Keeping it short
A new book examines the profound impact of Twenty20 on cricket, how it gave players a shot at success and wealth, and why Test is on shaky ground
Not known to many, professional Twenty20 cricket began in a "spirit of ignorance, innocence and sheer bedlam". The first match, played at The Oval cricket ground in London, between Surrey and Middlesex, on a sultry evening in June 2003, was deliberately meant to be far removed from the "socially inaccessible" reputation that the gentlemanly sport had earned itself. Where one would have expected an audience that came dressed in suits and ties, and flowing floral dresses, evenings at the cricket, now became "about pitchside Jacuzzis, bouncy castles, cheerleaders, speed dating and copious alcohol, with the cricket itself incidental." "In many ways, the point of T20 was to make people forget they were watching cricket at all," UK-based Tim Wigmore and Freddie Wilde, share in a new book, Cricket 2.0: Inside the T20 Revolution (Penguin Random House) that has released on Kindle.
Through this book, the authors attempt to understand how this shortened format, initially intended to be all fun and games, gave cricket such a big boost, that it not only rescued the sport, which was losing its sheen outside the Indian subcontinent, but also changed the lives of many sportspersons. "Across the sporting world, a lot of games have tried to reinvent themselves—be it baseball to basketball, golf and tennis, everyone has experimented with making matches shorter in recent years. But no one has reinvented themselves nearly as effectively as cricket, thanks to T20," says Wigmore, a journalist specialising in cricket and sports analytics, in an email interview. He adds, "T20's gift to cricket has been to increase its overall popularity and the size of the fanbase worldwide. Cricket is in a much better position now."
Wigmore with Wilde, who works as an analyst and is on the editorial team of a leading cricket data analytics company, started work on the book, because they wanted to read an account that discussed T20's profound impact on cricket. "No one had written this book, so we wrote the book that we wanted to read," says Wigmore.
Lalit Modi, the authors say, really had a grasp of what T20 cricket could be. He recognised two things—first, the appeal of T20. And second, in many ways just as significant, that cricket fans could be persuaded to get behind domestic matches with the same fervour that they did international games
For those who've relished T20 matches from the raucous stadium aisles, as well as on screen, this 370-page, well-researched book, breaks down the game, one team and player at a time. Right from T20's history that owes credit to the mammoth research undertaken by Stuart Robertson, marketing manager of England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) to revive the game, to the various strategies co-opted by league heads, coaches and players, into building this format, there are enough nuggets to understand why T20 is here to stay.
One of the biggest contributions of T20, was that the orthodoxies of attack and defence that existed in Test cricket were now completely inverted. "In Test cricket, it is the bowlers who are the attackers, and the batsmen who react to them. In T20, these roles switch, because the fundamental value of each wicket is so much less—there are only 120 balls per team, but still 10 wickets. This liberates batsmen to attack, and leaves bowlers in the role of defenders—even physically, with bowlers at as much risk from balls being hit as the batsmen are from the deliveries," shares Wigmore.
But, T20 without the Indian Premier League, is like cricket without Sachin Tendulkar. Incidentally, as the book reveals, the BCCI was resistant to the idea of participating in the inaugural edition of the ICC Men's T20 World Cup in South Africa, in 2007. None of the senior star players made it to the final team. MS Dhoni went on to captain India at the age of 26, bringing the cup back home. A year later, BCCI led by Lalit Modi's vision, introduced the IPL. "Modi and his team are the first to really grasp what T20 cricket could be. He recognised two things—first, the appeal of T20. And second, in many ways just as significant, that cricket fans could be persuaded to get behind domestic matches with the same fervour that they did international games," says Wigmore. He adds, "Before the IPL, Indian domestic cricket only generated a tiny fraction of Indian cricket's revenue, and actually lost money because of the costs of running the competitions; now, the IPL generates 2.5 times as much as India's home international calendar."
Mumbai Indians player Kieron Pollard smashes a shot at the IPL 2019 final, against Chennai Super Kings in May last year. Pollard grew up on a housing estate of 20 prefabricated flats called Maloney Gardens, located on the East-West Corridor of Trinidad. Maloney Gardens, the authors say, was synonymous with drugs, gang violence and gun crime. But his landing an IPL contract in 2009 with Mumbai Indians worth $750,000, changed his life forever.
With the IPL came analytics, opening new doorways to how one examined the game. "Analytics are really essential to all parts of the IPL," says Wigmore. "Start with the auction: how do you decide how much a player is worth? You need to have a sophisticated way of comparing him to everyone else, a really good scouting system to unearth more unknown players—no one has done this better than KKR," he says.
This is followed by picking your team for each match and how you structure your team. "Analysts know that if you have a weak fifth bowler in T20 this really costs you—so, because your number seven only bats eight balls on average, it makes sense to prioritise a strong bowling attack, with at least five proper bowlers," says Wigmore, adding, "Teams also look at match-ups a lot—basically how can you use your players most effectively against your opponents? So, if an opposing batsman is weaker against spin, teams will bowl their spinner at that point; one great example is England opening with Joe Root to Chris Gayle in the last T20 World Cup, when Root got Gayle out with his off spin."
In the 1990s, one of the icons of cricket was the pot-bellied Sri Lankan batsman Arjuna Ranatunga, who led his unassuming team to a World Cup victory in 1996. The belly, though, became uncool in the era of T20. Players, say the authors, started spending as much time in the gym as they did in the nets. "Not on treadmills or exercise bikes but lifting weights—transforming themselves from lean and athletic to muscular and powerful," they write in the book. "It [T20] had a massive effect on the fitness of sportspersons," says Wilde, in a telephonic interview. "In the longer form of cricket, fitness was built around stamina and endurance. Test cricket was played over multiple days. T20, played over a shorter period of time, stressed importance on strength, power and speed [of the players]. You could see that with the physicality of some of the players—[Kieron] Pollard, [Andre] Russell, [Chris] Gayle," he adds.
T20 also had a profound impact on the lives of sportsperson, especially the IPL, which put a price tag on every cricketer. "It made people very rich, which in itself created some good stories," says Wilde. One that stands out for Wilde is that of West Indies player Kieron Pollard, who grew up on a housing estate of 20 prefabricated flats called Maloney Gardens, located on the East-West Corridor of Trinidad. Maloney Gardens, the authors write in the book, was synonymous with drugs, gang violence and gun crime. But him landing an IPL contract with Mumbai Indians in 2009, worth $750,000, changed his life forever. "He became extremely wealthy, thanks to his exploits in T20 cricket. These are the kind of stories that make you realise that at the end of the day, these players too, are trying to make a living and get by in life."
The book also traces the career of other T20 heroes, among them being West Indies' Gayle and South Africa's AB de Villiers. "These two are standout batsmen. Both adopt very different methods and schools of thought on batting. Gayle takes a while to get going and then explodes into life, while de Villiers is the opposite; he gets going as soon as he gets onto the crease. In the future, I expect more players to adopt de Villiers's style. That's going to endure."
With the rise of T20, more leagues cropping up around the world, and shorter versions of the game—like T10—Wilde says that what "would be interesting to see is how quickly Test cricket starts dropping" down the agenda. "For smaller countries like Sri Lanka and West Indies, we will have to see how long they'd go on playing Test, when they can make more money playing leagues. At present, we are seeing the [Test] calendar get more and more saturated, but there will be a breaking point soon."
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