It’s just not cricket anymore!

2009-10-31 00:00

THIS week’s launch of the MTN40 competition has, according to Gerald Majola, given South Africans a glimpse of the future of cricket.

So we can expect the supersubs, the powerplays and the five-minute “strategy- breaks” to stay. There is a lot of tweaking and pruning of the now almost unrecognisable 50-over platform, but the reasons for all this change is evident in the viewing ratings.

When I suggested the beginning of the end of 50-over cricket after the Champions Trophy, there were some fierce responses to my apparent disregard for the 50 over game. Let me take this opportunity to expand on those thoughts.

Currently, cricket is trying to operate on three different stages. Test cricket – and let us pray that this never changes – remains the Holy Grail for any backyard hacker or chucker. There is simply no higher mark of authenticity than the wearing of a Test cap.

No matter what a cricketer accomplishes in any other format, the only way to bat your way to greatness is through the time-honoured tradition of full whites and red leather.

Indeed, with all the commotion in the other formats, in time Test cricket may regain its status as the most popular — when people yearn for its simplicity.

Then there is the 50-over format used in World Cups and the obligatory ODI series that follow big Test series. For most of us, this is the format that attracted us to the game — I certainly recall stealing glimpses from the Clarendon staff room TV of Hansie Cronje carting Shane Warne over cow corner at will and thinking: “hey, that looks like fun.”

Then there is Twenty20, the latest fad to grab the imagination of impressionable young minds. It is fast, pretty straight-forward and it has delightful dancers to entertain those who couldn’t be bothered following the flight of the little white ball.

There is a problem, here. Two’s company and three is a definite crowd — especially in the current economic climate. To try and maintain the relative health of three vastly different forms of the game is a bit like a government minister having an official house, and a weekend residence AND a beach cottage — all on public funds. Eventually, someone will complain and something has to give.

Though the actual figures are not at hand, one can say that the recent Champions League was a bigger spectacle than the Champions Trophy. It is the harsh reality, and one that the games chief administrators are beginning to see.

Fifty over cricket’s biggest problem is Twenty20. It is a bit like the endless pop tarts who mime their way to number one on the charts. There are better singers out there; singers with skill and deeper range.

But boybands and girls frolicking in little else besides a bikini will draw the crowds because they have the right “look”.

Twenty20 is the same. It has just about as much substance as a Marie biscuit, but audiences lap it up. It has taken cricket closer to the casual viewer, as it incorporates much more than just the battle between bat and ball.

There are fireworks, cheerleaders, drummers, give-aways, music. And of course the cricketers are hell-bent on smashing each other as far as possible. It is all mindless magic, and the effect is seen in the number of “world competitions” sprouting up to keep the format in our faces.

Heck, the proof of the pudding is in the overnight celebrity — or notoriety — of Lalit Modi and his band of cronies. The pictures of him embracing the likes of Dwayne Bravo or JP Duminy after each cameo knock are testimony to the life he has created for today’s superstars.

There was a call the other day reflecting on how well Duminy seems to perform when he is playing in these “Indian” competitions. I certainly think that is slightly off the mark, but perhaps JP finds the whole show liberating.

The players always seem to be smiling — except the butter-fingered Henry Davids, sadly — and they seem to relax in the knowledge that the whole affair is not “real cricket”. Perhaps that is the view that the doubters need to take. It is all just a fairy-tale, where everybody goes home having seen sixes, heard silly music and made another “dumb-slog” millionaire.

Like it or love it, this format is here to stay. If Test cricket was a married man and ODI had been the bit on the side for the last 20 years, she ought to consider herself having had a good run. Now the eye candy that is Twenty20 has swished its hips, and cricket has to move with the times.

Besides, having two mistresses would be just plain greedy!

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