The White Noise of T20

In a recent conversation with a friend about our mutual love of many sports, the discussion brought us to the subject of cricket.

He seemed positively, if not pleasantly, surprised that not only did I have a strong passion and keen interest in the sport, but that my preference lay with Test cricket: apparently very unusual for a woman.

I’m not sure why the strategies and patience which underline the art of Test cricket are seen as elements a woman is perceived not to be able to accommodate.

Anyway I digress.

From this conversation, my preference was stated as was my moderate indifference to the format of Twenty20.

Not unlike french, beach or backyard cricket, T20 is enjoyable, fast and fun, but cannot be compared to the ‘chess game’ that is found across several days of a Test battle.

It has its place as an entertainment but can never be compared as an equal proponent in the skills of a 5-day game of cricket.

However, as the weeks passed and the ‘Summer of Cricket’ promotions gained momentum, my curiosity was piqued.

Should I, in fact, give this short form spectacle a fair hearing – live at the home of cricket?

So on a glorious Friday afternoon in Melbourne, with a light breeze blowing and the temperature rising to above 30 degrees, I made my way into the MCG for a double-header of Women’s and Men’s International T20 cricket.

I expected to be entertained of course, but wondered if it would prove worthwhile, foregoing the comfortable spot on my couch watching comprehensive TV coverage, or if seeing it live would prove to be my time of enlightenment in giving this form of the game some credit.

I have to say, there is a more civilised atmosphere in the build-up to a cricket match as opposed to an AFL game. There’s background music playing across the PA system but it’s not intrusive, players warming up on the ground and people slowly but surely settling into their seats – no ads, no promos, no indecipherable roaming reporter broadcasting on the big screens.

Certainly, I have no illusions the tempo will not jump substantially when the game gets underway – I mean that’s the point isn’t it – fast, exciting, noisy and action packed!

The Women’s match – Australia’s Southern Stars against the West Indies – is really good cricket without all the hoopla, which is saved for the Men’s night-time draw-card match. Interestingly this allows the as yet small but discerning crowd to focus and appreciate the quality game being played out before them.

Result: the Aussie women take the match in the final over in an exciting end to a decent, high quality game of cricket.

A two hour break in the fixture allows for some dining and for the post-workday numbers to fill up the stands. I use the term ‘fill up’ fairly loosely, as the eventual crowd numbers just above 21,000 and to the human eye that number looked a little paltry in the massive stadium.

The tone is set pre-game when there are ten or so small objects laid out either side of two short red carpets, just at the entrance to the players’ race. At three different points around the ground, at the front of the stands, are platforms with neon lit edging.

As expected, what becomes apparent is that the platforms are for use by a variety of performers – like sideshow entertainers at a ‘carnie’.

What becomes even more apparent, and quite frankly a little distressing as well as cringe-worthy, is the small objects lining the charming but ridiculous looking strips of red carpet, are in fact fireworks ‘spouts’. These blast to life as the players emerge and take to the field – startling a couple slightly as they pass!

Once the game is underway I settle in to watch the cricket. Australia, fielding first having lost the toss, is performing brilliantly with the ball and in the field – like days of old when we were envied for our sharpness and skill. The South Africans can’t get a flow going.

After an hour or so I realise why I am having difficulty focusing on the actual game: it’s the entertainment factor!

All the add-ons, described earlier, and I’m sure intended to add to the experience are, in fact, a major distraction – white noise, if you will!

There is a fire eater and twirler, a dance troupe backed by a disc-spinning DJ (of sorts) and a guy on a BMX bike doing tricks with the supposed enhancement of flashing neon lights edging his platform.

These performers come to life after each big hit, after each over and after the occasional wicket. The big screen displays snippets of the crowd after every ball. Not only do I feel for the cameraman who spends all night roaming the boundary fence, but fairly quickly it becomes apparent the crowd are more interested in the possibility of their five seconds of fame on the big screens than the game in the middle.

At the rare times when the confluence of all these elements ceases, the scoreboard actually lights up with crowd prompts – ‘Make some Noise’ – to which the crowd readily responds, little sheep that they are.

To my amazement, I come to realise that all the ‘excitement inducers’, add-ons, entertainments – whatever one wants to call them – are not in fact enhancing the experience of Twenty20 cricket, they are a complete distraction from the main game.

Because of this I find I have real difficulty being able to focus on the game and follow the flow of play and certainly have difficulty getting any sense of being invested in the contest.

By the time I prepare to leave, with an impending and fairly easy Australian victory, having been set such a low target by T20 standards, it occurs to me that I would have gained more satisfaction from the game itself had I remained at home and watched the telecast.

I would have thought that a game designed to be a fast, exciting, run making, big hitting spectacular version of the much more sedate fuller format, would have needed no extra trimmings to make it a spectacle. By the sheer nature of its format, it is an entertainment package.

One wonders if, in fact, the organisers have shot themselves in the foot thinking they have to go down the American pathway of constant, if not prolific stimuli, to keep an audience engaged.

As I walk to my car, I contemplate on my initial reason for going to the MCG that day and conclude that I had not changed my opinion about T20 cricket. I believe there is a product to be sold to the consumer and that it does have a place in the cricket market; but that, in the enthusiasm to ‘ramp it up’ to be so different an experience to the main forms of the game, T20 is in fact suffocating under the weight of its own life-force.

About Jill Scanlon

Blues fan and sports lover. Development through sports advocate; producer, journalist and news follower. Insanely have returned to p/t study - a Masters of International & Community Development. Formerly with ABC International / Radio Australia in Melbourne.

Comments

  1. Well said Jill, T20 just leaves me cold and shivering. I know the format was never introduced to appeal to the likes of me (forty-something inner-city white male with no kids) but if the action on the field for a total of forty overs can’t keep the attention of its audience, then something’s rooted with regards to the ‘product’ on offer. I certainly can’t recall mates telling me their kids were urging them to take them to the T20 to watch a DJ or BMX tricksters.

    And then there’s this thing of beauty from ESPN’s Keith Olbermann on CA’s ‘administrators’. If an AMERICAN sports fan thinks something is OTT, then the shark may well and truly have been jumped… https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dm5iQiUTqVw&list=UUdJtV6wXT6lnrvldU_urowQ&spfreload=10

  2. Thanks Jill

    This mirrors my experiences last year. Funnily enough, I found the BBL on TV last summer to be fantastic, great cricket and loved watching it.

    But up close and in person, it also left me cold. The cricket is almost a distraction from the events around it, and you find yourself sucked in, disappointed if there’s a dot ball.

    The music between every ball, the entertainment all around, I found detracted from the cricket experience, meaning it was much better on TV.

    Interestingly, my daughter of 12 who hates cricket loved the whole experience, music, food, dancing and fireworks. My cricket playing 13 year old was much like me, loved heh big hits, appreciated the cricket skill, but neither here nor there on the game and atmosphere

    Sean

  3. Well said Jill. Just like the Melbourne Spring Carnival – end of days.
    If you can’t give ’em bread, give ’em circuses.
    Bowlers that go for more than 10 an over should be fed to the lions.

  4. Jill – so YOU were the one at the T20 the other day.

  5. Malcolm Ashwood says:

    Spot on Jill agree 100 per cent thank you

  6. Luke Reynolds says:

    Well said Jill. Ridiculous that a fast paced, shortened version of the game is seen to need added “entertainment”. And what did the 3 match T20 series actually mean? What was it’s context? You are right about saying there is a place for the T20 format. Can they just make it meaningful and not overdo it?

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