The West Indies is the region which is the chief victim of old-fashioned thinking about the game of cricket. It has always baffled me why in the 21st Century influential cricket people in the region have been unable to recognize how invidious distinctions between the long and shorter versions have been inhibiting progress internationally in this sport they claim to love.
I single out the West Indies because there the scheduling of international matches has often conflicted with the scheduling of T20 cricket. In contrast, as is well known, the scheduling of T20 cricket in India especially, but also in Australia, England, South Africa and recently Bangladesh, where the sums earned by those who play in those leagues have been qualitatively higher than the sums earned by those who merely play domestically. has not conflicted with the international schedules.
The consequence of this has almost invariably been that the region has not been able to select its best players, leading to many of them becoming “mercenaries” in the minds of most of the fans.
And so the recent recommendation to the ICC that there needs to be harmonious co-existence between T20 leagues and international cricket was music to my ears.
I am retired so I love five-day cricket as much as I love the shorter variety. Most people, however, are not retired so we should not attempt to belittle the shorter forms of the game which is so attractive to them.
Tony Irish, FICA’s Executive Chairman, recently had this to say:
“The success ofT20 leagues is a fantastic thing for cricket and for players. Domestic leagues are going to be critical to growing cricket`s fan base in the future. Players should not be seen as ‘copping out’ by wanting to play in T20 leagues. Earning opportunities are significant, but it is also important to note that many of the domestic T20 events are fantastic sporting products and players want to play in them for that reason as well.
“They have a clear structure and context and players constantly tell us that playing in front of packed stadiums in the IPL, BBL, CPL, etc. is a huge motivating factor.”
“It is not an inherent flaw in the character of a player to take the opportunity of playing in a great event where he is valued,” he continued. “These leagues are great spectacles and it is incumbent on the international game to keep up with that, ensure it is a compelling product involving the best players, and schedule in a way that enables it to co-exist with domestic T20 leagues. If the international game doesn’t keep up, players will gravitate more and more to the leagues.”
I have not examined the record but I am confident the rationale behind the introduction of, first, 60-over cricket, subsequently reduced to 50 overs, and still later 20-over cricket, was for one reason only: to shorten the game. The reason it has been so difficult to have world series Test cricket is that a Test match is scheduled to last five days.
The self-inflicted problem with which cricket people have been faced is that they tend to forget the reason for the introduction of these shorter games and they ignore the views of the cricketers themselves.
Sir Garfield Sobers, the greatest cricketer ever, said he loved all versions of the games and that the best cricketers would do well in all versions, a prediction that has largely been borne out.
The tendency to use derogatory adjectives to describe the shorter versions of the game was not only misguided; it also contributed to the belief that the shorter games required inferior skills and were, therefore, inferior.
The simple truth is that if a batsman has a day to score 200 runs he will approach the task differently from when he has 20 overs to attempt to make just as many. I will not argue that this makes batsmen better in the shorter forms of the game but you can see that this circumstance accounts for many of the innovations one observes regularly in the shorter forms.
Perhaps patience is more important in the longer format while boldness may be more important in the shorter form. Obviously cricketers would need to be fitter for the longer games but, no matter the length of the game, fitness will always be an advantage.
This is not intended to be an attack on the longer form but it is a very important defence of a format that has unfortunately been almost instinctively rubbished by traditionalists although young and new fans come out in droves to watch it.
The attitude of the traditionalists to the shorter versions of the game has been the main obstacle to the integration of all versions of the game for the benefit of players, administrators and fans.
The current controversy can and should be a critical turning point in the international administration of the great game of cricket. It is arguably unnecessary and certainly not in the best interests of the game to schedule the longer form of the game without regard to the scheduling of the shorter formats.