Cricket: Weighing up the harmless and dangerous aspects of twenty20

I’ve been pretty negative about truncated cricket. It’s surprisingly fun to play, but I can’t say I get much out of watching it, and even less out of thinking about it. Those animated conversations about great games from last year just don’t seem to happen.

Even half-watching what’s left of the West Indies trying to play tonight over dinner was frankly embarrassing. To think that at exactly the same time people with lots of money are desperately trying to find a way to get cricketers from around the world to risk their lives so they can get some more, it’s hard to change my view much.

One of best things I can see about twenty-over cricket sounds disparaging, but is only partly meant to be. I think that with the amount of influence that luck and one guy having a good day can have, the less-good teams are going to win more often, and so it gives their supporters some hope. I don’t have any statistics, but I would wager that they show that the proportion of ‘upsets’ varies inversely with the length of the game. Added to that the likelihood of match-fixing in sub-official competitions, and it’s possible that some twenty over games are the purist expressions of straight-up 50:50 propositions cricket has ever seen. I’m looking forward to the day when both teams are trying to lose – really I hope it never happens, but it would be pretty funny.

[As an aside, but on a related subject, if you want to get rid of tanking in the AFL I suspect the surest solution is a relegation system. Playing in the VFL rather than getting a priority pick would probably change a few coaching strategies…]

The worst thing about twenty over cricket, though, was watching Chris Gayle tonight. He’s a guy who gets mentioned in discussions about the best batsman in the world. To watch him get out to a shot I would correct if I was under-arming balls to my seven year old was pretty frustrating. Then Simmons played a shot that was even worse. So bad in fact that I can’t even be bothered looking up his first name, as I assume I’ll never need to use it again after tonight. It’s like they have forgotten that it is actually cricket.

And therein lies the real problem. It’s not just a question of now, but of the future. We’ve already seen first-hand what one day cricket did to a generation of batsmen. The “delicately angled glides through the vacant slips position” became ‘three day Test matches’ at the WACA when the pitches gave the bowlers a more balanced proposition and the slips were no longer quite so vacant. Technique matters more when conditions are not so favourble.

I don’t have any real beef with twenty over cricket as a bit of fun every now and then. It doesn’t do much for me, but lots of people seem to like it and that’s fine. If you don’t care about the outcome and can enjoy the moment, that’s great. The thing that bothers me is what will happen to the generation of kids learning the game now. If Chris Gayle is lured into playing like that, how do you expect young kids to be able to resist? I will feel much less sanguine about twenty over cricket if it has a negative long-term effect on Test cricket, which is something I happen to love. A lot.

My hope is that at least some of the kids with talent will be taken down a path that allows them to generate techniques suitable to play all forms of the game. I’d hate for the Pontings, Laras and Tendulkars of the world to be the last of their type. By definition there will always be a ‘best batsman of their generation’. What sort of batsman they are will change from generation to generation.

I coach my son’s Milo cricket group now, and at seven they aren’t really that influenced by the distinction between twenty over cricket and any other form. But they will be soon. Doing a Cricket Australia Level 1 coaching course this year,  though, I was a little reassured. The techniques being taught now are quite different to what I was taught, but it was good to see that the coaching is moving on and is consciously working to marry the new form of the game with the traditional techniques and skills we love to see. There is real coaching, real technique.

Hopefully it is enough. Tonight was an example of how bad twenty over cricket can be – let’s hope that the effect is localised and temporary. There has been plenty, far too much, average-to-lousy Test cricket played in recent years, the result of the well-intentioned Future Tours Program. I still hope that twenty over cricket will result in fewer Test matches – with luck, getting rid of the dross and not the quality.

If the coaching provided to kids encourages at least some of them to develop mental and physical skills required to play high level cricket for days at a time, then in 2020 we’ll hopefully be able to say the effect of twenty over cricket was positive. It would be a shame if, in 2020, three-day Test matches are the norm. It is by no means an assured outcome either way, and I guess as a coach of young kids, at least part of the responsibility lies with me.


  1. John Butler says


    You’re right to wonder where this will lead us in the future. I’m not sure the (supposed) authorities of the game aren’t being dragged along by weight of dollars at present.

    As long as kids are getting coaching, I think techniques will stay reasonably intact. But their mental abilities and focus are another matter. They can only really develop these by playing. I think we saw some of that effect with Pakistan this summer.

    The problem with Test cricket is not that there’s too much. The issue is that too many counties have dropped their standards. The game badly needs to address this.

    Less Test cricket will only cede ground to T20. We just need better Test cricket between more countries.

    I think the new game is going to be with us for some time (even allowing for changing tastes). I’m not so sure about the 50 over game. But whatever the format, a contest is what’s really required.

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