Test and T20 - creating the right balance
In recent times, the cricketing world has been at loggerheads over a clash between the three formats, especially with franchise Twenty20 leagues popping up all over the world modelled on the vastly successful IPL format. Which format is most important? Is the sport big enough for all three? Is there too much Twenty20 cricket being played? These are the sort of questions cricket administrators and fans – purists and radicals alike – have been pondering over the last few years, and it will be a debate that will go on for a while.
One board that seems to have got the balance between the formats right though, is Cricket Australia (CA). Initially CA didn’t buy into the Twenty20 format too much, hosting a handful of games in the Big Bash between traditional domestic teams in between the Christmas and New Year break. Realizing the cricketing world was evolving, CA took a huge risk by scrapping what was already a popular schedule for a franchise model based on the IPL, with city based sides – dropping the original state versus state model. Prior to the first (or rather revamped) Big Bash League season, the fan response was a bit confused, as they had to pick new sides to follow, a concern more for fans in Melbourne and Sydney with two teams each. However, these concerns were soon disregarded as the first season proved to be hugely successful, with the Sydney Sixers (primarily made up of former CLT20 champions NSW Blues squad members) winning the BBL|01 as well as the CLT20 2012.
What is most interesting about the BBL and its popularity and success so far, both in terms of TV viewership and large crowd numbers, is that the BBL runs alongside Australia’s home Test summer, unlike other provincial Twenty20 tournaments around the world – which usually have a window away from home international series. CA treats the Twenty20 beast as a completely separate entity to the more traditional formats of cricket, and it is working for them. Barring the ongoing Test in Hobart against Sri Lanka, Test crowds have been very strong in Australia over the last two seasons, regardless of the BBL being on at the same time – considering last season’s finale fell on Day 5 of the final Border-Gavaskar Trophy Test.
CA have not needed to boast teams full of Australia’s top Test cricketers to ensure crowds come out to games, and the standard of cricket remains higher than most Twenty20 competitions around the world. The standard of cricket remains high, because with the restriction of two internationals players per a side, each team requires more out of their home grown crop to produce the goods, which in turn bloods younger with a hunger to get into the Australian set up.
Running the BBL alongside the Test series’ during the summer also shows Cricket Australia’s belief that a specialist T20 team representing Australia is their best chance of winning T20I’s and eventually a WT20, and not to rely on their Test and T20 superstars as some international teams still do.
Boards around the world can learn a lot from Cricket Australia, some of the innovations they have included in the BBL such as the “zing bails” – bails that light up when the stumps are broken so that run outs and stumpings are easier to adjudge, and the way they run the BBL in general, to ensure that the Test and ODI formats remain relevant to the sport.