Monday, December 29, 2008

The Future of 20/20 Cricket – Can it, or should it, replace One-day Internationals?

The 20/20 game is becoming increasingly popular in both the domestic and international arena, and this provides a much needed opportunity to address the ever tightening schedules faced by international teams.

Closer inspection of this phenomena shows that in the near future it may well out-perform one-day internationals in terms of financial returns and crowd numbers. This format provides excitement in the form of big-hitting and the likelihood of a large number of wickets in a short period of time. It also attracts large numbers of people.

In addition to this, holding 50-over matches in a day-night format has proven the benefits of having evening cricket where people can come after work. The logical extension of this is that a match is played in its entirety in the evening or for that matter on a Sunday afternoon. People can go and do other things that day as well as attend the cricket. On a workday, this is extremely beneficial for crowd numbers. It also attracts those who like their cricket but perhaps not enough to spend a whole day at a ground. And let’s not forget that, particularly here in Australia, people may not be enticed by the prospect of sitting in 35º C in full sun. Sitting under lights in the cool of the evening is likely to be a more attractive option. The huge success of the 20/20 World Cup is indicative of the potential of this game.

At this point I have to point out that I am a ‘traditionalist’ where cricket is concerned. Test matches are the pinnacle of international cricket, and that four-day games are the pinnacle for domestic players. I regularly go to the WACA to watch at least two days of the test match, however one-day cricket has never held the same attraction for me and I sometimes struggle to motivate myself to go. It is also a relative newcomer, having only been on the international stage since 1970. Having said that, I do acknowledge that there is a need to cater for shorter attention spans and a desire for more action and entertainment in the game.

I also acknowledge that one-day cricket has been instrumental in changing test match cricket for the better, leading to some of the best test cricket I have seen in recent years. However, the growing number of meaningless one-day tournaments that clog up the cricketing calendar are fast making this form of the game a burden rather than a benefit, a fact that is increasingly being commented on in the media by both players and spectators. Add to this the fact that one-day cricket is becoming very formulaic, with the middle 25 overs often being fairly tedious as fields go back and good shots fail to reap the value they deserve, and it could be argued that it is time for a change.

So let’s challenge the status quo! The 20/20 game provides a way to address this schedule for international teams if it substantially replaces the one-day game as the second string to a tour. Is this too radical? It’s certainly no more radical than when the one-day game first came into the spotlight. The reality is that people now want to live their lives at a faster pace, and the 20/20 game caters for this need while at the same time providing a great marketing opportunity.

Perhaps the way to go is to reduce the number of one-day internationals (perhaps a maximum of five) and play five 20/20 matches during a tour. After all, who remembers which team wins the one-day tournaments each year, and here in Australia, who can remember the third team that takes part? We do, however, remember who played the test matches and who won that series, because it is these matches that are the true test of cricketing skill.

So let’s do away with these meaningless one-day tournaments and get more people through the turnstiles to watch 20/20. They’ll have their fill of big-hitting, excellent fielding, and exciting finishes. They can see the whole match in three hours and fit it into their tight schedules. 20/20 provides a convenient way to maintain the financial health of the game, while at the same time reducing the match time of the players and ensuring that the game is marketed to a broad section of the population. The only true test of a nations cricketers is a Test match, so who really cares what the form the shorter matches take?

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