Decade Review 2009

Where is the game headed?

Twenty20 can save or destroy cricket. India, the financial backbone, must lead the rest into the decade with responsibility and vision

Harsha Bhogle

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Fans watch the game on the television in a street corner, Kolkata, April 19, 2007
In India, the demands of advertisers have been put ahead of the needs of the viewers © AFP
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Another year slips by, this time accompanied by a decade; another reference point gets created. For that is all that a date in a dynamic world really is; just a little dhaba, a little coffee shop on the way for us to rest and reflect in. It is not a natural inflection point, for change does not wait for a date in a calendar. But reflect we must and ponder over what lies ahead because these are tumultuous times. The last two years have challenged existing thought like few other years in the game's history have. They set the agenda for the year, the decade, ahead.

There are many questions we seek answers to, but inevitably every question is but an offshoot of one: What format will dominate? And inevitably, therefore, how will the carrier of the format, the medium, react? Twenty-overs cricket, and our acceptance or rejection of it, will shape the decade ahead. Like nuclear power, it can either save our world or destroy it, change it forever. And like nuclear power, it needs to be harnessed for the development of the game.

Already 20-over cricket is emerging as the saviour of the game. In India, the money it is bringing in is leading to better stadiums. In course of time it should lead to better spectator amenities. It is taking the game into the smaller towns and empowering young players hungry for opportunity. Never before have as many people been able to make a living playing cricket. Soon Australia and South Africa too will start to benefit as revenues from the Champions League allow them to develop cricket better and compete with other sports. In the next 10 years, as leagues evolve around the world, this model could get replicated everywhere; maybe not on the scale that India's population has allowed for, but it will allow more players to enter the system and give them a standard of living that might otherwise have been denied to them. They may not earn millions but they will do better than they might if there had been no customer-friendly cricket league.

But 20-over cricket cannot be allowed to become the monster that devours everything else. It must tingle the senses, and that can only come with occasional denial. It must, like the seductress, present itself occasionally but not surrender, and that is why I believe this decade will lead to the creation of windows for Test-match cricket. I am not very sure if a Test-championship model will eventually be sustainable, since inevitably commerce will demand that the best play against the best often. A one-sided Twenty20 game gets over in three hours, but a one-sided Test match can be difficult to market. And so I foresee fewer countries playing Test cricket, but in doing so, actually making the format stronger. It could well lead to the sustenance of a format that is so dear to all of us.

There is a fear that the decade ahead could lead to the rise of the freelance cricketer. Currently, in spite of what cricketers in Australia say, that fear seems unfounded. Only two are treading that path at the moment, and to be honest, neither Andrew Flintoff or Andrew Symonds had an option. The ultimate glory, of playing for the country, will not lose its lustre and only those that are denied that honour will turn freelance. To that extent, national teams will not lose key players. The could-have-beens or those slightly past it will turn freelance but I do not see thoroughbreds going that way in the prime of their career.

What it could lead to, though, is a bit of confusion over team-mates and rivals, especially if you play for your franchise teams more often than you play for the national side. In the eyes of a fan, is Didier Drogba more Frank Lampard's team-mate than Wayne Rooney is?

Twenty-over cricket cannot be allowed to become the monster that devours everything else. It must tingle the senses and that can only come with occasional denial

The second half of the decade gone by showed India using its economic might to have things its own way. Going ahead, this translates into opportunity but also into responsibility. India has to evolve from being the money leader to becoming the thought and performance leader, and play a more mature role as a custodian of the game. It is a serious challenge, as state associations are increasingly run by people who have neither respect for nor interest in the game. They are drawn by attention and power and therefore must leave the crucial aspects of the game to followers, not all of whom will keep cricket uppermost. Who looks after pitches, for example? Who cares about the dwindling stocks of spinners? At the centre, the BCCI is actually enjoying some of its better years, but it needs to worry about the satellite bodies, and that will be Indian cricket's greatest challenge in the years ahead.

As the decade ended, the carrier of the game, its financial backbone, appeared in urgent need of a debate. India's power comes from the money television brings in, but networks are increasingly stretched by the amount they have to pay for rights. Inevitably, then, they must bow to commercial demands, and that means advertisers must get their due. But it also means that the game is sighted increasingly rarely. Viewers must now fight their way through swarms of advertisements to watch the game they so love, and as someone who broadcasts on the game for a living, I know Indian viewers often miss out on some of the nicest moments. And so we need to achieve this equilibrium between the stakeholders: the networks, which have improved the quality of coverage greatly; the advertisers, who fund everybody; and the viewer, who must see more cricket. The search for this equilibrium could well define where cricket goes in the next 10 years.

Television is also funding the increasing role of technology in the game and that is a tenuous relationship. Clearly technology is becoming better, but it is far from becoming foolproof, and the use of Hawk-Eye to adjudicate lbws is dangerous. In the next year we will all have an idea of what the players think but also what the umpires think. I suspect, though, that we cannot go too much further with what we have at the moment. There are still unresolved issues with technology and with those who control it, and I won't be surprised if there is a move towards giving the umpires a little more power and only using technology in the most obvious instances.

What I look forward to the most, though, is to see the game grow. Towards the end of the decade, cricketers from Afghanistan showed what sport can achieve in areas of conflict and resultant strife. There are many cricketers waiting to be discovered, many flowers being born to blush unseen. Cricket's real achievement in the decade ahead will be to reach out to those and offer them a ray of hope and a game of cricket.

Harsha Bhogle is a commentator, television presenter and writer


Comments: 23 
Posted by Lukesh on (January 2, 2010, 20:44 GMT)

A beautiful article by Harsha Bogle. "Twenty-over cricket cannot be allowed to become the monster that devours everything else. It must tingle the senses and that can only come with occasional denial, I agree with you 100% in this matter in that one of the things that makes T20's exciting is that conventional cricket is not a game with cheerleaders or fireworks blasting everytime the batsman hits a six, so when a T20 is played the fans are always ready to line up to watch it.

