49 and 11

I had a whole post written. But I deleted it. Not because it was rubbish, even though it probably was, but because it was spiraling out control. There was no central point, no consensus, and it did very little but contradict itself from paragraph to paragraph – collapsing in on itself like a dying star.

Over on Twitter, I whined a bit about it, and received some feedback on my blog overall: that what I see as being wishy-washy is actually seen by others as being able to admit when I am unsure about something. (Cheers, as always, to Devanshu from DeepBackwardPoint).

And so, with that in mind, I decided to plow forward.

But still got nowhere.

So I had dinner.

And cracked a beer.

And started again.

My point more or less is this: cricket is going to be irrevocably changed by the Twenty20 format – even more than it has been already. The very core of the sport is going to suffer plate tectonic shifts heretofore unseen at any point during the game’s history. Cricket has its very own San Andreas fault: and it’s called T20.

And we might have seen some signs of things to come this week in Johannesburg, or a couple days ago in Brisbane, a few days before that in Perth, or last year in Napier: teams are being bowled on a regular basis for shockingly low totals – albeit not record breaking, and not really all that more often than at any point in the game’s history.

But still, I think, and I might be wrong, and I am surely not the first person to say this, that scores like Pakistan’s 45 and hauls like Steyn’s 11 will become the norm in cricket. Not a trend, mind you, but the norm.

A new age will dawn – and this will be because of Twenty20 cricket.

The financial benefits of the T20 format are immense, and therefore national boards are rearranging series and tournaments in order to schedule as many T20s as possible, and the players themselves cannot help but see the dollar signs as well. Simultaneously, the format encourages free swinging, swashbuckling style batting – which is great for TV audiences and crowds and venues filled with rock music and dancers – but it is not great for batting in a test match, or even in an ODI for that matter.

Entire generations of cricketers are growing up in the shadow of the IPL, and the Dale Steyns of the world are going to take full advantage.

We are on the cusp of a bowling revolution in Test and ODI cricket – and it is because T20 places an emphasis on scoring runs when the batsman’s main job in cricket is defense – and so the obvious benefit is to the bowler.

It is just like in football: if you throw too many guys forward, and don’t leave enough guys back to mind the shop, then you are going to ship goals.

But, to continue the football analogy, goals sell tickets, and garner better TV deals, and increase sponsorship levels – and once the almighty dollar gets involved, well, it is all down hill from there.

It is not a trend, it will be the norm, it is a sea change.

Some might say that we are just entering a new cycle – that that is how things in this world, especially in sport, work. In cycles. But in life, and in politics, and in art, and in sport, there are sea changes. There are Rosa Parks and Monets and Martin Luthers. There are some changes that are so monumental that there is just simply no going back.

Of course, down the road, T20’s wave may very well crest and roll back, but the soil it takes back to the ocean floor will be gone forever.

Cricket opened the door, invited Stuart Robertson in, and that’s that – there is no going back. You can’t close the stable door after the horse has bolted.

Well, you can, but there is no point in doing so.

And yes in this particular case Stuart Robertson is represented by a horse.

Even if T20 disappeared tomorrow, its consequences will still reverberate around the game for generations.

*

In baseball, in the early 70s, the game changed forever – because the balance between offense and defense was forever altered. The pitching mounds were lowered, the American League introduced the Designated Hitter, the strike zone shrunk, and the rest was history.

Home runs sold tickets. Major League Baseball learned that in the 1920s, but it took 50 years for them to do something serious about it. And it became such an issue that the race for more runs nearly killed the game during the steroid era – but even now, in the post-steroid era, every advantage possible is given to the hitter – all in the name of the dollar.

And that just simply is never going to change.

It’s not a trend. It’s the norm.

It happened to baseball in the 1970s, and it is happening to cricket now. Only in kind of a backwards, reverse, complicated manner – which of course is cricket’s way of going about most things.

We are going to see a lot more 49s. And a lot more 11s. And it’s because fans crave offense.

*

And while you might be shaking your head at this post, here’s the thing: I know I am not saying anything groundbreaking or revolutionary. Also here’s some facts: there will be consequences of the T20 format, that is a fact that no one can deny. Another fact that no one can deny is that no one has any idea what exactly those consequences will be – last week T20 was killing Tests, this week it is killing ODIs, who knows what it will be killing next week – and so, quite frankly, my guess is as good as any.

And here is my guess: the age of the bowler has arrived.

*

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One Response to 49 and 11

  1. Bandon Decker says:

    I agree with your central point, but I think your conclusion is going a bit far. I think that we will see, and indeed are already seeing, a degeneration of technique on average and that T20 is a large part of the reason. But the thing to remember about the three sub-fifty totals we have seen in the last 15 months is that they were all by teams who were fairly poor with the bat already and against the best bowling attack in the world in conditions that favoured them. A lot, not all, of the dismissals in those innings were due more to bowling skill than poor technique from the batsmen. I don’t think they are indicative of a sea change as much as they are indicative of Dale Steyn and Vernon Philander being very, very good. I /do/ think we may very well see an overall lowering of scores and certainly a worsening of technique on average, but not so much that scores under fifty, or even a hundred, become common.

    I also think that /because/ T20 players tend to have worse Test technique and poorer results we won’t ever see them dominate the game. Proper batsmen may become rarer, but there are still enough places where Test cricket is valued above T20 that I very much doubt they will ever vanish. Selectors want to pick winning sides and a side with a few proper batsmen will beat a side comprised entirely of sloggers more often than not. There will always be a demand for proper batsmen therefore and although young players will be attracted to the wealth of the IPL and its knockoffs, many will also be attracted to the status and fame of Test stardom.

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