Category Archives: Twenty20

T20 May Or May Not Be Cricket, But It’s Boring As Hell

Speaking with The Cricket Couch, Kartikeya Date lays out his case against T20 and the IPL:

A boundary is hit every 6 balls in a T20 match and six is hit every 26 balls. It shows in so many ways how you cannot structurally have any conventional contest between bat and ball because they are so unequal. In that sense, T20 is not a cricketing contest.

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I’ll watch an over or two of an IPL match once or twice a week. If Dale Steyn is bowling, I’ll still watch even though I know that the batsman is going to slog the third one if he plays out couple of balls quietly. That’s why I find it boring as well and it doesn’t hold my interest. That’s why I find it difficult to understand that it holds the interest of anybody who says they like watching cricket.

This is mostly excellent stuff. Until now, I don’t think cricket traditionalists — for lack of a better word — have effectively articulated the case against T20. We have bemoaned the creeping commercialization, the cheerleaders, and the general quality of the game, but no one (that I have read) has laid out the theory as completely Date has. The problem is that people  think cricketing drama and excellence means only fours and sixes and down-to-the-wire scenarios, and they think that T20 gives them just that. But Date shows instead that what they’re actually seeing is a bunch of batting miscues/errors, a strategically “dumb” contest, and a commentary that wrongly borrows the prestige and language of the Test format (“proper cricketing shot” being my favorite example).

I say “mostly” excellent because I think Date goes too far by saying T20s is not cricket, but perhaps a different sport entirely. I worry about disqualifying formats because the truth is, most people who play cricket at the amateur level play a version of cricket that looks a lot like T20s, and not the Test stuff. I’m not talking here about quality; I mean, amateurs typically meet with friends, bowl a few overs, play fast and loose with some of the rules, and call it a day. To say that it’s “not” cricket means that fans don’t really have a chance to play the sport that they follow and love.

This is a minor point, yes, but I think we’ll have more success if we try to convince people that watching T20 is a crock of boring shit, rather than arguing that it’s a completely different sport entirely. Date has given us the language to do  that.

What Warne Did Right

There have been some pretty strong critiques of Shane Warne post-Marlon Samuels-bat-shirt-fracas. My favorite comes from The Guardian:

On the pitch, though, this Stepford Wives-style Warne is looking older than ever. He has turned in a series of performances for the Melbourne Stars in Australia’s Big Bash League that have spanned the range from embarrassing to mediocre. He’s been a wax-mannequin manqué, hapless with the ball, helpless in the field and with the bat.

Fair enough. On the other hand, life can be fairly hard for cricketers after they retire. You spend about twenty or more years training for a specific task, and then you find you then have to turn to at least another thirty years of life. You could go into coaching, but not if you have concerns about spending time with your family. If you know how to talk and act the showman, as Warne does, you head straight to the commentary box and try to retain at least a shred of dignity before fans figure out you’re just a jumble of catch-phrases. What Warne has tried to do is quite revolutionary — he understands that T20 leagues are basically dressed-up pick-up cricket games. People aren’t watching because they want the finest cricket; they want to drink, see a few shots, and players do crazy things. In T20, there is a fine line between the exhibition match and the real thing. To argue that Warne hasn’t performed well in the Big Bash League is to miss the point — which is, “Mom, dad, can we go see Shane Warne at the stadium today?”

One more interesting thing: T20 introduced a number of ancillary elements to cricket coverage, like a hyped-up DJ, cheerleaders, and silly ways to resolve ties. It also started to break the fourth wall and have commentators talk to cricketers on the ground during play. In theory, this could be a lot of fun, but from what I’ve seen, most players are either too distracted, too timid, or just completely lacking in verbal intelligence to say anything remotely interesting. Not Warne — he’s talking to the commentators right before he’s bowling. “I wouldn’t mind if he took a single here,” he says. Now imagine if Warne had confronted Samuels without the F-bomb, or the tugging of the shirt. What if he had said something aggressive but within the bounds of cricket, like, “It must be harder to bat with a bent arm, eh Marlon?” Wouldn’t we have all loved to “overhear” that exchange? Cricket match as reality television, people: welcome to the future.

