The appeal of the commercial slog-fest that is T20

2009-06-18 00:00

TWENTY20 cricket continues to capture the imagination of spectators worldwide and as a result has secured itself a sizeable niche in the market that is world cricket. This new brand of cricket has drawn many fans to the game and has given other sporting pursuits some formidable competition when it comes to popularity.

The Super 14 has come and gone, the British Lions have started their tour of South Africa, but it’s the Twenty20 World Cup, hot on the heels of the successful IPL, that’s got everyone talking.

Twenty20 has come a long way in its brief existence. Of course, there was resistance initially to the idea of reducing the 50-over game to 20 overs. It was an idea that shocked the cricket purists, but it was an essential response to the changing needs of a dwindling fan base that was beginning to look elsewhere for sporting action and excitement.

The spin-off of Twenty20’s success has been an increase in cricket’s popularity in all its forms, as it has attracted the crowds back to the game and, most excitingly, many new converts. Sponsors are lining up to be involved with cricket again, despite the global recession.

As a product offering it is an undisputed marketing success and money-spinner, but the key to its long-term survival will be its flexibility in providing its consumers with a form of cricket that is dynamic and entertaining.

To ensure its continued appeal the Twenty20 game may need to make some important changes to its format.

England received a rough deal, in my opinion, in their encounter against the West Indies during the Twenty20 World Cup. They had posted a respectable score of 161 runs when the heavens opened.

The revised target given to the West Indies was 80 runs in nine overs — hardly an intimidating total when you have 10 wickets in hand. In my opinion the Duckworth Lewis formula as it stands is effective in a 50 over game, but in a 20 over match it favours the team batting second unfairly.

An option may be to devise a revised Duckworth Lewis formula for 20 overs with the possibility of the reduction of wickets as well as runs. The West Indies chasing 80 runs with just five wickets in hand would have provided a completely different contest.

The biggest concern with tweaks and changes to the game’s format is that it may detract from the art of skilled batting and bowling. Sachin Tendulkar has made his feelings about Twenty20 cricket clear by saying that to him it is not real cricket, that it’s all about slogging.

But even he will have to admit that the consistent performers in Twenty20 cricket are those leading the averages in international Test and one-day cricket.

The cricket shots we are witnessing are certainly real crickets shots — they are simply played with more power and timing in the Twenty20 arena.

Improved technology means that there are more good players out there — bats have larger sweet spots and batsmen are able to hit the ball further than they were a couple of years ago.

The increasing popularity of Twenty20 will continue to place pressure on the ICC to make sure that its laws continue to provide entertaining cricket.

It’s commercial cricket at its best – a successful product offering that will need to respond swiftly to market changes if it’s to continue to satisfy its enthusiastic customers.

Neil Johnson is a former Natal, WP and Zimbabwe all-rounder who lives and coaches in Pietermaritzburg.

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