It is no surprise that cricket lies just second to football in overall sport popularity on this planet. The Twenty20 format has financially evolved the sport, its following, and its worldwide interest. It is estimated that cricket now sports 2.5 billion fans and now gets played in an astonishing 125 countries globally.
Many cricket traditionalists who crave a stubborn, ‘back and across’, Boycott-esque innings may wish to hold onto their top hats as they watch the beautiful game renovate into complete madness. The days of a gritty Test match innings still exist, but in an era where Test matches are rarely reaching five days, where young fans grow up witnessing the ball being flipped over the keeper’s head and switched-hit outrageously out of the ground; will Test match cricket eventually lose its heroes? Will it lose its place?
The IPL franchises now have up to $7 million annually to spend on bolstering their squads; but don’t forget there are still six other major T20 tournaments that players can fill their pockets. The game has never been as commercialised as it is today, and even the traditional stroke-makers like Kane Williamson and Gautam Gambhir can’t help but revolutionise their game to fit the modern dynamic. England’s Ben Stokes went for a record price of $2.16 million, the most the IPL has ever splashed out for an overseas player.
So, where did the format originate?
In 2003 the ECB made the highly controversial decision to include T20 cricket in the county fixture list. Many old conformists despised the idea of this, as they believed the impact of it would ruin the ancient longer format. Were they right?
In an era where the T20 format insists a strike-rate of below 150 is inadequate, where scores of 200 are just ‘par,’ T20 cricket has still not reached its full quota of potential.
As a lover of T20 cricket, it is intriguing to watch the vast evolution of modern day equipment. The insertion of this format has undoubtedly heightened the unevenness between bat and ball. The power and range of stroke-play of the modern player serves up a throbbing headache for bowlers around the planet. As manufacturers strive to create the best bats, intentionally enhanced to support the modern-day ‘boomer,’ bowlers have had to adjust very quickly to regain their sanity. A variety of skillful trickery and unusual tactics have been implemented to stop the world’s ‘ superstar strikers’ in their tracks.
Bowlers used to believe that a ‘well executed‘ yorker would suffice but sadly for the faster men, a Sri Lankan stalwart had other outlandish ideas: Tillakaratne Dilshan’s invention transformed the T20 format, diminishing the success-rate of the yorker delivery forever.
Now more commonly known as the ‘ramp shot’, batsmen are often creating their own versions of this dangerous stroke. In more recent times, batsmen like Jos Buttler and AB de Villiers have demonstrated the ability to play it left and right handed; again the imbalance between bat and ball was magnified. It is no surprise that every year a bowler astonishes us with a new variation to uphold the bowler’s art of deception; whether that is a ‘knuckle ball’, an unusual play on the slower-ball, or a spinner’s peculiar dissimilarity.
Many critics of T20 cricket believed that the format would destroy the art of a spin bowler. Australia’s Test match leg-spinner from the 1970s Terry Jenner is believed to have said precisely that in 2008. However, the fact stands that out of the finest ten economy rates in T20 international cricket, nine belong to spin bowlers. This is underlined further by the present success of South Africa’s Imran Tahir who is currently ranked as the number one T20 bowler in world cricket with 795 points in the ICC’s rankings.
The most successful and decorated spinners in the format have shown great variety, and have been able to beat the batsman both sides of the bat. You only have to look at this year’s IPL, where 18-year-old Rashid Khan is bamboozling some of the greatest strikers in world cricket with his brilliantly disguised ‘googly.’
So what impact will the exhilarating, financially booming format have on the game moving forward?
Already the ECB have indicated their intent to prioritise the shorter format; shrinking the four-day quota from 16 games to just 12, and sectioning the T20 game in the calendar to a compact six-week segment.
As the game continues to flourish financially so will the participation rate of the world’s cricketing youth. There’s no doubt that the enormous popularity of the shortest format is responsible for that. However, concerns for the ever-changing longer format will always be present as long as T20 cricket is played, and it certainly isn’t budging anytime soon.
The question that will continue to plague the traditionalist will always be the same: as our cricketing youth continue to idolise the world’s T20 superstars, will Test match cricket’s importance diminish over time?
We will have to sit back and let cricketing destiny decide.