Twenty20 takes root
|So what is the formula which enables the batsmen to reach strike rates which sometimes approach 220 runs per 100 deliveries? Well, gone are the tactical talks in the middle of the pitch! Gone, too, are the slow change of batsmen at the fall of wickets and the long drawn-out consultations about field placements. Over to Frank Tyson.|
The Australian style of playing is ideally tailored to the Twenty20 format and English counties quickly recruited aggressive batsmen such as Andrew Symonds. In India, financed by Subhash Chandra, the head of Zee Televison — the station which failed to win the rights to telecast the official India international series — the Indian Cricket League has been established. With Kapil Devil as its recruitment officer, the ICL has quickly enlisted the services of players of international renown such as the recently retired Australian Damien Martyn, Mohammad Yousuf, Abdul Razzaq, Inzamam-ul-Haq (Pakistan), Brian Lara (West Indies), Lance Klusener, Nicky Boje and Andrew Hall (South Africa) and 44 players drawn from the Indian, Ranji Trophy ranks.
The idea is to constitute six teams from the ranks of these recruits, give them names, based on Indian cities, and play a series of limited-over matches over a period of three years. The competing players are to be paid handsomely and further rewarded with prize money earned on the outcomes of the games. The format of the matches is also revolutionary, it being based on the concept of each team fielding a limited number of players who bat a maximum of 20 overs per side. Teams are divided into four groups and points are awarded for wins, ties and no results in each group. The teams then heading the points tables in each group, play “sudden death” semifinal play offs and the winners of those matches contest the grand final. All the games are to be contested in accordance with the ICC standard Twenty20 international playing conditions.
The $64,000 question is whether the trouble of organising the competition would be worth the effort. What is the entertainment value of the game’s shortest format like? In its initial season, Twenty20 served up boundary draw cards such as the groups Atomic Kittens, and The United Colors of Sound — and it was estimated that the crowd would have been larger had the Westminster Council given the MCC a council licence and the match taken place at Lord’s. Other matches saw the introduction of jazz bands, bouncy castles, fair ground rides, ferris wheels, roundabouts, side-shows. Such attractions kept the kids — and indeed the whole family — entertained. Moreover it produced cricket which everybody could understand. It had a staggering effect on the gates. In the whole summer of Benson and Hedges one-day games prior to the introduction of the Twenty20, less than 67,000 spectators went through the turnstiles. Contrast this total to the 240,000 spectators who watched the debut of the Twenty20 in the following year.
So enthusiastic were the supporters, that there were no fewer than 15 sell-outs of matches with a local derby flavour. On the day of the semifinals, no fewer than four sets of supporters travelled up the M1 to witness the games at Trent Bridge — and there was not even a home side playing!
The Australian style of playing seemed ideally tailored to the Twenty20 format and counties were not slow in recruiting aggressive batsmen such as Andrew Symonds and Michael Hussey. The former was quick to demonstrate his suitability to what many players describe as ‘rapid-fire’ cricket. In one county game he reeled off an unbeaten 96 in 37 balls; he followed this innings with a knock of 112 in 112 deliveries for Middlesex — yet still remained on the losing side! Victorian all-rounder Ian Harvey also has a formidable record in the Twenty20 competition having already reached three figures on two occasions in the English county circuit.
With Kapil Dev (above, seen with some of the Indian players who joined the league) as its recruitment officer, the ICL has quickly enlisted the services of players of international renown. So what is the formula which enables the batsmen to reach strike rates which sometimes approach 220 runs per 100 deliveries? Well, gone are the tactical talks in the middle of the pitch! Gone, too, are the slow change of batsmen at the fall of wickets and the long drawn-out consultations about field placements. The strikers take up their stance before the bowler begins his run. The batsmen shun jogging up and down before taking strike : they dream up innovative strokes such as the “paddle” and the “reverse sweep” to penetrate orthodox field placements.
Should the bowlers employ negative bowling short of a length and to one side of the wickets, the striker uses his imagination to “clear the leg” by stepping away to the on side, and hitting under the ball with a baseball swing.
The first six overs of the batting side is circumscribed by limitations on the field placements of the bowling team: an ideal scoring opportunity for the batting side — but not a signal for experimental batting rashness, which — combined to orthodox field placements and an off-stump bowling line — could amount to batting hara-kiri. The English experience of Twenty20 suggests that, in the first six overs faced by the batting side, the striker should employ the straight-batted orthodoxy of the conventional game against balls of a full length — a tactic which should be countered by the placement of fielders in the arc between square-leg and cover. This forces the batsman to hit straight. Twenty20, however, does not allow the batter the luxury of playing himself in, or the indulgence of “dot balls”. It is all about aggression. He must play each ball with the maximum power possible, be ready to take runs off every delivery; and be willing to improvise strokes.
In this respect the skill of running between the wickets is of paramount importance. To invent strokes demands the rapid gift of judging length, and line — in short knowing which delivery can be hit with a minimum chance of being dismissed and a maximum chance of reaching the boundary. Critically, each and every player is in the game, from the moment he puts his foot on the oval: he must think on his feet.
The concept of playing cricket against sides of differing sizes and differing odds is not new. We read that Billy Budd and Squire Osbaldson were formidable single-wicket players, and that in the 18th century Lord Frederick Beauchamps and the Surrey professional William Lambert often played against the odds with many guineas at stake.
The popularity of Twenty20 cricket seems to indicate a present-day resurgence of short-formatted cricket. Recently the advance sales of a 40-over county final at Edgbaston were so good that the midland county had to lay on extra car parking to cater for the unexpected crowd. Certain kids in the crowd, even expressed a preference for cricket over football!!!