The ‘purists’ have always been at loggerheads with the shortest format of the game and opening up the debate on the pros and cons of T20 is like opening the pandora’s box. T20 has always been at the receiving end of the acrimony from the purists who often gripe the flamboyance, glamour and glitz that is associated with it. Hence, T20 is perceived to be a disgrace to cricket by the set of these ‘intellectuals’.
On the other hand, T20 enjoys other perks. The TRP rating for a T20 game is almost triple that of a Test match, the stadia are jam-packed, all the games are a sell out, and in-turn the endorsements are hefty, the broadcasters rake in the moolah, women viewers are aplenty; all these which test cricket is devoid of.
The harsh reality is, to hit the nail on its head, cricket is in jeopardy. The upper middle class and upper class, who were watching a test match or an ODI game over the weekend have now switched to football. Cricket, which was topping the discussion topic charts among the youngsters once, is now being replaced with football. Lads, who for decades were carrying their cricket bats to the streets are now being taken over by chaps wearing the EPL jerseys, tapping the footie. Cricket has lost its sheen and the people today are no longer receptive to a test match or an ODI. Football, especially EPL has managed to woo quite a few. The tweets, the statuses, etc. are profound about football and scant about cricket. The walls of the dorm rooms, once plastered with Sachin’s cut-outs, are now adorned by Messi.
However during the IPL window, the tale is twisted in favor of cricket. All those eyeballs that were fixed on the EPL, now started to switch to IPL. In its tenure, cricket reclaimed its reigns on the street. TRP ratings were at its peak and the stadia were never devoid of stampedes. T20 cricket on the whole has managed to pull back the crowd which had just crossed over to the football field. Hence, it is easy to pronounce T20 as the crowd puller of recent times.
The crowd today enjoys high octane action on the field. Test cricket might be the elite level of cricket, but for a layman or a viewer with a shallow cricket knowledge (forming the majority), Test cricket is a dead rubber. The blitzkrieg associated with T20 cricket is what attracts them to it and this is where it wins over the longer format hands down. T20 is never in dearth of action. A plethora of shots, the ball sailing over the fence, wickets tumbling, a nail biting finish, all this is what makes T20 high-octane. The 90 minutes non-stop action in a football field can only be rivaled by T20 cricket, not test cricket.
Let’s take another perception. Beyond doubt, we have reached an era where cricket is looked at for entertainment and not for the beauty of the sport. Hence its contemporaries are from the entertainment industry. It has to compete with movies, TV shows, internet, etc. to get its chunk of viewers so that the broadcasters, the organizers, and in turn the players can win their bread. Gone are the days when the 5 days of a Test match were followed with rapt attention. The lethargic viewers and the empty stands are a testimony to the fact that people are no longer patient enough to root for their teams in a test match. The ODI has been handed the same fate. T20 is one format that has ticked all the boxes above. Analogous to a 3-hr movie, the commercial aspects too intact, T2o is capable of being an entertainer the public wants today. Hence T20 is the potential armory that cricket seeks to overcome these challenges.
Getting into the game, often a T20 innings is rated much below a Test innings. A T20 specialist doesn’t garner the equal plaudits a Test specialist enjoys. Many who have succeeded in the shortest format have been thwarted in the longer one. True, but the vice versa holds equal merit too. How many of the Test greats have shone in T20? The number is scratchy. So, this format demands something that the longer format doesn’t. Chris Gayle possesses something that Rahul Dravid doesn’t.
Stomaching the pressure and yet emerging successful in a high pursuit chase is as tough as battling it out against the pacers on a windy morning of a bouncy WACA track. Hammering Warne over the fence is as tough as defending his bamboozling googlies on the last day of a test. Bowling to defend 12 runs in an over is as tough as bowling to Tendulkar in a test match. Juggling between the yorkers and the bouncers is as tough as sticking to the corridor of uncertainty in a test match. Cutting out the flight and flattening the trajectory is as tough as befuddling the batsmen on a final day sub-continental wicket.
Therefore, T20 cricket isn’t a walk in the park. This format hasn’t been a cup of tea for some legends, which speaks volumes about the level of difficulty of this format. It is a different ball game altogether and isn’t meant to be mocked at.
Hence for the game to sustain, it needs to keep the cash registers ringing. Taking away T20 will result in football eating into the viewership of Test and ODI cricket. With slender viewers, the broadcasters aren’t going to stay put with the sport and would move on to something that lures more interest. The board would sway with the wind too. The players too would take to other sports. The youngsters would groom themselves to play other sports. Last but not least, cricket would die. The death might be slow and silent, but one fine day, it would be all over. Tomorrow’s cricket would meet the same fate as today’s hockey.
To check this, cricket needs to come in entertaining capsules that can be well digested by all. A capsule that can meet the grinds and rigors of the political world today. Hence for cricket to remain the king of the streets, for the stadia to have ebullient crowd, for the mexican waves and the chanting to keep echoing, for the crackers after an Indian victory to set off, for the champaignes that wait to be opened, for a billion faces to smile, for the nation to go to a state of bliss, we need T20 cricket. Test cricket and ODIs are in the wane and no longer can satisfy the above calls. Hence T20 is the format that needs to keep the sport going.
For all the rancor aimed at T20 cricket by the purists, answer this – Without T20, if cricket fails to survive, can you think of a world without cricket?