To ‘Jump The Shark’: The moment when a hit television series takes that almost inevitable turn from greatness to mediocrity or worse.
This famous term was first coined after a Season Five episode of the seminal TV show Happy Days, where The Fonz was challenged by one of the local cheap-ticket riff-raff to jump over shark-infested waters. The premise was one of a show that had seen its best days, and was struggling to cope with new ideas.
It was a turning point, and the show promptly went downhill.
2012 could well be looked back upon as the year that T20 jumped the shark. We started the year with the tail-end of the popular KFC Big Bash League, along with South Africa’s MiWay T20 league.
Next, we endured the month-long car-crash that was the Bangladesh Premier League. A few hundred people attended the BPL opening ceremony in a massive stadium, where singers were singing Bangladeshi covers of classic western songs such as ‘If You Think I’m Sexy’, all whilst reading lyrics off a crumpled sheet of A4.
If the aim of the opening ceremony was to set the tone for the tournament, they certainly set the bar too high.
The utterly pointless BPL – where players and coaches have struggled to cash in their wages – was followed with a 74-course helping of Indian Premier League drama, and an on-off, rain-affected Friends Life T20 tournament in England (and Wales, I guess) which lasted for over two months.
To top it off, last week we witnessed the culmination of the Sri Lankan Premier League, a tournament that saw career renaissances for several dozen Pakistani players, a plethora of dodgy no-balls, and not a fan in sight to observe any of it.
Hot on the heels of the SLPL, we now draw breath before witnessing the World T20 and Champions League T20 in quick succession. Soon after, we will be back to square one with some more Big Bash League, and bear witness to the glorious sight of Steve Smith attempting to defend his title as winning captain.
Somewhere along the line, stuff in domestic T20 tournaments in Pakistan, West Indies and Zimbabwe, and one gets the feeling that we might be reaching the point where one match becomes indistinguishable from the next.
It is clear that we are entering overkill territory with T20, which has often been accused of being a cheap, dirty fix – cricket’s equivalent to fast food, porn and drugs. Now, watching a lesbian fivesome whilst high on LSD and chomping on a Family Bucket sounds marvellous to me, but I assume that after 254 of these binges a year, I would be pretty spent, a soulless, lifeless husk of a human being – with no desire to ever see girls going wild or deep-fried chicken ever again.
In the past few years, T20 around the world has evolved – or devolved, depending which side of the fence you’re on – into ‘cricketainment’.
With the cameras focusing on Liz Hurley making small talk with Shilpa Shetty, and Preity Zinta interviewing the Dalai Lama (oh the humanity), it is hard to disagree with the widely-held notion that at times, the glory of leather-on-willow and dropped high catches have become a sideshow to the tamasha off the field.
“It’s an honour to be in the presence of someone who has contributed so much to the world,” said The Dalai Lama
As the ratings suggest, this is not necessarily as awful as it may come across. The sideshows might not be aesthetically pleasing to some, but they are a necessary evil with mass appeal and in the IPL, it distracts from the depressing repetitiveness of the tournament.
The IPL is aware that it is unsustainable as a purely cricketing product – it simply does not possess across-the-board outstanding quality for the average fan to want to clear his diary for a Deccan Chargers vs Kings XI Punjab match, only to see cymbal-handed young Indians dropping simple catches, as if they were fumbling in the shower for a bar of soap.
On Wednesday, it was announced that the USA would be holding its very own domestic T20 competition, to be held for a few weeks starting in June 2013. Surprisingly, there will only be 19 matches – hopefully for the USACA, this will leave us wanting more, as opposed to the IPL, where it feels like you’ve been trapped in a garish nightclub for six weeks, only just about escaping with your sanity in a bleary-eyed stupor.
However, despite its undoubtedly noble intentions, the USA T20 League (it doesn’t have an official name yet) is certain to fall flat on its face.
Cricket in the USA is still in its embryonic phase, and has been blighted by internal wrangling, backbiting, and politicking. By that token, perhaps they’re following the IPL business model a bit too closely, but there’s no doubt that the USACA is a sham of an organisation, and for the ICC to entrust a single dime or dollar with them would be to chuck it into a wishing well and hope for the best.
