Twenty20 leaves the true fan hungry for the real deal in Test cricket

2009-11-25 00:00

TWENTY20 cricket, in its fairly short existence, has evoked some strong reaction. You either love it or hate it — few are lukewarm to it.

Former English Test cricketer Ian Botham is the latest to air his feelings regarding Twenty20 cricket, by saying that “it is bastardising the game”. He adds that, in his opinion, it’s pure greed on behalf of the authorities that is fuelling its success.

T20 cricket has even been blamed for luring fans away from Test cricket. In my opinion, it’s doing the opposite and I’m sure that the forthcoming Test series between England and South Africa will attest to this.

We live in a generation not big on delayed gratification and T20 cricket has emerged because of this. Its advent has drawn many new fans to the game of cricket but, for those who really appreciate the art of the game, I think it’s made them appreciate Test cricket even more.

Cricket South Africa have expressed its concern regarding the poor crowd attendance at the two 20/20 matches played at the Wanderers and SuperSport Park between England and South Africa — both these grounds were only half full.

They have even gone as far as hiring a marketing company to research the reasons for this. The results of this research will be interesting, but I think it’s simply that South African spectators have overdosed on limited overs cricket.

They’ve supported the IPL in South Africa, turned up for the ICC Champions Trophy and sat glued to their televisions watching their domestic teams perform in the Champions League in India. After all of this cricket craziness, it’s definitely time for the sanity of Test cricket to prevail again.

It’s time for a bit of perspective: to enjoy the slower pace of Test cricket where tactics have time to develop and where personalities have time to come to the fore. Fans want to get back to identifying with the players, seeing their passion on the fields and the banter between them.

T20 cricket allows us a fleeting glimpse and then it’s game over. With teams scoring over 10 runs an over in Twenty20 cricket, it’s pretty much all about damage control, so field placings are far less important than they are in Test cricket. While the bowlers may be enjoying the financial rewards of T20, they certainly aren’t relishing the pasting they’re getting; even the toss is pretty inconsequential.

Graeme Smith won the toss in both the 20/20 matches against England — the first game he decided to bowl first and the second he decided to bat. Twenty overs provide little time for factors such as the pitch to come into play. It will be very different in the Test and the one-day series, as we saw at Centurion on Sunday.

It’s going to be a hotly contested series and I’m sure we will see Test cricket reasserting itself as it did in the Ashes, and last summer when South Africa hosted Australia.

With the loyal Barmy Army following their team all over South Africa, fuelling festivities and the intense rivalry between the two teams, there is much to look forward to.

In my opinion, Test cricket hasn’t lost its popularity with the real fans. On the contrary, I think the momentary distractions of 20/20 cricket have made us all even hungrier for the real thing.

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

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