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How T20 has recalibrated cricket

A new book explores how the format has influenced the sport and the lives of those who play it

Paul Edwards
Paul Edwards
What players could hope to achieve from the game, in terms of success, fame and money, has completely changed with the coming of T20  •  BCCI

What players could hope to achieve from the game, in terms of success, fame and money, has completely changed with the coming of T20  •  BCCI

A couple of things happened in the summer of 2019 that put T20 cricket in a fresh perspective.
The first occurred at Headingley on the afternoon of August 25 when Ben Stokes switch-hit Nathan Lyon onto the Western Terrace and then ramped Josh Hazlewood into the new Emerald Stand. They were merely two of the seven sixes conjured by Stokes during his last-wicket partnership with Jack Leach and of course it was not the first time that short-form skills had been displayed in Test cricket. Nevertheless, that century will be viewed as one of the greatest innings in cricket's history and the batsman's ease in playing shots that had barely entered the game's glossary a decade previously seemed more than a footnote to the broader heroics.
The second occurrence was more of a developing narrative and it centred on the growing fondness for T20 cricket among supporters who had often derided it, journalists who had reported it with no more than professional competence, and county officials who had become expert in marketing it. Partly, of course, all this was a response to the raft of ECB announcements about The Hundred, but it was still interesting to see how the Vitality Blast had been accepted into a season that, largely thanks to the World Cup, also included a decent chunk of County Championship cricket in June and July.
One's concern here is not to stray into any consideration of The Hundred or the shape of the English season. Rather, it is to welcome the publication of Cricket 2.0: Inside the T20 Revolution, which represents the first attempt to analyse the nature, extent and influence of a format that has changed the shape of the world game.
The book has been written by Tim Wigmore and Freddie Wilde, two journalists who have long been fascinated by the 20-over game. Their expertise and the depth of their research are evident on almost every page and their subtitle - "Inside the T20 revolution" - owes nothing to hype.
T20 has brought profound changes to the lives of hundreds of professional cricketers, particularly those living on the subcontinent, and so we are fortunate to have knowledgeable guides to help us understand what is going on. Given that he also works as an analyst, Wilde may be classed as an insider where T20 leagues are concerned while Wigmore's work for the Economist has helped him gain the global perspective needed for a proper consideration of player auctions, broadcasting deals and the reasons behind the varied fortunes of T20 leagues in many countries.
There is a lot about money in this book. But then there is a lot about money in the form of wagers and suchlike in any decent history of cricket in the early 19th century. Sportsmen have always been interested in their worth and businessmen have been correspondingly willing to exploit them or help them realise it.
If Test cricketers had not been egregiously underpaid in the 1970s, the Packer circus would have been nothing but a tent and sawdust. Chris Gayle earned $800,000 for his first IPL contract. "How much?" he said. "That can't be real." But it was just as real as the $400,000 Kolkata Knight Riders paid for KC Cariappa, a rookie legspinner, prior to the 2015 season. "My parents have sacrificed a lot for me," said Cariappa. "With the money I get, I want to buy a house for them."
That said, Cricket 2.0 includes a number of chapters about the skills needed if a cricketer is to be a marketable product in the IPL. Very often these are different from the abilities needed by a player in red-ball cricket. Bowlers need constant variations - "consistent inconsistency" to quote AJ Tye - while batsmen have to realise that it is frequently better to get out than face five balls without scoring. The definition of good bowling and the value of a batsman's wicket have changed in T20. The penalties for not cutting the mustard are as ruthless as those on Wall Street; Sourav Ganguly went unsold in the 2011 IPL auction.
Wilde and Wigmore carefully explain the nexus between a precise set of skills and their value. Almost all major aspects of the game are explored to show the reader how and why T20 at the highest level is rapidly being seen as a different game. The preoccupations of the authors are made plain by the regular use of the words "recalibrate" and "reconfigure"; their opinions are clear when they talk about the game being "transformative" and their rather pejorative use of small "c" "conservative".
Here one takes leave to suggest that utterly regardless of current discontents in Westminster, the broader political philosophy of conservatism encompasses a most honourable intellectual tradition and can be applied to other walks of life, including sport. Cricket may yet be grateful for it.
But to a large extent any arguments readers might have with Cricket 2.0 could make them even more grateful to the authors for prompting valuable reconsideration. Books that spur one to argue back do the state a service. Of course, the diehards, for whom only red-ball games offer a proper test of a cricketer, might regard T20 as the product of Satan's bowels and their view of this book is unlikely to be much higher. But for those of us who understand that cricket, in England at least, would have long gone bankrupt without its shorter forms, Wilde and Wigmore supply a detailed analysis of how we got here and some suggestions about where we might be going.
Many questions remain, but let us conclude with just one: when Ben Stokes retires, will he remember that century in the Ashes Test at Headingley as the jewel in his career? Or might it be the innings in the World Cup final? Or will he revere any knock he plays in the IPL above all others? There is no doubt about which format earns him the most money, but at some point Stokes might think about the day when his endurance and his ability to recalibrate his contribution over five days both changed a game and united a riven nation. Yes, it is different in India and different again in West Indies, but the fact that we are posing such mind-broadening questions reinforces our debt to the most original cricket book of the year.
Cricket 2.0: Inside a T20 revolution
Arena Sport
320 pages, £12.5

Paul Edwards is a freelance cricket writer. He has written for the Times, ESPNcricinfo, Wisden, Southport Visiter and other publications