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Twenty20 – Sustainable Cricket?
This week has been a bad one for the latest incarnation of our most beloved game. 2008 seemed to be an absolute turning point for the T20 format. The first season of the IPL, the Stanford Millions in the West Indies and of course the T20 World Cup were, fittingly, won by India. But 2009, and especially this past week, proved to be a real test for the form known as “Hollywood Cricket”
The man at the center of it all is American businessman Allan Stanford. In 2008, Stanford famously entered the home of cricket, Lords, with a basket full of money and made fast friends.
His inaugural tournament, at a ground named in his honor in Antigua, saw a host of West Indian teams playing the best county in England and the English cricket team itself. From the very beginning, the competition had a real sense of farce. Why did West Indies players play for a team called Stanford Superstars? Why would the national team be involved in what was set up as a franchise competition? The answer, of course, was the mighty dollar…actually $20 million or so.
The first sign of trouble should have been that cricket was sold to a man who claimed he had no interest in the actual game. But the cash strapped the West Indians and for some reason the Poms jumped right into bed with the Texan. Another sign of Stanford’s problems was the extraordinary footage of the billionaire making out with the wives of England players during a competitive match.
But still, even as the players made it clear that the situation was becoming increasingly uncomfortable, the lure of the mighty T20 and the dollars that came with it were too much to turn down.
When news first broke last week that Stanford’s millions were in fact largely based on fraud, it should have come as no surprise. Suddenly the egg on the face of the cricket administrators was so obvious that even they could not shake their shoulders. Much has now been written about the incredible lengths a game will go to in order to attract corporate funding. The cash cow of T20 used to be undisputed. Now, of course, Stanford’s millions will be revoked, and reports suggest that many West Indian players have been talked into investing their prize money back into Stanford’s fraudulent business practices, so that they now have no dollars to show for it. .
Another blow to T20 is the growing number of players nominally pulling out of the upcoming IPL tournament. Already Australian stars Mitchell Johnson and Michael Clarke have reaffirmed their lack of interest in the competition and now Ricky Ponting, who was admittedly quite poor for the Kolkata Knight Riders, has pulled out. With such a packed cricket schedule, it will become more and more a challenge of conscience for players juggling monetary and national interests. In fact, speaking of juggling, the same has to be said for the English cricket team, who heard of their coming fortunes after being allowed to join the IPL and were subsequently bowled for 51 by one of the weakest teams in the world. Players can now certainly see that juggling may be getting more difficult. What looked like easy money making is now certainly something else.
T20 appeared incredibly quickly. Sure, it’s been alive at English county level for a while, but the fact that we’ve had an international World Cup and an inaugural franchise competition so soon after the game’s inception is extraordinary. I wonder what the actual lifespan of the shortest game is. The games are certainly interesting but there is little room for subtlety or intrigue, players either smash it and get a boundary or smash it and get dropped. If one of the main arguments against ODIs was their sameness, surely the same is only multiplied in T20. In every moment of “David Warner” there is a myriad of relative sameness. Smash…Six…Smash…Out.
As money dries up worldwide, the only real incentive to get into the game will also diminish. There are no real results yet for one-off T20 internationals like we saw between Australia and South Africa and New Zealand this summer. These games are almost international friendlies as the main attraction for the game was the IPL and its riches. But as I stated, if the dollars dry up or are lost in fraudulent situations like the Allan Stanford situation, then not only will the admins have to think about the true purpose of the game, but they will also have to question their decision making before jumping into bed with any dollar trader .
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