Giving Dhoni A Break

We all read the articles before the Twenty20 tournament that called the series “wide open.” While we didn’t get any minnow upsets, we all know that this format is unpredictable, rewards temporary blips in success (i.e., Shane Watson) and requires a healthy dollop of good luck to prosper. So, yes, India should not have lost as badly as they did against Australia, but I’m more than willing to accept Dhoni’s counterfactual that had the rain not been so bad, they might have trimmed the margin. That seems reasonable to me, and four wins out of five matches can’t be easily dismissed.

On the other hand: I don’t think many Indian cricket fans or cricket critics have adequately come to terms with India’s performance over the past two years. What’s wrong or right with this team? There was little to no introspection after the overseas Test drubbings of 2011, and now inertia seems to be the guiding principle. But urgent problems loom: Gambhir and Sehwag are failing; our fast bowlers have only Zaheer Khan to intimidate (and, for about one over, Irfan Pathan); our middle order is occasionally strong, but we’re not yet sure about Rohit Sharma or Yuvraj Singh (or, in overseas situations, Suresh Raina). Even if we accept that this team performed well in the T20 World Cup, we are still left with several uneasy questions, which no one seems to be able to answer convincingly.

So, is this team good or bad? And another question: Test your conscience — compared to Australia and Pakistan’s performances, do you really believe India deserved to progress to the next stage?

We Can Be Twenty20 Heroes, Just For One Day

I asked this question on Twitter, and I’d like some discussion: Is T20 creating too many heroes? Over the past month, we’ve seen some incredibly cricketing feats — Dwayne Smith, 14 off 3; Dwayne Bravo; 5 off 1; De Villiers 1000 off 1 (sort of). These are amazing moments to behold, but how do they compare to the achievements we usually celebrate in the longer formats of the game? For example, would you give more credit to a Shiv Chanderpaul batting the whole day, or an Anil Kumble batting with broken jaw, than to a batsman chasing an implausible target in the final over? Are we seeing the cheapening of achievement in cricket?

The final-over heroics we have seen reveals to what extent norms/traditions/psychology rules sporting behavior. Climbing asking rates were once seen as fatal to a chase; anything above eight an over was enough to doom the whole enterprise. The pressure of the chase would force errors and a heap of wickets. No longer: IPL batsmen now believe that anything is possible in the final overs of a game (possibly because the death-bowling has been so utterly terrible). The smart batsmen realize that there just isn’t enough time in the IPL to regress to the mean; if you have enough courage and reasonable eyesight, chances are the night will belong to you — all you need to deliver is a quick 20 runs, in one game, against one bowler.

But this heroism — if it can be called that — reminds me more of playground cricket, where records fall fast and memories are short. Who can remember who did what last week? Who can know which no-name player will have his inevitable day under the light towers? In other words: who cares about the Lord’s honors boards when you can rule the roller coaster just for one day?

The Price For Modern Cricket

When Duncan Fletcher signed up to be India’s coach, he did so in part because he felt the country’s cricket administration had modernized over the past decade. He didn’t go into details — at least not in print — but I imagine he was referring to the BCCI’s growing appreciation for the business of the sport, or its introduction of a contract system for players.

But read Rahul Mehra’s list of suggestions for the BCCI. The recommendations, composed during an extended legal battle with the sporting body, are by turns illuminating and depressing. (Some may have been enacted since Mehra began his crusade in 2000). Like:

1. The offices suck: “The BCCI’s current head office is in a ramshackle state, containing just three computers and no proper toilets.  In the cramped office sit eight huge steel cupboards used as a dumping ground for official records and trophies, rarely if ever retrieved once stored.”

2. The National Cricket Academy is a mess. “The main problems with NCA are its short duration, the academy only operates for 5 months in a year, and an inadequate system to monitor players after they leave the academy.” (The facility is also shared with a local state association, so it’s not completely under the purview of the BCCI.)

3. State Association elections are crazy. “Our State Associations in India have electorates comprised of members of social clubs, many of whom are not directly involved on a day-to-day or even week-to-week basis either in a local cricket club’s administration or the State Association’s administrative functioning.  As a result, elections have become an exercise in vote bank politics and gift-giving, as opposed to referenda on cricket policy within a state or region.”

