELDER" is never the Man of the Match ! I am a big cricket fan.

1969-70. India vs. Australia. 5th Test at Chennai (then Madras). 1st day's play. Australian Batsman Doug Walters just then completed a chanceless century. The last over of the day. Bowler - Bishen Bedi. Penultimate delivery. Venkatraghavan, the customary gully fielder was moved to first slip. As the bowler delivered, the ball flew off the edge of Walters' bat. Venkat simply turned around 180 degrees behind to snatch the ball just before it could kiss the grass.

If I could remember the qualitative ton of Walters, evenly I could recall the spark

Posted by spinkingKK on (August 25, 2012, 23:43 GMT)

ICC should combine ODI and T20I in one world cup of limited-over cricket. 2 points for an ODI win and 1 point for a T20 win. Then you could also have a 5-day final. That would mean, the teams should be selected in such a way that they can fit into all type of cricket. Maybe the 5-day final is farfetched. However, ODI and T20I can be combined.

Posted by Cpt.Meanster on (August 25, 2012, 23:11 GMT)

@landl47: My friend, T20 in fact requires more strategy and skill to win games. Even in test cricket, the usual best team wins the game. In T20s however, any team can win the game. This is why strategy is most necessary in this format. Ask Shane Warne and his Rajasthan Royals who won the inaugural IPL championship in 2008. A bunch of 'boys' whom everybody thought as mere pushovers PUSHED aside every other team purely on the basis of sound strategy and raw skills. Please remove your ignorance hat and put on your thinking cap please. I have had enough with all you cheerleaders of test cricket. Like it or not, test cricket is living on borrowed time. The old lady (test cricket) needs to retire and let her daughter (T20) to take over the reins.

Posted by brittop on (August 25, 2012, 22:11 GMT)

I'm not completely convinced that you can only sell T20 to the Americans. They watch baseball in which teams play hundreds of games in a season. Yes each games lasts 3-4 hours, but each is part of the wider context of the whole season. Teams play each other in mini-series of three or four games in a row. The play-offs are five (or seven) game series -this must be comparable with five days of test cricket in the way the contest builds up.

Posted by RohanMarkJay on (August 25, 2012, 19:11 GMT)

Nice article, great to hear Sunny's thoughts its wonderful to hear his views. 20/20 will probably replace one day cricket and eventually test cricket. But in the process it will probably save cricket from oblivion and ensure it has a future. Also it is probably the only format of cricket that can be played and watched in Canada and US as baseball length and 20/20 length is identical. So both these sports can operate side by side. Which couldn't happen before. Yes the times are a changing, yes cricket is 20/20 because there was declining interest in the older formats, especially in England. Thats why the ECB introduced it . It probably saved cricket in England and attracted a whole new generation of fans. Sunny is right you have to embrace change. Because change is fact of life. Those bemoaning 20/20 should understand it has made cricket a sports career option now for young players along with Athletiics, soccer, baseball,basketball etc. 20/20 has probable saved the future of cricket.

Posted by ElBeeDubya on (August 25, 2012, 17:55 GMT)

Here is a better comparison than the T20 is the automobile and other forms of cricket are horse and buggy. T20 is like a blog. A few good writers also have blogs but a lot of pretenders get many 'hits' because they manage to write stuff that are 'one hit wonders' or stuff of very low quality that appeals to those who have a limited awareness about SUSTAINED quality. Test matches are like books. There are indeed popular books that are very 'meh' but great books are MEMORABLE (not just for the adrenaline rush that it gave you for a few minutes that are typical of the best of the T20 innings.) I don't mind reading blogs but let's not sacrifice the rest of the literature. It is the duty of informed commentators and ex-players to EDUCATE us about HIGHER QUALITY material rather than merely going along with the flow of MARKET FORCES alone. You should play your part in guiding the market. Commerce is NOT everything. cricinfo, pls publish.

Posted by   on (August 25, 2012, 17:44 GMT)

landl47 - you need to look again at the T20 game! Sides are already crafting strategy that is a variant of the game, and hence not understood by those that do not favor it; however, many teams in Test cricket have had to use DISCIPLINE only (much like Chris Gayle did with wickets falling all around him vs. Sri Lanka in a T20 semi-final years back) to get wickets, what with barren pitches etc. And runs have not also come at a premium in every T20 game either. Observe also that many that like T20 are still Test fans as well.

Posted by   on (August 25, 2012, 16:22 GMT)

Seriously, enough with the odi's. In the near future, it would be better off with teams rather playing a four-five match test series and three t20s than playing any odi cricket. It's simply turning out to be quite uninteresting and does no good than taking up quite a space in international cricket calendar.

