Twenty 20 is upon us. Like it or loathe it, the impact on the game in seven short years has been extraordinary.
Launched as midsummer, revenue-generating fun in England, who would have thought then that it would lead to cricketers receiving footballer levels of remuneration in India, cause the rescheduling of mainstream cricket to accommodate Twenty20 competitions and threaten Test cricket as the pinnacle of the game?
Initially, professional cricketers throughout the world did not take Twenty20 seriously but the sea change came with India’s Twenty20 World Cup victory in the South Africa in 2007. The Indian Premier League (IPL) soon emerged.
Ten-year IPL television rights were sold for over a billion US dollars, the initial eight city franchises went for around 100 million dollars each (two additional franchises have just fetched over 300 million dollars each) and Mahendra Singh Dhoni attracted a record auction price of $1.5m for a few weeks’ work for each of the next three years. Some of our previously ‘tired’ international cricketers also suddenly found the energy to want to play IPL!
But where does this leave cricket? Is it to be dominated by money and the market or are traditionalists going to stand up and say ‘this far and no further’ for the love of the game? A serious dilemma is building both domestically and internationally.
At home, entrepreneurs scenting riches have been circling for some time to establish an IPL look-a-like here. One attempt failed two years ago but has recently resurfaced because there is not enough international cricket to support the now nine Test Match Grounds (TMGs) in this country.
In a market with too much capacity, either capacity has to be reduced or new markets established to fill the over-capacity. The TMGs see an IPL-style Twenty20 competition as their collective way ‘out of a hole’.
If such a competition is not based on the Test Match Grounds, through city franchises, it does not solve their financial problems. On the other hand, if city franchises get the go-ahead, it will be the death knell for the small counties.
Short-term financial gain as ‘shareholders’ in such a new venture would have significant long-term downsides. No serious competitive cricket to offer members at the height of summer in an already short season would be an inevitable consequence. Young aspiring cricketers would have even less reason to stay with the small counties who have developed them and given them their chance.
Where does it leave Test cricket, watched in serious numbers only in Australia and England? Twenty20 is to Test cricket as snap is to bridge. Do we fight to preserve it as the pinnacle or as some ‘wag’ put it: ‘We should cut out a couple of stages of evolution and go straight to baseball’.
We need revenue-generating cricket but not at the expense of the real game.