In 2002, the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) made a decision that would change cricket forever – they introduced cricket to Twenty20.
For those of you that aren’t aware of what Twenty20 is, it is a game of cricket that lasts less than half the time of a normal fifty-over match. As the name suggests, the game is comprised of each team playing a maximum of twenty overs.
At that time, it was felt that cricket needed an injection of epinephrine; up stepped something more powerful. Instantly, dwindling crowds turned to jam-packed stadia, cricket became more appealing to the youth, media houses raked-in substantial profits, players, officials and back-room staff saw an opportunity to grow their earnings exponentially. But most importantly, Twenty20 cricket brought about the birth of the Dilscoop!
Die-hard cricket fanatics, like me, still consider Test cricket to be the Holy Grail of cricket. However, the power of Twenty20 is luring our members away. If such power can eat away at Test cricket, which has been established for well over a hundred years, how could a fifty year old one day version continue existing?
Ever since the start of Twenty20 cricket, it has always been a question of when, and not if, fifty-over international cricket would die. This death would then lead to the death of other forms of limited-overs cricket, paving the way for Twenty20 to battle directly with Test cricket for the number one status.
Ten years since the first official Twenty20 game was played, fifty-over cricket is still alive – but only just. It has taken a hammering from numerous international and domestic Twenty20 competitions, the biggest of which being the Indian Premier League (IPL). This hammering has led to the just concluded Champions Trophy, the second most recognised international fifty-over competition, being scrapped by the International Cricket Council (ICC). Could this be the last nail in the fifty-over coffin?
There are strong signs of a revival, however, started by the ICC and supported by a new crop of captains looking to pull away from the norm. The introduction of powerplays has been a crucial factor to this revival. These give teams a chance to pursue different strategies and tactics during the course of a game, thus adding to the talent and skill element.
Within this introduction, the recent rule-change regarding having an extra fielder inside the thirty-yard circle during power-play overs has had a significant impact. Before, this particular fielder would have been deployed in a defensive position saving a boundary.
With the rule-change, captains have been forced to not only put more pressure on batsmen by having the extra fielder saving a single run, they have also been able to utilise the fielder in an attacking position – mainly as a slip fielder behind the wicket.
No one has demonstrated this more impressively then the New Zealand captain Brendan McCullum. On numerous occasions in the just concluded ICC Champions Trophy, McCullum placed this extra fielder in an attacking position and was rewarded by picking up crucial wickets at crucial times.
The flip side of this rule-change has been an opportunity for teams to continuously raise the benchmark of runs per innings. Not too long ago, a team that scored 250 in the first innings of a fifty-over game would be feeling fairly confident of their chances of winning the game at the interval. Now, if a side does not chase down a score of around 300, they would be bitterly disappointed.
McCullum is part of a current crop of captains that include the Indian captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Australia’s Michael Clarke, Sri Lanka’s Angelo Mathews and South Africa’s Abraham de Villiers. All these individuals have shown ingenuity in field settings that have led to some brilliant tactical and strategic decisions, reminiscent of the best tactical captain I have ever seen, New Zealand’s Stephen Fleming. Other captains are following their example and discussions of strategies and tactics are becoming more and more important in team meetings.
All of this adds to the values of the game, as well as enhancing the popularity amongst spectators. I strongly believe that other forms of limited-overs cricket still have a huge role to play in sitting between the two extremes – Test cricket and Twenty20. Scrapping them would narrow the cricketing spectrum and effectively result in the creation of a wall between the two extremes. Cricket needs all forms to be alive and working effectively to ensure that as many individuals as possible are able to play, watch and support this beautiful game.
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