Tue | Aug 22, 2017

Orville Higgins | Twenty20 will save cricket

Published:Friday | July 22, 2016 | 7:00 AM
Spectators watching the Jamaica Tallawahs take on the Barbados Tridents at Sabina Park on Wednesday.

I was among those who happened to be at Sabina Park for all four of the CPL games going back to last Friday night. On each night, there was almost a full house. When 20/20 cricket was first introduced, there were many sceptics who felt that this was a fad that wouldn't last. The cricket purists felt that "this wasn't cricket". This fast-paced game, where batsmen were prepared to belt the leather off almost every ball was contradictory to how they learned the game. Michael Holding is famous for his stance on not being prepared to even commentate on it.

While at Sabina Park for the last few days, I couldn't help but think of these purists who believed that 20/20 cricket may have come to ruin Test cricket. They were wrong. Test cricket was dying even before 20/20 came along.

The decline of Test cricket is not on all fronts, mind you. There is still huge interest when certain teams play, but as a rule, there appears to be less and less appetite for the five-day game. That, of course, is no accident.

Cricket, like all sports, merely reflects society. The cliche that sports is a microcosm of life is true. Man not only create sports that fitted culture, but he also played sports in a way that fitted the mood. Those who follow cricket's history will realise that there is a symbiotic relationship between the sport and the times.

That Bodyline series between England and Australia in the early 1930s was, according to the great C.L.R. James in his classic Beyond the Boundary, "not an accident, not an incident, not a temporary aberration. It was merely the ferocity of the times expressing itself in cricket". He was right. The 1950s, on the converse, produced some dull, boring cricket, and that coincided with mankind generally appearing to be more conservative in nature.

In the modern era, technology has ensured that man enjoys a more fast-paced lifestyle. The microwave, cell phones, fast cars, email (as opposed to going to the post office) are all proof that we are living in a time when 'faster is better'. Test cricket had to suffer. T20 cricket, therefore, was inevitable. It was an 'invention' born out of 'necessity'.

If cricket is to survive as an art form in the next 20 years, it has to have a version that captured the action-packed nature that is central to our time. Those who were knocking T20s were, in effect, blaming mankind for a change of taste. So whether we like it or not, 20/20 cricket is here to stay. In time, it may well be up there with football as man's most popular sporting pastime.

 

WIDE APPEAL

 

There is something about 20/20 cricket that, in time, will appeal to sports people on a whole. The energy, the fast pace, the excitement, the skill level, the one-on-one battle between batsman and bowler are things that will, in time, become more widely accepted in countries where cricket is not such a big deal now.

So the cruel irony is that, unlike what the purists were saying, Twenty20 cricket has not come to ruin Test cricket. The thousands of people who turned up at Sabina over the last week included several young children under 10 years old. You don't see kids that age at Test matches in the region anymore. These kids will be attracted to cricket, and in another few years they will start to play. Not all will want to turn to Test cricket, but some will. Twenty20 should be introduced at primary and prep schools. Those who feel that you may be ruining techniques are wrong. The technique for bowling and wicketkeeping and fielding are similar for both 20/20 cricket and Test cricket.

Even in the batting department, what you want six- and eight-year-olds to enjoy is the sheer joy of hitting a ball as hard as possible and watching it fly to distant places. If you get him interested in that, you will get him interested in wanting to enjoy the feeling for a long while. He will then learn the proper defensive techniques to survive so that he can carry on.

The purists were dead wrong. Twenty20 has not come to ruin Test cricket. In many ways, it has come to save it!

- Orville Higgins is a sportscaster and talk-show host at KLAS ESPN FM. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.