Cricket Must Build on Twenty20 Success
Despite the disappointment of watching Nottinghamshire lose out in this years Twenty20 quarter-final against Somerset yesterday, the game itself highlighted both the skills players in the English (and Welsh) domestic game have, but also that the great British public can be inspired by domestic cricket.
Over 12,000 were at Trent Bridge yesterday! Never have I seen the ground so full outside of an international game in nearly 20 years of watching cricket there. Even in the days of the battered old two tier Radcliffe Road stand and a slightly rusted fence where the Fox Road Stand now, err, stands did attendances did not ‘worry’ the grounds maximum capacity for a domestic clash.
Whilst the sheer size of the ground now meant that even the 12,000 who came still left spare seats, it was none the less a huge plus point for the club and the sport to see so many turn out in force to cheer on the two teams.
Twenty20 cricket has become big business; arguable too big for its own good in some respects. With various leagues and hundreds of games each year played globally the risk of overkill is a worry. The ECB has, to their credit, taken a step back and really looked at where the shortened format of the game fits in.
Next year will see a reduced schedule in England, for which we should tip our hats to the ECB. Anyone who suffered through the seemingly never-ending IPL this year will vouch for the dangers of too many games and the ‘turn off’ factor that comes with over saturation.
So the focus is shifted back on to ‘when’ the games are, rather than how many. WHEN are ‘My Team’ playing? Rather than ‘Now WHICH game can I make it to this week because there are too many for me to afford?’
And that can only be a good thing when you consider that the only real problem the competition in England faced was the risk of over doing it – we can’t control the IPL or even the ICL should it re-appear, but we can control what goes on within our own setup and it’s good to see the ECB acting appropriately and taking action where they can.
Whilst the weather helps influence people a little, the ECB cannot control that. It’s simply an intangible that the sport has to deal with regardless of location. But the weather has been kind in the main this year, encouraging folks to wander down to their local ground. What keeps them interested is what goes on on the field, and for the best part the cricket on display is often very good and that inspires people to want to go again.
The format brings out the best in its participants and is merciless in the face of weakness – bowlers are ‘forced’ to excel, to be smart and to play at their best lest they be dispatched to all parts. Likewise batsmen must be creative and score in a timely fashion. Whether that be by brute force or quiet accumulation (or a combination of both!) it gives everyone a chance to display their talents at their creative best.
Teams now seem to ‘understand’ the finer points (where as in years gone by it could feel a bit like a mad scramble) and captains are more on the ball with their bowling changes and field placements. It has created an environment where any team can flourish and games are often close.
Strong attendances around the county circuit suggest Twenty20 is something the public have embraced – and long may that continue. Now the benefits of its success must be reaped elsewhere in the sport, it must be used as a springboard to get people ‘in to’ the other formats.
I am a firm believer Twenty20 has helped shift the goal posts somewhat in other forms of the game. Teams are now much more aggressive in chasing down totals in both the 40 over competition and even the four-day game. There now seems to be a much stronger feeling that a team can chase down a score in the fourth innings of a game, rather than just shut up shop and bat for a draw.
Again, tweaks from the ECB to make winning, rather than holding out for a draw, more worthwhile also help to encourage this more attacking style. The knock on is teams batting first are now also more aggressive, to score quickly and set good totals so that their bowlers have something to play with.
Fielding standards have also risen across the board, rather than just at the higher levels of the game. The athleticism displayed by some players in the field is quite remarkable at times!
It all comes together for a far more exciting package at every level of the game, which people need to see to dispel the idea cricket is ‘boring’. It is no more or less boring than any other sport. I have seen some truly atrocious games of football and mind numbing ice hockey matches, equally I have endured some miserable days watching cricket. Every sport has its ‘bad’ days.
Cricket needs to show people that its good days far outstrip the bad though, and that the four-day game – the life blood of the sport in England – is as compelling and exciting as any other format, or indeed any other sport.