Posted by cricraz on (August 25, 2012, 13:10 GMT)

Give Sunny his due for recognizing change and embracing it. Unlike most older cricketers who just think that Test Cricket is the ultimate and they played in the golden era, Sunny recognizes that T20 requires a different set of talents to succeed. Sunny has already stated that one of his regrets being the 36 runs in the first world cup. It takes a true gentleman to accept his faults. So Stop harping about Sunny not being to play T20. Sunny was always disciplined and he would have adapted to t20 once he accepted the format. The readers who think T20 has no strategy are watching it with their brains shut down. The Public wants T20 and the players want it.( ask Hayden) but most are afraid they are going to get ostracised like Gayle for putting down Test cricket.

Posted by Ashish_514 on (August 25, 2012, 13:01 GMT)

@landl47,India_boy and srriaj317- It was during his last few years when ODIs started. Remember he hadn't played ODIs before he came to international cricket. Viv Richards immediately rocked in the ODIs because he was an attacking batsman. Similarly you can see Sachin, Dravid, Ganguly and Laxman had problems in T20s. Still Sachin was the most successful out of 4 as he was the most attacking player in comparison. Dravid caught up to some extent by hard work and perseverence. Rest 2 didn't do much. But at the same time Sehwag, Yuvraj, Dhoni etc. being the present hard hitting crop adjusted to T20s as Viv did to ODIs. Who knows if ODIs had come 5 years earlier that 36 runs innings would have never happened.

Posted by   on (August 25, 2012, 12:24 GMT)

Great article Peter. Poor land47 would still drive a horse and buggy because automobiles are not authentic transport. He would also be one day late for a 5 day test match...late being day 6.

Posted by 1st_april on (August 25, 2012, 11:49 GMT)

$$$$.....money money money....

Posted by srriaj317 on (August 25, 2012, 9:53 GMT)

Uhmm...how much is those bloke being paid again? He publicly accepted that he is on the payroll of the BCCI so does he think anyone gives credence to his words? And who would have paid to watch a re-rendition of his 36* in a T20?

Posted by Emancipator007 on (August 25, 2012, 9:46 GMT)

An absolute cricket sage talking with all-round insights cos of his sharp mind & tremendous intellect. When Sunny is neutral with his viewpoints, he is among the best readers & analysts of the game. His nationalistic (read Asian solidarity) railings on Indian cricket channels are to counterpoint similar biased commentary of SKY,Channel 9. The excellence that he brought to the art of Test cricket batsmanship, relentless ambition to be the best in an era of great fast bowlers & the most competitive period in Test cricket history is unparalleled.Like Lara,SMG thought himself no less than Bradman and apart from the average, ended up with stupendous career achievements which was almost unthinkable for an Asian batsman. In fact, till about 52 Tests, he had reeled off 20 tons. Also the only bat to score the most attacking innings of 121& 90 in consecutive Tests against Marshall,Holding,Davis in '83 series at Sehwagesque SR! &along with Deano the only one to score a 200 against WI pace in '80s

Posted by India_boy on (August 25, 2012, 7:41 GMT)

As much as I think of Gavaskar as the best Indian batsman ever(with Dravid a close second and Laxman as a distant third) - what with scoring the most no. of centuries against the most ferocious attack ever put together, that too on its home soil, I think T-20 is totally not his cup of tea. He scored 36 runs carrying his bat for 60 overs when these can be scored in 6 balls !!!

Posted by   on (August 25, 2012, 7:22 GMT)

Quite rubbish these T20 matches. Ask Michael Holding and Ian Botham and many more legends. Expect Indian cricketers to like it. For 40% duration of 50 overs game you get PAID more if not equal. No wonder the commentators like it too. Working just 6 hours a day as compared to the 9-10 hours for a 50 overs game. In sports like tennis if there matches like only one set Roger Federer can dominate till he is forty and the onnly reason why old players like T20 is it gives them a chance to extend their careers which otherwise should rightfully end at 35 or so.

Posted by landl47 on (August 25, 2012, 4:56 GMT)

I have to laugh at the notion of Gavaskar playing T20. I was at Lord's in 1975 when England scored over 300 in a 60-over match in the first ODI World Cup. When India batted, Gavaskar opened and batted for the full 60 overs for 36 not out. I was behind a group of Indian fans and they were literally crying because of Gavaskar's abject failure even to attempt to win the game. Yes, it's true that T20 has brought in crowds. Unfortunately, what they are seeing isn't cricket, it's another game, similar to baseball, but played with cricket equipment. No batting strategy but slogging and no attempt to take wickets, just defensive bowling with no close catchers. To paraphrase a famous saying from the bible, what does it matter if you gain a new audience if you destroy the game?

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