When people talk about “modernity,” they mean a new model that relies less on the personal, and more on the administrative. It’s less face-to-face and more systematic. Amateurs are thrown out; professionals with competence proven by academic degrees or accepted norms designating experience are in. No doubt, modernity presents a whole range of new problems — e.g., it may ruin the variety and diversity of cricket — but it also should ensure that privileged elites protected by tradition and patronage are sidelined by a more skilled meritocracy.

So this is what is at stake, people. This is what we want when we see a team lose 4-0 to England. Can it happen?

Eoin Morgan And The Case Against Modernity

My previous post elicited some criticism in its comments section. Golaandaz took my praise for Test-only players as an irrational bias against certain formats of the game; calling them “childish,” he said, hardly does them justice. But while my positions on the formats are clear — I like all cricket, but Test, ODI, and T20 in that order — that wasn’t what I wanted my post to be about. Hear me out:

Regular readers know that I have a particular view about what makes cricket special. My case is largely borrowed from Ashis Nandy and his book Tao of Cricket, a phenomenal read every cricket blogger should thumb through (twice). In it, Nandy says that cricket is special because it recognizes the limits of human agency. The outsize roles for the pitch, the weather, time and other contingent factors (like the existence of the “draw,” a concept beyond many American fans) sets the game apart from the others. Take this together, and you have a very good case for cricket as a game set apart from modernity. Indeed, a big reason I like Test cricket is the fact that it can be boring sometimes; these quiet stretches of nothing-ness are a tribute to an ancient rhythm we don’t see much of these days.

So, where does Eoin Morgan fit in? Again, I don’t begrudge the guy choosing money over virtue. That’s a tough call for many to make, especially youngsters like him. No, my post was merely a call for a different type of player — the anti-modern player, who solely plays Test cricket and refuses to allow the game to swallow him whole. Exciting as young players like Kohli and Raina are, I have come to increasingly respect the players in their early-mid-late 30′s, who have to face their “mortality” (i.e., their fading skills) even as other concerns (family, most prominently) begin to alter their lives. In these players, you see the larger lesson of cricket — man comes and goes. Imagine cricket in this scenario not as a scenario or a game, but as a space set aside against the backdrop of increasing commercialism, modernity, and ‘progress.’

This line of argument suffers from a number of weaknesses. Russ will accuse me of glorifying the ‘amateur era,’ which he thinks was largely a sham. (He’ll have to explain that more himself.) Others will say that I, like Nandy, merely trade in baseless nostalgia for an era and sentiment that never existed. But, for me, the IPL represents some of the worst parts of the Indian growth ‘miracle’ — a crass consumerism that emphasizes work/skill over virtue/honor. This is what happens when the market takes over — and while I know the trend is generally beneficial, I’d still prefer an athlete who resists. Is this so naive?

Big Moves For IPL-Style League in Australia

The Daily Telegraph has details on what could be the most important “most crucial 48 hours” in Cricket Australia‘s recent history. Basically, CA is hoping to build an IPL-style league to launch in 2012, but it must decide if it can allow Indian invesments (two states have already lined up millions in support):

Chief executive James Sutherland has described the setting up of the tournament as “the most significant development since World Series Cricket” and is fully aware state bodies have threatened to establish a breakaway competition if the overseas investors are turned away.

“It’s a moment as big, if not bigger, than the Kerry Packer moment when his role resulted in ODI cricket taking off and basically funding the development of Australian and world cricket for 25 or so years,” CA spokesman Peter Young said last night.

Implications are big: competition with the IPL (players go back and forth between two leagues)? Where do ODIs go?

 

Should We Care About The Champions League?

Because, really, I’m not sure I do. That explains the paltry posting rate this September (at least partially — headed off to another vacation in a few days).

The logic of this tournament runs something like this: part of its exceptional charm, cricket has always run along international lines. With the advent of the IPL, however, some see a future dominated by franchises — a vision undermined by the corporate shenanigans of Modi-Gate (and the newness of the teams).

So, as a consolation, we have the Champions League, where the best of each cricketing country’s T20 talent battles each other. There are a couple of problems: some of the teams are clearly not as good as others (you can pick best and worst yourselves); the IPL teams get three berths (an obvious sop to the Indian audience); certain foreign players on contract with the IPL have to play with those teams, rather than their “home” ones. (Complicated, no?)