As Kanye West famously once said: “Look; you need to crawl ‘fore you ball.”
I’m not sure that Mr West wrote ‘Niggaz In Paris’ with T20 on his mind – I hear he’s more of a Test man – but if he did, his lyrics undoubtedly were a prescient warning about the mismanagement of cricket in the USA.
“What’s 50 grand to a muthaf***a like me, can you please remind me?” Kevin Pietersen’s financial troubles were said to be Kanye’s inspiration.
The ICC have announced that they will be endorsing this T20 tournament, despite having suspended the USA twice over the past few years for what boils down to cataclysmic mismanagement of cricket within the country.
In an April article on Cricinfo, Martin Williamson wrote:
“The news that Gladstone Dainty has won a landslide in the USA Cricket Association elections is about as surprising as Robert Mugabe emerging victorious in this year’s presidential elections in Zimbabwe. Even Mugabe would give a respectful nod at the way Dainty managed to ensure many of those opposing him were either denied a vote or effectively totally maginalised. Only 15 of the 47 leagues were deemed eligible to take part in the elections. Many of those shut out had recently vociferously opposed the way USACA was operating.”
Yet, yesterday, it was announced that cricketers such as Kieron Pollard, Brett Lee and Shane Watson were ‘interested’ in participating. There are serious stumbling blocks, and rather than develop a solid platform of cricket in the USA, the men in charge have decided to go all-out.
Asian voters are said to be impressed by Barack Obama’s promises of extravagant cover drives, but are leaning more towards Mitt Romney’s solid back-foot defence…even if he runs out his partners.
There is no doubt that the USA is a fertile ground for cricket development, but hosting a T20 tournament at this stage, when previous attempts to host international matches have verged from the lukewarm to disastrous, is a decision that should be revoked at the earliest opportunity.
It is not brave, it is not a risk worth taking, it is myopic wishful thinking that will ultimately have a harmful impact upon cricket in the region, and T20 worldwide.
It’s quite evident to everybody but the ICC and USACA that the region needs a solid cricketing platform before such a tournament can be launched with any hope of success. Currently, ask the average American what he thinks about cricket, and he is likely to tell you something along these lines:
“In cricket, you just have to look like you’re about to do something…and then you stop.”
“USA currently languishes in ICC’s Division Four, along with Denmark and Singapore. They are ranked below cricketing powerhouses such as Oman, Italy and Uganda. We have seen the massive gaps in quality between international and domestic players in all leagues around the world – typically, a young Indian medium-pacer will be ‘given a chance on the big stage’, then inevitably endure the wrath of a Chris Gayle or a David Warner and retreat to selling pani puri on the streets of Delhi.
Sadly, the USA simply doesn’t have cricketers of reasonable quality to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with any player even approaching international quality. Unless the tournament runs with an allowance of unlimited overseas players, this tournament will have as much pedigree as a One Direction concert.
Moreover, this is tournament will be a perfect storm of futility. Scheduled to be held directly after six weeks of IPL, the idea of watching even more T20 is about as appealing as a holiday in a North Korean gulag. Add this to the fact that any day-night games in the USA would mean that any fans in Mumbai, Dhaka or Lahore would be up watching the Florida Fuck-Ups til the wee hours, and you get the sense that timing is not the USACA’s forte.
An American T20 league is certainly an excellent possibility in years to come, but without any infrastructure to speak of, a sparse fanbase, and management who would make David Brent seem competent, pouring millions of dollars into a black hole will be a tough sell to sponsors and players alike.
Crucially, another failed, or even poorly-received league will only add to the growing sense of ennui regarding T20, and certainly only serve to be counter-productive in a country that is fiercely nationalistic in its sport.
I’m all for spreading cricket to all corners of the globe, but at the moment, the world needs another T20 league like Shoaib Akhtar needs another case of genital warts.
Published with permission from Alternative Cricket...cricket for grown-ups.