Fifty-fifty for Twenty20

The BCCI organised the inter-state Twenty20 Cup on an experimental basis this season. But without selling television rights and with the absence of crowds in the stadiums, the tournament didn't serve the purpose it was designed for - excitement in domesti

Anand Vasu
Anand Vasu

Despite stars like Sourav Ganguly, Rahul Dravid and Yuvraj Singh playing for their states in the Twenty20 tournament the crowds stayed away © AFP
Tamil Nadu, who had a tough Ranji season with a young and developing team, walked away with the Mushtaq Ali Trophy for the inaugural domestic Twenty20 championships; aside from them, however, it's hard to see how anyone else gained much from the tournament.
For the Board of Control for Cricket in India it meant plenty of logistics and some expense. For the players it meant playing at the worst time of the year weather-wise. For viewing public, both at the grounds and on television - the people for whom this format was devised - the tournament barely existed.
"It was a very good feeling for us as a team," said Dinesh Karthik, who led a young Tamil Nadu team that did not contain S Badrinath (illness) and Hemang Badani (back injury) to victory. "We stuck together as a unit and played really good cricket throughout. It's going to be a big boost for us going forward."
WV Raman, the former Indian Test batsman and currently coach of the Tamil Nadu team, was similarly pleased with how things had gone in the last tournament of the domestic calendar. "We had a lot of youngsters come through. There's a distinct shift in how they approach the game," he said, looking back at the season positively. "It's also shown them that once they get their chances they need to keep working at it. When players come to the first-class level after success at the junior level at times they tend to think this game is a bit easy. What is important is graduating quickly, making the transition easily."
But Raman warned against rushing young players into Twenty20 cricket. "If you're trying to form a young side, get players to improve their skills and aiming for Ranji Trophy success players should not be initiated into Twenty20 initially," he said. "It's probably a better idea for players to get a hang of the four-day game and then come to Twenty20. It's easy for cricketers who are decent at first-class cricket to adapt to shorter games, but not the other way around."
For some of the India stars, though, the tournament was not the greatest. Yuvraj Singh, who was part of a strong Punjab team that lost in the final, said, "You can't do much in Twenty20. It's just like 50-over cricket, not too different. Just that you don't have much time to do anything. It's good for entertainment, though. I've played a couple of games and scored only in one. I've found it difficult to settle in. A couple of seasons more and we'll get better at this."
Surprisingly even a veteran of Twenty20 cricket, like Dinesh Mongia, who has some 25-plus games in this format under his belt, felt that players didn't need to do much differently. "See, it's still a game of bat and ball," he said. "The way I look at it, you still have to play your natural game. I like to go for my shots, so it doesn't really make that much of a difference to me."
One of the major drawbacks of holding the tournament in late April was the sapping heat. In Ahmedabad where half the teams played, it was 42 degrees centigrade, and probably felt more like 50 out in the middle at Motera. "After reaching 30 I could barely feel my thighs, they were cramping so badly," one cricketer said. Even Karthik, whose pain had been lifted by the joy of winning, conceded, "It was pretty sapping. You have to keep training hard and make sure you're at the top of your fitness at all times. When you're playing, you need to make sure that you don't flag or lose the energy that you started off with."
All through the tournament the crowds stayed away, and this was a bit surprising given that all of India's stars were playing, having been knocked out of the World Cup early. That was one aspect that completely took the sheen off the tournament. "You expect a lot more people to come in for games like this," said Yuvraj. "In future the hype will be much more and I'm sure people will come in larger numbers and that will make a difference."
Mongia, who has played in England with all the crowds and music and supercharged atmosphere, was not so optimistic. "Look, let's be honest, I don't really see that happening here. In India people only go to the ground for international matches," he said. "Of course it would be brilliant if people came and supported their teams like it happens in England. It's a huge difference playing in that atmosphere. But here, even with international stars playing, whether it is in Ranji Trophy or Duleep, we can't seem to draw crowds for domestic cricket."
Raman, who conceded that he certainly did not consider himself unlucky that there was no Twenty20 cricket in his time as player, wanted the imbalance between bat and ball redressed. "It's too much in favour of the batsman at the moment. Anything between 140 and 180 is the norm," he said. "If you're no-balled then the next is a free hit. Similarly the bowlers should be rewarded in some way if there is a dot ball. It's not easy when the batsmen are going bang-bang all the time. The bowlers need to be given some incentive considering they get penalised twice for bowling a no-ball."
For the BCCI, who ran the first edition of the tournament on "an experimental basis" and did not even seek to sell television rights, there's plenty to think about before they embark on the exercise again next year.

Anand Vasu is associate editor of Cricinfo