Posted by Madhusudhan on (January 2, 2010, 16:15 GMT)

This Team India and BCCI is completely focussed on IPL. Team India lack skill, inspiration, motivation and fitness to play Test Cricket. These curators, coaches and BCCI officials are working for IPL growth rather than Cricket growth. Until IPL is thrashed Team India is not going to perform well in other tournaments. IPL is completely meaningless and obsolete Tournament. Test, ODI & T20 Cricket is great to watch between Countries unlike IPL which is between mixture teams. Test Cricket is ultimate to watch on sportive pitches. But IPL is making these pitches Lifeless.

Posted by jamshed on (January 2, 2010, 12:22 GMT)

Responsibility,vision and the BCCI ? I'm afraid, Harsha,the BCCI has more profitable things to worry about.

Posted by D on (January 2, 2010, 9:39 GMT)

If BCCI has its say in World cricket the way it is today, I guess India will be playing only T20 cricket and meaningless ODI's on dead sorry!! good batting wickets. Skill anyway goes for a toss in T20 a good T20 cricketer wont even make a test 50 in Australia or South Africa or England unless he is a proven test cricketer, on our wickets of course even a tailender can make a double hundred so we leave that out. Its a 3 hr excitement which no one remembers after a day. But if thats what BCCI wants, thats what will happen, we will continue to watch ugly graphics and noisy ads to such an extent that the actual time that one sees a clean screen on TV for cricket is less than the ad time this is apart from the cacophony at the grounds in the spectator unfriendly stadiums in boiling heat.Anyways for true cricket lovers we can watch test cricket being played outside the subcontinent and that is the future I guess so and sadly it seems true!! Its cricket pre 1932!!

Posted by Stiaan on (January 2, 2010, 8:51 GMT)

Lately cricket has become more about the spectators and the money than anything else. We want to play test cricket at night now so that more people can come and watch. Where we used to play 5 test matches in a series we now only play 4 but with 2 T-Twentys. Isn't it about the competitiveness of the game? There will never be one dominating side in this format. It's either your day or it's not. I for one have never seen one team consistently performing in T20. T20-cricket is mainly supported by the people looking for a good night. T20 is dull and repetitive cricket. But it definitely has it's impact on the game. Just listen to the commentators in the test series between SA and England. SA are going at 2.9 an over and Kepler Wessels starts moaning that it's too slow.

Posted by Ravish on (January 2, 2010, 5:38 GMT)

Harsha, I disagree with you. India should just play IPL for 8 months in a year and forget about international games. Just play 8 weeks of T20, 8 weeks of 40 over format, and 16 weeks of test cricket all in franchise format. Just let the franchises own players for the whole 8 month season with championships in all 3 formats. Franchises can sign experts for each format and in many cases they can be used across formats. Players get paid their market value depending on how valuable they are and how many formats they can play. Test cricket experts can choose that format. It provides good livelihood playing cricket for far more domestic players in India than what current international format can ever hope to provide. It also can make sure that all formats can survive in harmony.

Posted by Paul on (January 2, 2010, 2:24 GMT)

Harsha, your fifth paragraph claims that the fear of freelance T20 specialists seems unfounded. I hope you're right, but I'd feel a little more convinced if you'd included at least one fact in support of this conclusion. I think the only reason we're not seeing more of them is that the Global Financial Crisis curtailed the growth of large-scale T20 cricket. But for the GFC and the 2009 Indian seurity problems, IPL 2 would have be bigger than IPL 1 and there'd be no stopping it.

Posted by Sidhanta on (January 1, 2010, 23:29 GMT)

The path has been laid in this article. ICC will do no harm if they read this Harsha classic.

Posted by Shafat on (January 1, 2010, 22:36 GMT)

Now that there is twenty20 being played by sides studded with stars in the IPL, can we ask for the same sides playing one-day and first-class cricket? That would put Tendulkar-Jayasuriya-Pollock against Ganguly-Ponting-McCullum in formats where skill, endurance and experience will affect the results, built up over long periods with thrillingly laborious vicissitudes as in recent competitive Test matches.

Posted by B on (January 1, 2010, 21:10 GMT)

T20 is a fad much like alternate post-season gimmicks in various sports in the US. Its main performers are otherwise non-starters in other versions of cricket - technique takes a back-seat. Further,to cater to Indian spectator needs, wickets are tailor-made for batsmen and boundary-hitting at the expense of quality bowling. Combine this with the voracious appetitie of the Indian public for cricket at the expense of other sports, and a general lack of alternate entertainment. All this leads to the sad spectacle of T20 accentuated by abysmal leadership in Modi and co. that is leading to quick destruction of cricket. Youngsters of today may prefer the hip-gyrating dances of Helen, Silk Smitha and others over the traditional arts such as Bharatanatyam, Odissi and Kathak, and only irresponsible leadership and unbridled greed such as that exhibited by Pawar and Modi will cater to the former and kill the latter. Indians should gain self-respect and stop pandering to this form of cricket

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Harsha Bhogle Harsha Bhogle is one of the world's leading cricket commentators. Starting off as a chemical engineer and going on to work in advertising before moving into television, he is also a writer, quiz host, television presenter and talk-show host, and a corporate motivational speaker. He was voted Cricinfo readers' "favourite cricket commentator" in a poll in 2008, and one of his proudest possessions is a photograph of a group of spectators in Pakistan holding a banner that said "Harsha Bhogle Fan Club". He has commentated on nearly 100 Tests and more than 400 ODIs.
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