Is twenty plenty?
The inaugural Twenty20 World Championship begins in September. Is this the beginning of the end for the 50-over game? By Daniel Brigham
Most Test-playing countries still regularly sell out grounds for one-day internationals and matches are spreading into neutral venues to maximise revenue. In 2006, a record 160 ODIs were played - 33 more than in 1996 (a World Cup year), 98 more than in 1986 and 154 more than in 1976.
As this is happening, Twenty20 matches - whether international or domestic - are filling grounds in England, New Zealand, West Indies, Australia, South Africa and Pakistan. Sell-outs in domestic matches were very rare until Twenty20 strutted into town. The last challenge comes in April, when domestic Twenty20 hits India and vast grounds like Kolkata's Eden Gardens will have to be filled. But no one is betting against it - big crowds and big money are forecast.
So how will the ICC strike a balance between Twenty20 internationals and ODIs? If sponsors and the public are as wild about the World Championship - due to last just nine days - as they have been about domestic tournaments and one-off internationals then serious questions will be raised about the future of the 50-over format. In a crowded international calendar, something may have to give.
The ICC's tours programme, which sets out the international calendar in six-year blocks, has placed a limit on Twenty20 internationals. Each side can host just three a year. "There are a number of reasons for the limit," says David Richardson, the ICC's cricket manager. "To prevent overkill and to protect the domestic Twenty20 competitions. We also acknowledge that players are playing a lot of cricket and we don't want their schedules overburdened."
Will the limit ever be lifted? "I'd be surprised if it is to any great extent," Richardson says. "Part of the success of Twenty20 cricket is making sure it can coexist with Test cricket and one-dayers. They're different products and attract different crowds so we want to make sure that all three formats are preserved.
"Very importantly, we also need to preserve the attraction of Twenty20s at domestic level, where it is a great source of revenue and a real growth area. If you have too many Twenty20 internationals then the attraction of going down to see your local state or county play the format will diminish."
Steve Elworthy, Cricket South Africa's commercial manager and the main man behind the staging of the Twenty20 World Championship, believes that the variety of supporters Twenty20 attracts will boost the format's growth internationally. "Crowds tend to be a lot younger which hooks people into the game," he says. "You can watch a full match in three hours, go home or still go out afterwards. It's a different target audience to one-dayers and that's helping it grow very rapidly.
"We're expecting the South Africa matches to be very well supported and there to be a lot of overseas support at the Championship. It's always a challenge to fill a ground in South Africa when South Africa aren't playing, but I'm confident that Twenty20 is the best format out of the three to do this."
The fact that marketing guys can sell the format to different sponsors than one-dayers is a real bonus. Although you'll be selling less TV advertising than during ODIs, it will be more expensive
With the ICC pumping millions into spreading the game globally, the crowd-drawing and moneymaking appeal of Twenty20s could also be enormously beneficial to the emerging nations. Scotland qualified with Kenya for the World Championship by getting to the final of the 50-over World Cricket League in February, but Roddy Smith, Cricket Scotland's chief executive, advocates a separate 20-over qualifying tournament and more Twenty20s for non-Test sides.
"Commercially, Twenty20 is more of a saleable event and you do get the crowds coming in. It would be great if there were more games between Test sides and the smaller nations and I think we will have more TV viewers in Scotland for the Twenty20 Championship than the World Cup."
Although the ICC hasn't considered a qualifying tournament for the World Championship, Richardson believes it will come if the emerging sides - made up mostly of semi-professionals - have time for it.
With the commercial benefits of Twenty20 clear at all levels of the game, Richardson doesn't rule out the possibility of it becoming the dominant one-day attraction. "It's a possibility," he says, "but it's a bit too early to say. Relatively speaking, the 50-over game is still very well supported around the world so we don't want to cannibalise it. I think the connoisseurs will tell you that Test cricket is the main attraction, then 50-overs and then Twenty20. We're very conscious of preserving the traditional forms of the game."
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This article was first published in the April 2007 issue of The Wisden Cricketer.
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