July 21, 2023: The various T20 leagues mushrooming around the world will definitely cause a huge transformation in the game of cricket. In cricket parlance, one can identify it as a turning track on which one is unsure about the future and outcome of the game.
Cricket around the world has shown that the T20 format of the game is commercially and popularly acceptable and one to pursue in the future.
Fortunately, the BCCI with the prime property of the Indian Premier League, (IPL) has established itself to be the frontrunner, However, sustaining it, will be a challenge.
The reason is that the pool of top-level cricketers is limited and the franchise owners of some of the leading IPL teams are now well-invested in the leagues that have cropped up recently.
India may have put a stop to their players participating in the other leagues, however, the lure of good financial gains can tempt the very best. Furthermore, the franchise owners are businessmen who have invested for their own gains and cricket for them is a means to do so.
Cricket is at a very crucial juncture. The sport has finally become a huge business platform attracting eyeballs from every corner of the globe. Money seems to be pouring in and the business and the corporate worlds have realised how powerful the medium is for their products and messages to be heard.
The latest entrant to the business of cricket is the T20 Major League Cricket in the United States of America, a country that had held the very first International cricket match in 1844. The advent of baseball, a much shorter and faster game, during that period in the USA, gradually brought about the demise of cricket there. However, cricket never left the shores of the country and at the beginning of this century there were 20,000 cricketers playing the game. The Asians and West Indians popularised it and the growth escalated with many of them making their home over there.
The T20 format of the game is ideally suited for countries that have grown up on the most popular sports of football, basketball, baseball and several other such short-duration sports that are less time-consuming than five days or one whole day of cricket.
Australia, England, the West Indies and South Africa have already got well-established T20 cricket Leagues in place and with the rich UAE coming into the fray, a cricketer will have enough options to choose from.
The conventional form of the game, Test cricket, seems to now revolve around just seven countries. How long will it be able to sustain itself is a million-dollar question. The bilateral series which earlier had 4-5 Test matches are being substantially reduced to 2-3 matches only. The commercial viability is also being questioned and the T20 matches are now subsidising the lack of returns from hosting a Test series.
The Ashes series between Australia versus England is one of the only Test cricket battles that is still surviving the onslaught of the shorter versions of the game. Tradition and history keep it alive and the importance that the players give to playing in it is a big factor in its survival.
The rest of the countries’ Test match encounters have been fortunately revived due to the World Test Championship and the points required for one to garner in order to qualify for the final. However, the aura and glamour are, unfortunately, missing.
The One-Day International (ODI), one feels, will gradually lose its lustre. Winning the World Cup was very important in the past. However, the 50-overs game has become a tedious affair, especially, in the 30 middle overs where batters are consolidating their team’s position for a burst in the final overs.
The World Cup 2023 is a very important tournament for the ODI format to continue its existence. India, the host country and the largest cricket market, needs to win it to keep it alive. The Indian cricket fans and followers are already in the T20 mode and an Indian loss in the World Cup with four years for the next, would make it a challenging proposition to keep their interest going.
In India, the IPL has initiated State Associations to have their own individual Leagues. These are turning out to be profitable for each one of them. The irony of it is that the selection for their Ranji Trophy team is based on one’s performance in these tournaments. The cast is similar to what at present is happening at the Indian national level as well. The IPL has become an important platform for a player to win an Indian cap.
Cricket is moving fast towards to shorter and shorter formats rather than longer ones. I vividly recollect a statement made by Sachin Tendulkar many years ago. He felt 10 overs of 2 innings each would be one way to boost the T20 version even more. With replacement substitutes and other changes to the rules to liven the T20 even more, one wonders whether Sachin’s suggestion does make sense.
Cricket is on a turning track and how, and in which way it will survive is a thought to worry about and ponder over.
(Yajurvindra Singh is a former Test cricketer. Views expressed are personal.)