The fear that I have most days, if I’m honest. I’m not going to act all high and mighty like some cricket commentators that sometimes have that “holier than thou” attitude when they say that T20s should be eradicated and there should only be test matches. Nothing is wrong with T20s themselves, but the sudden influx of these leagues could really just be turning people off of the other formats: fans and players alike. I just sometimes feel that these leagues are good exposure for young up-and coming players, and for former internationals to stay relevant.
So, how many T20 leagues are there, you ask? Well, Big Bash League (BBL) in Australia, IPL in India, Caribbean Premier League in the Caribbean, Ram Slam which is now called the T20 Challenge as well as the Africa T20 Cup in South Africa, Pakistan Super League, the NatWest T20 blast in England, to name a few. There are numerous numbers of these leagues around the world, and there are going to be more within the next couple of years. South Africa are working on another T20 Global Destination League in order to prevent local players from going Kolpak, to get the interest and attention of new and more fans, as well as make more money by having overseas players coming in. Now wanting to bring in more fans to a format that’s known for entertaining the crowd rather than skill and putting on different performances is all good and well, but when these fans, assuming they don’t know that there are three different formats, come to a test match wanting the same entertainment they got in a T20 match with fireworks that went off after every wicket taken or six scored, they are in for a slightly rude awakening.
Now this article is not to say that I detest T20 cricket, because I do enjoy it only when the Proteas play. The IPL gets very interesting after seven matches if your team is not Kings XI Punjab. There is plenty of entertainment in these T20 leagues, but it also makes the perfect platform for spot-fixing/match-fixing to take place. Corruption and match-fixing take place in international games, yes, but it appears more in these leagues. Cricket South Africa (CSA) had banned a group of their players in the domestic teams in August 2016, namely the bizhub Highveld Lions and the multiply Titans for their involvement in spot-fixing. The players involved, for different offenses but still the same case, were Thami Tsolekile, Gulam Bodi, Alviro Peterson, Jean Symes, Pumelela Matshikwe, and Ethy Mbhalati with their bans lasting between 5-20 years. The scandal took place in the 2015 RAM Slam domestic competition in South Africa. In the event of this, the major sponsor in RAM withdrew their sponsorship from the competition, which led to CSA having to change the competition name to the T20 Challenge after failing to find a major sponsor.
Another well-known example is in the IPL where two franchises in Rajasthan Royals and Chennai Super Kings were suspended for two years following some rotten and shady deals that took place in 2013 between players and ‘bookies’. People were arrested, tried, banned, and so were the two teams for two years. They are set to come back in 2018. I could go on about this, but I may have made my point. It’s all about money, to an extent. Jason Roy reportedly said that he was quite upset when he went unsold in the first round of the IPL auction, but now is playing for the Gujarat Lions team, which has a portion of players whom previously played for the Chennai Super Kings. Do players really base their self-worth and skill on an event that is so lucrative that it’s known for being lucrative? South Africa’s well-loved Imran Tahir was snubbed during the first and second round of the IPL auction despite being the number one bowler in the limited overs rankings. Thankfully, he was called up to play for the Rising Pune Supergiants. If that is not an indication that these leagues are not really about having skill and is all about money, then what is it about?
Moving onto the skill side of things, there is obviously a great difference between test cricket and T20 cricket. Apart from the length of play, test cricket requires the skill of match temperament, consistency, and patience; a quality that, forgive me, some T20 specialists do not have. I do remember in 2016, there was an avalanche of these matches being played, from the Proteas playing England and Australia in a space of three weeks in late February, to the World T20 in mid-March, to the IPL in April to May. By the time the ODI Tri-Series between the Aussies and the Windies around in the beginning of June, the ODIs felt like a test match: everything was moving so slowly, and not having much progression in the game, with the first innings only ending with 184 runs scored. If I, as a spectator and cricket fan, had no real patience and interest watching the rest of that match, let alone the series, what would new fans who only know of T20s think in that moment? I think it can be learned and developed overtime, but most of these players who do not play so well in ODIs or Tests will have outstanding performances in the shortest format of the game, internationally or domestically. When I think of players that are like this of late, I think of JP Duminy, Farhaan Behardien, or even Wayne Parnell.
There are probably more players in other countries, but those ones come straight to mind. If I had to be blunt, I don’t really think much skill is needed at this level. Commentators and fans on social media were praising Imran Tahir for taking wickets and being very economical during his spell. Is this something that is so rarely seen in T20s: a bowler who keeps their line and length correct throughout their four overs and continue to take wickets even though that’s what they are supposed to do? If the answer is no, then should the reason be because they don’t have enough overs to try and get the ball to swing in their favour? Andrew Birch of the Warriors in South Africa was the only bowler in the T20 Challenge in 2016 to take a 5-for in the whole tournament, while every other bowler was smacked silly around the park. This then poses my question: is this format only made to really favour batsmen than bowlers?
Although, there is one positive aspect of T20 cricket in the domestic scene, in my opinion. One is that the BBL, while having a competition for men, there is the Women’s Big Bash League (WBBL) which helps promote the sport and get more females getting into cricket, and more people to watch women’s cricket, too. The KIA Super League does this as well for female cricketers, international and in the domestic scene, and is open to players around the world. Women’s cricket has not taken off as much as men’s cricket has, but these tournaments are helping it get there and improve with time. We may not have to wait a bit long for that, because there is the Women’s World Cup coming soon in June this year.
To conclude, I do definitely agree that the format could send ODIs and test matches to an unexpected demise and decline in numbers. If these competitions keep cropping up everywhere in the year, it draws the international players from their duty in playing for their country as some of these competitions clash with their national duty. And sometimes, players decide that they would rather play at these tournaments than their country. The minute that happens to three, or more, players in every cricket-playing country, descend will hit soon.