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Twenty wickets a side to Twenty overs a side

With the Twenty20 world cup well underway, I can’t help but feel just that bit concerned that cricket as I know and love it will remain no more.

Clearly, I’m no fan of this version of the game. Cricket is pulled down to two dimensions – slogging and defensive bowling. It’s quite clear that in Twenty20, a batsman doesn’t have to put as high a price on his wicket, which may be putting it mildly. Even if an innings sees a wicket every three overs, a good score is possible, assuming your top seven or eight batsmen can connect ball to bat while swinging wildly. As for bowling, it’s equally clear that there’s little point in experimenting and varying your bowling in the hope of getting a wicket. Setting a batsman up for that wicket taking ball can easily take an over or two and is not always successful, which means that even if the setting up does work and you do get a wicket eventually, the runs conceded while “making the batsman play” will not be worth it. Bowlers, then, will be best served by bowling defensively and trying to save as many runs as possible.

Neither of these approaches are inherently bad; I enjoy run-fests even in test cricket as much as anyone else, and defensive bowling to save an ODI is an art in itself. What I dislike is that there’s little hope of encountering any other strategy in the game – though I suppose one would say it’s too early, and newer strategies might emerge that we haven’t heard of. But we won’t see many batsmen applying perfect technique to stymie the good balls, nor will we see a Shane Warne of the future say of getting 700 wickets, “you tempt the batsman and hope he tries to hit you for six.”

The whole definition of what is “good cricket” will change. It has already started. Consider this quote from a Cricinfo bulletin on the match where Bangladesh beat WI:

The most impressive aspect of the stand was that it was studded with genuine strokes and not ugly slogs or swipes. Aftab in particular used his bottom hand to good effect, picking deliveries from outside the off stump and swinging across the line to square leg.

While it’s possible to play good shots that involve picking a delivery from outside the offstump and using the bottom hand to swing it across to the legs, that isn’t exactly what comes to mind immediately upon imagining an “innings studded with genuine strokes.”

What I love most about cricket is the sense of story. There is a plot to every game, and following the twists and turns of attack and defense in a good game is what I really enjoy. Of course, one cannot hope for the absorbing joy of a test match in a game that lasts slightly longer than one session of play. But I really wish they had done more to bring balance to the game. Something on the lines of fewer overs with field restrictions, or even limiting the number of batsmen allowed to bat. Anything that actually encourages both bowlers and batsmen to make a real choice and vary their approach depending the demands of the situation.

A hot argument right now for 20/20 is that the games are usually closer and there’s a greater chance of causing upsets. No doubt – and the reason is more randomness in the game. You play cricket by making runs using a dice instead of a batsman hitting the shot, and it’ll be even more likely that Zimbabwe beat Australia. Not many tests and ODIs are closely fought, it’s true; but the ones that are happen only when teams happen to be extremely well matched on that particular day and those matches are feasts. In 20/20 virtually every match can go down to the wire just because there simply isn’t enough play to bring out the full quality possible in cricketers.

There is great clamour for a shorter version of the game. It’s possible that this form of cricket will catch on just because there are far greater boundaries in a far lesser amount of time. Comparisons to football abound, some of them ridiculous. Football involves intense continuous sessions of play, because of which the elements of excitement in sport are fully played out. A telling observation is that a major change to the rules of football – the offside – was introduced because it was too easy to score goals, despite the fact that goals technically make a match more exciting.

One benefit of 20/20 is supposed to be the starting of the domestic and international 20/20 leagues which may add a much needed viable layer of cricket, according to Sambit Bal (via). And that’s what I’m actually afraid of. These leagues are supposedly going to be big, with money and corporate ownership. If 20/20 is the wave of the future, and clearly differing skill sets are required for 20/20 vis-a-vis other forms of the game, the older versions may suffer. Although it is also possible the effect will be opposite and all forms of cricket will benefit if there is an increased focus to game. I certainly hope so.

Entertainment is all very well, but I do hope I’m not denied my art a decade from now.

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