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Greed is the problem, not Twenty20

Chetan Narula | | Updated: October 7, 2015, 4:21 PM IST

A lot has been said (and written) in the aftermath of Australia's embarrassing loss in the second Ashes Test at Lord's. Most of it is to do with the shortest format of the game, for blaming Twenty20 is the easiest thing to do these days. It happened earlier as well, on India's 2011 tour of England.

At that time, it was perhaps the hyperbolic English media to be blamed for all the noise. The 'need for a contest during the cricket summer is a little over-rated in that country, especially now that the English Test team is doing quite well. That Indian tour was a poor one, no doubt, but the signs emanating from it were pointing towards a new process. The process did not start until after another equally horrible loss in Australia, for no one really recognised a need for it.

Everyone from the team and selectors, to the media and fans, were in denial. After all, India had just won the ODI World Cup.
Two years on, there is a definitive similarity - and difference. While the English media continues to cry out for a contest, the more important similarity lies in that the Australian team will probably return home without winning a single Test match. There is also the small matter of Cricket Australia releasing the Big Bash schedule a day after the defeat at Lord's, a little bit reminiscent of when the BCCI released the 2013 IPL schedule immediately after India lost 2-1 to England at home.

The difference is in that it has been widely accepted now, across all quarters, that this Australian team just doesn't possess enough quality. The batting is very dependent on Michael Clarke, who despite being captain cannot decide which is the best spot for him in the batting order, 'best' in the interests of the team that is. There is always too much chopping and changing going on, the best example being the surprise-debut of Ashton Agar in the first Test. The Australian medium-pacers seemed to have regained their bite lost in India, thanks obviously to the conditions.

Even so, none of these different shortcomings can be attributed only to the T20 format, the Big Bash or even the IPL. The 20-over game has its shortcomings, but the criticism has been a little too loud for comfort. Quite frankly, Australia's critics are barking up the wrong tree.

The problem, faced not just by Cricket Australia today, or the BCCI earlier, or anybody else in the future, is not T20 cricket. The problem is greed. The problem is a lack of balance in the three formats, and the lure of easy-money through broadcast offerings coming in via this shortest format.

There was a time when Australia's first-class system was lauded for producing eleven legends at the same instant. In fact make that fifteen legends, for they always had someone coming through if a batsman or bowler was injured. However, it is easy to heap praises when you have an all-conquering team bashing in every opponent in the world. Players like Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath, Ricky Ponting and the likes would have certainly shone even in a poor domestic set-up. That is what great players do, and maybe, just maybe, there were a few shortcomings in the system, coming through only now. After all, they haven't been able to find a stable spinning option since Warne retired from Tests. Such a system needs to earn its praises and it surely did not merit them in the Waugh-era.

But surely the degradation of their domestic structure did not happen overnight. This is where greed comes in. In 2008 they noticed the Indian Premier League making copious amounts of money and everyone wanted to copy that model. Then came the Champions League Twenty20 and the Big Bash was formulated to provide contenders for it. Soon, T20 leagues were springing up in every nook and corner of the world.

While some of them may have proven unsuccessful, there is no check on the amount of high-end, easy-to-sell T20 cricket that is played. The IPL goes on for seven weeks, simply because no one in the BCCI can presume it to be a random group-based shortened tournament. Thus it must have a lethargic league phase. The Big Bash is sold as a separate quantity when all other cricket stops breathing and ultimately Australia have no proper run-in for other formats on the international stage.

Furthermore, the 2012 edition of the ECB's FLT20 had 97 matches, more than what IPL has. The BCCI even has a separate tournament - Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy - so that all domestic cricketers get a chance to play T20s. And these are just three top nations!
But England's cricket is not suffering. India was on a downturn, for entirely different reasons, but they were rejuvenated by young blood who have faced up the challenges well enough so far. Hence it is not to say that these two nations have optimum T20 league formats, but they have a domestic structure that works and doesn't stop its breath for any one format.

The bottom-line is this. Instead of finding faults with a single format, cricket's structure as a whole needs to be monitored and that is something not just for Cricket Australia to look at. By fate or coincidence they stand at the cusp of being the first one to be able to take that step. Whether they will take that chance is entirely up to them though, for it is not easy to resist the lure of money.

Diligent moderation of cricket is needed, and urgently. There is enough space on the calendar for any team to play three formats of the same sport and excel at all three. All it takes is some pragmatic thinking.
First Published: July 24, 2013, 10:10 AM IST

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