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Grow up already

Before assessing the achievements of IPL while still in its infancy, I should first declare my interests. If I want to watch dancing girls, I go to the Moulin Rouge. If I want to drink, I go to a bar. If I want to listen to music, I go to a concert.

Therefore I wouldn't be high on the priority list of those promoting regular Twenty20 cricket matches. I like the game, and when it's played the way it was in the second-semi final of last year's world tournament in Durban, where India beat Australia in a match full of high-calibre cricket, it is an exhilarating form of the game. However, I'm just not sure about 40-odd successive days of Twenty20 cricket. Everything in moderation is not a bad motto.

Now that the game has become mainstream entertainment rather than just a curiosity, the administrators need to give serious consideration to the way they pitch Twenty20 cricket. They should constantly be looking for ways to ensure the game evolves rather than let it be a fad, and this involves doing something more appropriating a "mindlessly follow the USA" approach to promoting the sport.

There is a dire need to ensure they achieve the right balance between cricket skills and the entertainment factor. I once watched an American gridiron game live in Australia and came away thinking that any game that relied heavily on dancing girls was a rather shallow sport.

There are still people who like to watch cricket with a mate who understands what is going on and discuss the play between overs. They don't want to be deafened by loud music or inane chatter over the PA. If Twenty20 is going to make a serious long-term contribution to the game, a variety of fans needs to be embraced.

The other main consideration is the balance of power between the bat and the ball. Last season I asked Andrew Symonds if bats had improved during his career. "Don't worry about during my career," he said with a smile, "In the last five years they have improved dramatically."

It's hard to stop progress and nobody should be castigated for trying to improve their product, but the problem is, they can't make corresponding improvements to the ball. It's not like golf, where the fairways can be lengthened to accommodate the improvement in clubs and balls.

With Twenty20, once again bowlers are being handicapped. If it keeps raining sixes, the boundary-clearing shot will become so commonplace as to be mundane. In the first eight matches of the IPL, nearly 27% of the runs have been scored in sixes. That compares with about 4 and 7% respectively in Test and ODI cricket in the 21st century, a period of increased big hitting in the game. It's only a small sample of IPL matches but it is a trend to watch.

If, as a few players have said, the game is becoming one for power-hitters, it will lose a lot. Batting should be a mixture of skill, thought, timing and power, and the day it depends solely on the latter it will be a lot less interesting to watch. Reliance on six-hitting to keep the crowd interested is a recipe for a fad, and it will also make it difficult to judge between the good bowlers and the also-rans.

It may be that the shortened version of the game will evolve into a 30-overs-a-side contest, consisting of two 15-over innings for each team. While still retaining brevity, this length of game would require a tactical approach and also ensure the middle-order batsman doesn't go the way of the dodo and the steam train.

From the moment it was invented, Twenty20 was a game with inherent flaws because it relied so heavily on the close finish to be a thrilling spectacle. If the battle between bat and ball is a no-contest, there isn't a lot to retain the patrons' interest if, as happens so often, the result becomes a foregone conclusion early on. That is when the dancing girls become the main attraction; and pretty soon the patrons will discover those at places like the Moulin Rouge have more to offer.

And even after watching a constant stream of dancing girls at the Moulin Rouge, I came away convinced that an unbelievably skilful juggler and two classy gymnasts were the most interesting acts.