Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Surprise ICC Tournament Success

It will come as little surprise to those who know me that I’m not the greatest fan of Twenty20 cricket. Nor am I very often impressed with major international cricket tournaments. However, the two combined last month to prove me very wrong. I’m not sure I’ll be wrong forever as I’m almost certain the ICC will overegg the golden goose; this is probably already happening with the next World Twenty20 in the West Indies, where the 50 over World Cup of tedium was played out in front of empty grounds only 2 years ago, only a matter of months away. Not forgetting the ICC Champions Trophy in the South African spring (host to the inaugural World Twenty20 all of 21 months ago as well as the IPL) crammed into a calendar which has already squeezed four nips into a pint pot. For now, however, I feel happy to look on a few positives.

The World Twenty20 worked well because the entire tournament matched the format; fun and quickfire. The whole thing was done and dusted in three weeks leaving little time for dead matches – a curse of all sports but especially the way previous cricket competitions have been organized you would imagine the ICC looked upon them as a unique selling point. It was helped by the first game being a massive upset as the Stuart Broad gifted the Dutch victory, the surprise of the Australians going out at the first hurdle (especially with the shadow of the Ashes looming over the tournament for the old enemies) and the eventual victorious captain coming out to say that they weren’t taking it too seriously. It may also have been aided by English conditions offering a little more to the bowler to make the game a slightly fairer contest between bat and ball.

The tournament was supported by large and enthusiastic crowds at the three grounds used and was exceptionally lucky with the English weather – not one game a total wash-out. Of course, England is the ideal place to hold a large cricket tournament so far as crowds are concerned with its immigrant populations from most cricketing countries, and an Aussie working in every other pub in London but it was still good to see. The only problem was the earlier games were often less well attended as the more partisan fans were only interested in seeing their own team or people couldn’t get out of work. It would also have been nice to have spread the tournament to other corners of a country which will boast 9 Test grounds by 2011. Hopefully in due course this will become possible as the tournament becomes more established, though in doing this the ICC will probably see the opportunity to lengthen it to 3½ months.

Another plus point was the concurrent Women’s Twenty20 which sidled in nicely as both a fabulous warm-up for the men’s final at Lord’s and a fabulous advert for the women’s game which has certainly improved massively since the cloudy memories of watching Rachel Heyhoe-Flint lead England to a World Cup victory sometime in my childhood. It’s good and somewhat surprising (to me at least) to see England leading the way there too.

The Twenty20 format also works far better in a TV highlights package which is a godsend for those of us who decline the Sky subscription. It is pretty obvious that it will be much easier to cram 3 hours’ action rather than 7 into an allotted hour, despite the supposed non-stop action of the format. Having said that, the international brigade of commentary ‘experts’ who landed the gig were just about trite and useless enough to make you think the usual Sky team do a good job. Apologies here to Ian Chappell who I thought did make some excellent comments, though anyone can be made to sound intellectual when sitting next to David Lloyd as he’s screaming “41 off 8 balls and only 2 wickets left!!! Can they do it?? It’s bedlam in here!” as the camera pans to people leaving early or, worse, the pathetic dancing girls who appeared to employ a typically English ambivalence in their routines. Also, anyone verbally using the phrase “T20”, which all the TV pundits were guilty of, needs to take a good look at themselves. Before doing themselves in.

Although there are still a few issues with the way the tournament plays out and the format of Twenty20 is still too one-dimensional for me personally – a clutch of early wickets and it’s game over, how about doing away with the 6 over powerplay which heightens the chance of a wicket with close catchers? – it was an excellent example of what cricket can give to the global masses who will probably never understand the nuances of the longest form of the game. Now the serious business of the Ashes is on though, does anyone really care?

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