We won’t be any good at this game till we take it seriously
It’s time Australia started taking Twenty20 cricket seriously. We begin our ICC World Twenty20 campaign this week ranked ninth, wedged between Bangladesh and Ireland on the official ICC rankings. We meet Ireland first up and they could very well beat us.
It has become nothing short of treasonous in recent years to admit you enjoy watching T20 cricket, let alone to suggest that Australia should dedicate more resources to the super-abbreviated form of the game. But that’s exactly what we should do. T20 cricket at the international level should be given more primacy, more credence and more money.
At the moment, T20 is an ever-growing cash cow for Cricket Australia. But the domestic Big Bash league gets all the marketing money, while the national team is almost an afterthought. The T20 squad’s two week camp in the lead-up to this major ICC-sanctioned tournament was the first time we’ve ever had a proper build-up to a major T20 tournament. No wonder we’re easybeats at international level.
The stats tell the story. Australia has won just 26 of its 52 T20 internationals, a meagre success rate of 50 per cent for a great cricket power.
By contrast, we have won 493 of our 801 One-Dayers (62 per cent) and 350 of our 744 tests (47 per cent), a brilliant strike rate given Tests have three possible results.
In general, T20 games are tacked on to tours as an afterthought. You can almost hear the administrators saying “OK, we’re done with the serious stuff, now let’s play one or two of these silly games”.
T20 internationals in Australia still often have mic’d up players and other silly add-ons which suggest nobody is taking the game very seriously. Hey, no one ever said it should feel like a funeral. Point is, we should keep the carnival atmosphere without turning the players into circus clowns.
The stuffier cricket fans and commentators among us – and it’s amazing how many of them are under 40 – will tell you that T20 is all slather and whack. That it has no real skill. That it’s a toss of the coin, a frolic, a diversion and a slap in the face to Test cricket, the so-called “real” cricket.
No. Test cricket is Test cricket, and is duly sanctified by all who truly understand the game. But both forms are valid, and both forms, like it or not, are now important, not least because T20 has become the financial engine of the game. As evidence, the last TV rights deal for the Champions League (which pits the winners of various national T20 leagues against each other) was in excess of $1 billion.
As much as I’d like to extol the virtues of T20 cricket myself, I could not be half as eloquent as David Hopps writing yesterday on the world’s leading cricket website espncricinfo.com. Previewing the World Twenty20, Hopps wrote:
“The best teams refuse to accept that the result of a Twenty20 game is largely random, and convince themselves that, more often than not, skill, instinct and ingenuity can win through. Twenty20 is no longer played half-heartedly by insecure professionals unable to suppress the belief that they were somehow demeaning themselves, but by sharp-witted cricketers awash with adventure and imagination. Twenty20, like Test cricket, is also a game of the mind - it is just a mind retuned to the need to second-guess opponents in a game where risk is not minimised but embraced.”
Bam! This bloke has nailed it. I feel like printing this out and keeping it in my wallet so I can break it out every time someone tells me T20 is rubbish. As Hopps wrote, Twenty20 cricket is skilful stuff and that’s why it deserves to be taken seriously.
Other nations do. You only had to watch last week’s T20 series between South Africa and England to see how far we’ve fallen behind. Some bloke from England called Jos Buttler hit 32 runs from one over featuring a combination of cheeky scoops and straight power hitting the likes of which few Australian fans have ever seen.
Both the England and South African teams had three or four familiar names, but the rest were T20 specialists who will likely never wear white in international cricket. By contrast, Australia still has a predominance of players who play one or both of the longer forms of the game. Everyone apart from Michael Clarke is technically still in the equation.
We have to change this. T20 cricket has to be treated as a specialist form of the game. If the Big Bash is going to be a circus awash with Jamaican sprinters and Shane Warne’s Twitter buddies, we should develop a proper domestic T20 league which lasts the whole season long.
That league could blood players for future international duties, just as the Sheffield Shield has long done for Test players, and the domestic One Day Cup has done for the national 50 over team. The difference is, tomorrow’s T20 superstars will play that game and that game only.
Sure, there might be the occasional Dave Warner who breaks through to the longer forms, but the point is, it won’t be a stigma to be labelled a “T20 specialist” the way, say, Sevens rugby players are looked down upon by their 15-a-side counterparts.
And here’s the best part. Our administrators will be so awash with money, they’ll be able to funnel that cash not just into making our national T20 team world beaters, but straight back into the Test nursery of the Sheffield Shield. Because god knows, bums on seats at the Sheffield Shield ain’t going to fund its existence.
We might even consider decking out our national T20 team out in a new piece of headwear to rival the baggy green. A striped baggy green-and-gold, perhaps?
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