Which brings me back to square one: who is Team Victoria? Or Team Wayamba? Are there any stakes here for me, a fan with no team? Obviously, I like the IPL squads, but that’s only because I know them a bit more than the others and understand some of the plot twists and history. The rest? Not really. What does it matter to me that Victoria beat Guyana — I might as well watch Team X play Team Y.

The League has one virtue, though: its brevity. Can’t wait for this to be done so we can head off to another great India-Australia Test series.

The Wrong Way To Investigate Spot-Fixing

The spot-fixing allegations have unleashed a full-blown media spectacle, which means editors around the world are trying to “advance the story” every day. It’s an odd feature about journalism, based on the mistaken premise that readers and news consumers only want to talk about one major item per allotted time period, even if there aren’t any new developments attached to it.

So, we had some great journalism from News Of The World that broke the Pakistan story. Audio tapes, no-ball footage, sting operation stuff — all excellent. Then, we heard relatively little: the police aren’t entitled to say anything; the Pakistanis are sticking to a “denial isn’t just a river in Egypt” strategy, and no one has admitted flat out to doing anything wrong.

What’s an editor at, say, The Australian supposed to do? Well, there are plenty of angles — what does this scandal mean for the ICC anti-corruption unit? If it happened in England with Pakistan, did it happen with other teams? Have other players been approached? (Turns out almost everybody has, including hapless Bangladeshi players.) OK, but what else? How about an absolutely ludicrous, anonymously-sourced, shoddy excuse for journalism? Begin excerpt:

Two IPL officials from India independently verified that a leading batsman had played so suspiciously that they could not explain his behaviour.

When The Australian asked direct questions about the batsman both officials agreed that his performances were highly suspect. They did not want him named for fear that it could be traced back to them and lead to retribution in India.

What’s wrong with this paragraph? A few things: first, we don’t know who’s giving the paper this information. We don’t know their agendas (anti-IPL? anti-BCCI? anti-Indian batsmen?) so we can’t evaluate their evidence. Which brings us to point 2: there isn’t any evidence, and point 3: we don’t even know which batsman they’re talking about. This is the opposite of responsible journalism; instead of informing and providing the truth, we have innuendo and alarmist rumor-mongering. Spike this story.

The Terrible Bargain Of Watching Cricketers In The Modern World

This post is meant to accompany my previous one, pleading with the BCCI to give the Indian cricket team a break. That sounds a bit soft, so I wanted to explain a bit more. Over the weekend, I read Robin Uthappa’s interview with Cricinfo about his plans for the future, as well as his recent shoulder surgery. We hear about injuries to cricketers all the time, but rarely in such terrible, explicit and disturbing detail:

He said the first ten days post-surgery were most painful. “Surgery in itself was a difficult one for me. I never had a fracture, I never wore a cast, I never had stitches, never been on general anaesthesia, never had a nerve block, and now I had all of it in one day,” Uthappa told Bangalore Mirror. “I had a cast right up to my forearm, a sling. I never ever experienced such excruciating pain in my life. I was on narcotics for 20 days, sitting and slouching on bed, passing out almost all the time, and then you lose shape.”

Read that one more time, and think about the terrible bargain we make with modern athletes. We crave entertainment and suspense and drama from their actions and in return, we offer them money, endorsements, celebrity and fame (and, more than likely, our scorn). For the span of their career, we let them in our homes and, because cricket is such a time-consuming affair, we grow to know them almost intimately — the perpetual close-ups, their expressions, every bit of their actions and technique.

But is this a fair bargain? Cricket isn’t nearly as bad as some other sports; here in America, it’s not unusual for athletes in baseball and American football and basketball to earn simply gross salaries, which easily dwarf even the amounts offered in the IPL. Then again, cricket is demanding in other ways — players can play for a decade (or more) if they try hard enough; they have to tour other countries for months and bowlers have to contort their bodies in an ungodly fashion for their deliveries.

Of course, you say (as everyone else does), that you’d give your left arm to play for the Indian national cricket team, and to earn the money they do. Fair enough, but think about the ethical relationship you have then built around the game. You command the players to dance for you, while you throw them your scraps, and when they tire and suffer and bleed, you move on to the next. This is just another price of cricket becoming normal, that is, like any other modern sport, where spectators — people who may go to a Test match simply to doze, or experience life — become consumers. This is the ultimate price brought forth by Lalit Modi and the T20 regime — more applause, more money, more games, more television, more gimmicks. And more pain.

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