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Twenty20 success must cause ICC rethink

The tremendous success of the first World Twenty20 tournament should lead to a radical rethink of the international cricket calendar despite the International Cricket Council’s knee-jerk defence of the status quo.

ICC Chief Executive Malcolm Speed’s statements that there will not be fewer 50-overs-a-side matches in future and that the ICC is ‘committed to the Champions Trophy in 2008 and 2010’ fly in the face of reason and, more importantly, what the fans want. Speed said: “We have a problem of fitting Twenty20 into the international calendar.” Well that’s easy to fix isn’t it? Change the calendar!

Don’t meddle with the Twenty20 format

Whether the ICC will see the irony of the success of the Twenty20 tournament in South Africa compared with the abysmal failure of the 2007 Cricket World Cup (CWC) is doubtful – there’s none as blind as those who will not see. But, just for the record, here’s why one tournament was a turkey and the other a brilliant success.

First the Twenty20 was played over just 13 days rather than the interminable seven weeks of the CWC. Excitement was kept at a high level throughout and almost all the matches were absorbing spectacles. Next most matches were well attended with admission being affordable for all – compare this with the CWC’s empty stadiums and excessively high ticket prices.

The Twenty20 was fun with flags waved, not banned as they had been at the CWC, and with dancers and music and high spirits at all times. The intensity of the competition was in no way diminished by the sense of fun – cricket doesn’t have to be solemn!

I was reminded of the first Cricket World Cup in England back in 1975 – that tournament lasted 14 days, involved eight teams, comprised 15 matches and was a success from start to finish. Gradually, however, the money men took over culminating in the endless charade of this year’s CWC tournament – a ‘dismally mismanaged and appalling shop window for cricket’ as actor and cricket fan Stephen Fry recently remarked.

It is essential that the success of the World Twnety20 does not lead to it being hijacked by the corporate sponsors and the media moguls. If, as happened with the World Cup, greed takes over then the spontaneity and the excitement will inevitably suffer. Leave a winning format alone!

Play the WorldTwenty20 every two years

Whilst the format should be left alone the success of the tournament certainly justifies it having a place in the international calendar every two years – but never again in the same year as a Cricket World Cup. If we get rid of the superfluous Champions Trophy you would then have a schedule with an international tournament in three years out of four – which should keep the fans and the media happy.

At the same time there is a need for a reduction in the 50 over One Day International schedule which would make room for more bilateral Twenty20 series between the cricket nations. To those who would argue that 50 Overs matches are a purer form of the game and should be maintained I would say that I agree. But do we really need to play seven matches in a series – as India did on their recent England tour? Reduce the numbers a bit and find room for more Twenty20.

Cricket must be radical

Most of the changes that have come about in cricket over the years have been forced on the game’s traditionalists reluctantly – often by rebels challenging the system. It took Kerry Packer to make the game more professional and to get better pay for the players and a similar rebel venture is underway in India at the moment.

The ‘Indian Cricket League’ (ICL), has attracted a number of big-name players for a Twenty20 league and their timing, after India’s Twenty20 triumph, has been excellent. The initiative has forced India’s cricket board (BCCI) to launch its version from next year, apparently with the support of other major boards such as Sri Lanka and Pakistan.

All of this is taking place without ICC involvement which will further put strain on the difficult relations between the ICC and the BCCI. Unless the ICC accepts the new cricket realities, including the need for more international Twenty20, then it will increasingly become an irrelevance in the world game.

Cricket can handle many different formats

The death of cricket has been prematurely announced for more than a hundred years – but the noble game seems to survive and reinvent itself phoenix like when it needs to. Fifty years ago the only international matches were Test matches and the game was largely amateur. Today we have coloured clothes, fully professional teams and absorbing matches that last for less than three hours.

The beauty of the game of cricket is that it can just as authentically be played over three hours as it can be over five days. The challenge for all is to ensure that the tried and tested Test match and ODI formats are retained (but changed as necessary) whilst accommodating the arriviste upstart Twenty20. The gauntlet has been thrown down to the administrators – how will they respond?

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Categories: Cricket Article, twenty20
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