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     Volume 6 Issue 36 | September 14, 2007 |

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and its (lack of) Skills

Nader Rahman

The Tussle between bat and ball is what best epotimises test cricket.

Last week the Twenty20 format of cricket was analysed under the economic microscope and some have claimed the assessment was quite unfair. I personally stand by opinions and views on the game, but since then another aspect of the game has been brought to my attention. I have been accused of looking at the financial side of the game without taking into account the quality of the cricket itself, and its entertainment value. This week those issues of the newest form of the game will be looked into.

There is talk that Twenty20 is revolutionary not just off the field but on the field as well. That is nothing but another story spun by the PR machine that pushes the interests of the game. Truth be told some aspects of the game have been refined but to what extent and who exactly do they benefit?

When it comes to batting there is nothing one can really say about Twenty20 cricket, it is a sloggers game. There are many people who claim that the feverish pace of the game creates more intelligent batsmen, but there is no substantial proof to support that. What can plainly be seen is that modern cricket is dominated by the batsmen, and the latest invention of the game does nothing but perpetuate the tradition. If One Day International (ODI) cricket was the colonialism of batting, where the bat dominated all, then Twenty20 is its neo-colonialism where from the very root of the game we are convinced that a good game of cricket is a high scoring one, one where the bat dominates all.

A sign of the times: A slog over midwicket.

There are other aspects of batting that must be looked into, especially for the Twenty20 game. The real game of cricket, that is to say test cricket was an examination of a batsmen's technique. One could only be called a decent batsman if one could play the new ball, the swinging ball and as some might put it the ultimate test was that of coping against genuine spin bowling. But to each instance mentioned here there is a sub plot, test cricket was an examination of how well one could play against genuine new ball fast bowling, with an attacking field and few restrictions on the bowlers. That meant a batsmen had to face the full wrath of a fast bowler and deal with it, a poke and a prod outside off stump and he would be snapped up by the multitude of fielders behind the stumps. Twenty20 cricket with all its restrictions propagates the slam bam type of player, he knows however hostile the bowling is not more than one can be over the shoulder. This immediately gives him an advantage, he knows the ball will most likely be pitched in his half, along with that there will never be a full slip cordon behind him, therefore even his worst pokes and prods outside the off stump will probably fly to third man for a four (owing to that fact that third man is usually placed rather wide for most one day matches these days).

While test cricket would have been an examination of a batsman's skill, Twenty20 merely gives him a chance to open up against bowling (and the subsequent fielding restrictions) that he knows will come down to him like cannon fodder. If the rules were more relaxed for the bowlers and the fielders then one could come to take the game slightly more seriously. In this version of the game the swinging ball is also taken down a peg as batsmen will flay almost anything that comes within their hitting zone, weather it swings or not. This carefree attitude has led to a gradual decline in the standard of batsmanship. If one is ever out trying to hit out against the swinging ball then there is always a ready excuse that one had to get on with the pace of the innings, and if one isn't scoring runs it is better to get out rather than waste balls. This feeble excuse is used by many a batsman after getting out.

Finally playing a spinning ball is also seemingly a lost art in the Twenty20 from of the game, if the innings lasts merely 20 overs then it would be impossible for any spinner to grip the ball let alone spin it. What is left is a sort of hybrid, combine Saqlain Mushtaq possibly the greatest ODI spinner with Derek Underwood the last master of a sticky wicket and you get the Twenty20 equivalent Dimitri Mascarenhas. Neither medium nor spin he merely turns his arm over and at times proves unplayable, put him in whites and line him up for a test match and he will find the cricket substantially tougher. I am willing to wager his average will in the real form of the game will be well over 50 with an unmentionable strike rate.

The pitfalls of Twenty20 batting are more serious than one can imagine. The real problem is when the youth of the game today try and emulate their modern day heroes. They are nurtured by a system where batting is everything and professionalism is used like a punch line. For them the game has become nothing but being runs scored at an alarming rate, they do not seek to emulate the Dravids and Kallis' of their own era, their heroes are Afridi and Sehwag. It is ingrained in their mindset that the only way to score runs is fast, Twenty20 cricket is the junk food for a fast food nation.

The bowling is another aspect that has severely suffered and will continue to do so if this version of the game continues. Recently Jeremy Snape wrote an article where he laid out all that good from Twenty20 cricket, there he said "The Twenty20 masters are those who can outwit their opponent by delivering the unexpected and having mental agility to rival their physical agility". If that is bowling has been reduced to, delivering the unexpected rather than thinking and planning for a wicket then cricket truly is going through dark times. The role of the bowler is now that of the other player in any given match. He merely serves the food that the batsmen eat. Bowling has become survival rather than a wicket taking option. They have become the marginalised species. The art of bowling has been reduced to banging the ball into a flat pitch for the crowd and the batsmen to enjoy.

The only positive to take out of Twenty20 cricket is as usual the fielding. Just as ODI's lead to the renaissance in fielding, the new form of the game only raises the bar. At the end of the day the helter skelter three hour long cricket is short on showcasing real talent and long on waxing lyrical about itself. There are still many that this new mutation of cricket the thinking mans game. To call Twenty20 cricket cerebral is like calling American foreign policy sound. Twenty20 is the bastard child of a noble game, it adds nothing to a cricketers skill and prostitutes the sport for a quick buck.


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