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Will Twenty20 wreck cricket?

With a cocktail of energy, adrenalin and high TRPs, the World Twenty20 is already a success. Commentators and cricket buffs are labelling it the future. There is a certitude here that was absent, for instance, when predictions for the one-day format were made at the 1975 Prudential Cup.

Yet, Twenty20 is not a standard innovation – if any innovation can be called standard in the first place – that will merely expand the market for cricket. In both its time of arrival and in the plans the ICC has for it, Twenty20 could be the monster that gobbles up the competition.

The first ODI was played in 1971 but the limited-overs game, with coloured clothing, white balls and the rest of the razzmatazz, came into its own in the 1980s. A century after the first Test, cricket was ready for a new format. Especially in the subcontinent, where the dull predictability of Test matches on dead wickets – does anybody remember a one-season wonder called Taslim Arif hitting 210 against Dennis Lillee in 1980? – made the shorter game seem exciting and endorsement-friendly.

One-day cricket didn’t eat into Test cricket; it simply filled up vast empty spaces in the calendar. The number of Test matches played today as opposed to in, say, 1987, has not gone down. It’s just that the time between Tests has been packed with a glut of 50-over matches.

Twenty20 is a different animal. If it is to become the third international – and the word is used literally, to mean matches between countries or full members of the ICC – version of cricket, it will inexorably end up cannibalising the senior formats. No year has 500 days. No year has enough time for a full complement of Test, ODI and Twenty20 matches.

In the 1980s Test cricket was seen as a sunset industry, and so ODIs were welcomed. In 2007 the situation is decidedly different. In important markets – the Indian subcontinent, Australia – ODI cricket is still a lucrative business. As such, officials are wary of Twenty20 and want to control its growth. To use an analogy, a cabal of VCD manufacturers has been given the job of developing a business plan for DVDs.

This dilemma is best exemplified at the BCCI. It has, expectedly, influenced the ICC as well. What, then, do the gnomes of cricket have in mind?

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Categories: Cricket News, twenty20
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