If anyone wishes to see cricket at its finest, when it becomes a truly great spectator sport, which any number of people can enjoy, then it is advisable to forget all notions of Twenty/20 cricket.
When going to the Oval to see the ‘London derby’ of Surrey against Middlesex one could be forgiven for expecting raucousness, singing and the diluted football like atmosphere that makes the shortest form of the game an entertaining experience.
It is also reasonable to expect that when sitting only a few rows back from the outfield you would be able to concentrate on the game and fully absorb yourself with the batsman’s frantic attempt to run at every ball. Doing this, however, is dependent upon your fellow spectators giving a damn about what happens on the pitch and not wasting time gossiping.
The lower tier of the Vauxhall End of the ground is the worst place to watch 20/20 cricket when at the Oval. The noise is incessant, wasp like in fact and if your fellow spectators give you a headache through that then their mundane conversations, spoken loud enough to be heard above the PA, will.
The existence of 20/20 cricket shows why Test matches should never be allowed to die out, irrespective of attendance or what short term business ideas come about.
Cricket is a thinking man’s game and all the shortest format does is reduce it to its very basics under the misapprehension that it enhances the spectator’s enjoyment. It is tempting to think that 20/20 cricket exists to give an outburst of unbridled enjoyment, to help those genuine fans who have followed cricket all their lives to enjoy the game and let off steam at the same time.
The truth is, however that 20/20 cricket is a sport in itself. It attracts a different type of fan, one whose main interest is making a lot of noise and drinking even more. In reducing the length of the game, cricket has gone out of its way to reach out for new support. It has been successful and as a result has created a game which, broadly speaking, appeals to a different form of sports fans.
The Champions Trophy semi-final between England and South Africa at the Oval a few weeks earlier was very different as was last season’s Pro-40 Trophy Final between Warwickshire and Hampshire at Lord’s where intelligent comment and good humour took the place of obnoxiousness and indifference, which made for a pleasant and engaging atmosphere.
This indicates that the problems that plagued the more recent game at the Oval were not ones belonging to one day or county cricket but rather the result of the shortest, most asinine form of the game being contested between two provincial sides with artificial franchise teams to whom nobody has any specific alliance.
The price of the tickets (£20) makes it cheaper, considerably so, than football and lacking the intense antipathy between rival teams. 20/20 cricket is a game for television, for big international tournaments which can broadcast around the world, replayed and given an acerbic edge by clever dick pundits.
Cricket is one of the few sports in the world that does not benefit from being reduced to the most basic and necessary components.
The 20/20 format exists purely for fan enjoyment. It does not serve to tell us which side is superior. If we are willing to reduce the game to professional quick-cricket then there should at the very least be a bowl-off to test the accuracy and technique of the bowlers, like penalties do with the technique of footballers.
Despite the complaining by those who are conveniently not very good at them, penalties are the best way to decide a drawn cup final. The semi-final of the Confederations Cup this year between Spain and Italy demonstrates how reducing football to one player attempting to score a goal from a standing position against a goalkeeper is the best way to end it.
The penalties, against two of the best goalkeepers of their generation, were excellent, until Bonucci missed for Italy and Spain won 7-6. Each penalty up until that point was, quite literally, impossible to save. Juan Mata in particular, who needed to score when Italy were winning 5-4, stroked the ball into the left hand corner as calmly as if he were playing a pre-season friendly.
Making sport as simple as possible is part of its success. Some are naturally that way; the most popular events at the Olympics are the ones where the winner is decided who can run the fastest or jump the furthest or, in the case of the Winter Olympics, who can slide from the top of a hill to the bottom in the shortest amount of time.
Cricket is the exception and as a result shouldn’t be the subject of constant cutting, reshaping and diluting. The game’s survival is dependent retention of Test matches and all those who love cricket should have little more than a passing interest in 20/20.
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