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The School Teacher and The Skier show the way

In last night’s CLT20 final, the Sixers flogged the Lions.  They won by 10 wickets with more than seven overs to spare.  Thank goodness that is over.  The South African Test squad arrived in Australia yesterday and before we leave T20 to turn our attention to more important matters, some of the players in last night’s match, combined with a recent visit to the house of a friend, gave me a thought.

The basis for my thoughts is that there is currently too much T20 cricket being played to support a healthy first class and Test program.  This started in earnest with IPL and now every nation wants its own T20 League.  Australia has its Big Bash, which grows each year.  England has it’s own competition which is not as “Big” as the ECB would like.  Then there is the Bangladesh Premier League and on it goes.  This shows no signs of abating.  Quite the opposite and I have been finding myself thinking of how cricket can have its cake and eat it. 

How can it dedicate time and resources to a form of the game that appeals to the masses, and hence, pays the bills but is not necessarily beneficial to the traditional and pure form of the game?  If you want to see more T20 and don’t care about Test cricket, there is no need to read on.

I recently visited a friend and he has pay TV.  Not unusually, it was on the sport channel.  On this occasion, there was a Rugby Sevens program on.  I don’t really watch rugby anymore and I don’t think I have seen a Sevens match since the early eighties when the Ellas were still playing.  I recall the Sevens World Cups back in those days when the most agile and skilled regular internationals would gather in Hong Kong for a bit of “hit and giggle”.  Or perhaps that should be “kick, flick and giggle”.  Whatever, it was a bit of fun for the regulars.

Not anymore.  There are still national rugby sevens teams but they feature, few, if any regular international rugby players.  And there is a regular competition.  That form of the game is no longer restricted to World Cups.  It is on-going, is called the “HSBC Sevens World Series” and players make a living out of it.  All because of Pay TV.  I have noticed on the few occasions that I have had access to Pay TV, that Pay TV in itself, turns some recreational sports into professional sports.  Rugby sevens for one.  And Did you know there is a professional bream fishing circuit in Australia?  Bass, too.

T20 cricket is already headed in the direction of specialisation.  I recently pointed out that one of the Sixers’ squad, Ian Moran, is a full time school teacher.  He has no international cricket credentials.  He took leave without pay to play in the CLT20 and what a good move that proved to be.  I didn’t bowled a ball (on the field) but he still pocketed around 80 grand for three week’s work.

And on the other side I noted Dirk Nannes.  I profiled him just over three years ago because even back then he was a world class skier who was becoming a useful limited overs cricketer.   At that point in time, he hadn’t played many first class matches, had played no Test matches but was emerging as an international T20 specialist.  Nothing much has changed for Nannes except that he didn’t really get his international career off the ground.  Nevertheless, at more than 36 years of age, he is still playing well enough to make elite T20 teams.

While Nannes and Moran are the most stark examples of specialist T20 players, you don’t even need to leave the CLT20 final for more.  Neil McKenzie, Nathan McCullum and Michael Lumb are all “thirty somethings” enjoying a new lease of life with T20.  McKenzie has had an accomplished international career but hasn’t played for South Africa in over three years but there his is, still raking in the big bucks in T20.  Nathan McCullum (Brendan’s brother) has never played a Test match but the Sydney Sixers, who are the T20 champions, twice running, and who have an obviously impressive playing roster, can find a place for him.  Similarly, Lumb has played a lot of first class cricket but never a full international, is past his prime but there he was, smashing 82 not out in the CLT20 final.

If you care to look around the T20 tournaments, including IPL, you will find many specialists – either up and coming players or retired players.  David Warner (Australia)and Suresh Raina (India) made their names in T20 but are now big parts of their respective nation’s Test plans.  Kieron Pollard is a sensational cricketer who plays for a bevy of T20 teams but at a time when the West Indies is hardly setting the world on fire, he hasn’t played a single Test match.  However, I wouldn’t mind betting that he is the highest paid West Indian cricketer, except perhaps for Chris Gayle.  And amongst Australians alone, Warne, Gilchrist, McGrath, Hayden, Symonds and Hogg were valuable IPL players after their international careers were over.

The money is there and with money comes motivation.  There are enough players who want to play T20 above all else, and can play it well enough to give the fans what they want.  Whether this shift happens naturally over a period of time, or whether cricketing authorities push things in this direction (unlikely), I’m hoping we get there.

Taking the “P” out of IPL

With the Champions League T20 tournament league up to the final, I find myself wondering if the IPL should consider a name change.  The “Indian League” has a nice ring to it, I think.  Only one IPL team made the semis of the CLT20 and none are in the final.  I think it’s drawing a long bow to think of that competition as the premier T20 competition in the world.

I don’t think I am being overly harsh on IPL teams.  Things are rather stacked in their favour.  IPL is allocated four of the ten CLT20 positions (Australia 2, South Africa 2 and the other two are filled by a pre-tournament qualifying stage).  And not only that, if a player has played for two teams that make the CLT20, and one is an IPL team, he is contractually bound to play for his IPL team.

IPL teams have definitely underperformed.  No question.  Only Delhi made the semis and they were demolished by the Lions.

The final is now down to The Sixers and the Lions.  This is a rematch as both finalists come from Group A.  Yesterday, the Sixers remained undefeated in the tournament, to make the final.  But only just.  The Sixers made the winning run from the final ball of the match.  It was exciting and anticlimactic all at once.  The Sixers needed three runs to win with three balls remaining with just two wickets remaining.  Those three runs were achieved without the bat being laid on ball – two leg byes and one scrambled bye from the final delivery.

One match to go and we can focus on a longer, more meaningful form of the game.

The Forgotten World of Domestic Cricket

Once in a while, I like to remind people that domestic cricket still exists.  Each cricket playing nation has domestic First Class and One Day competitions.  We are usually aware of the local T20 tournaments but who follows the Sheffield Shield, for example?  Did you know that in the off season, that Hughes left the Blues to eat Crow?  And that Uzzie (Usman Khawaja) is now a Bull?

While not many follow it, domestic cricket is still very important as the melting pot for international cricketers.  And domestic cricket is often a trial ground for innovation, especially in limited overs cricket (as long as the innovations don’t cost any money).  Did you know that last season, the Australian domestic one-day cricket allowed 12 players on each side, and was 45 overs per team, spilt into 20/25 over blocks?  And that this year, the matches will return to 50 overs but bowlers will be allowed up to 13 overs each?  While not many of these innovations reach the international stage, where do you think the free hit for a no-ball rule came from?

To underline the importance of domestic cricket, Cricket Australia has announced an astonishing move.  They have rescheduled two Shield matches, moving them forward to allow them to be played before the Test series against South Africa.  This is not astonishing in that it shows some simple commonsense – it is a good move – but perhaps such a show of commonsense from a cricket administrator is not expected.

The rescheduling is partly motivated but the early return from the T20 Champions League of the Perth Scorchers and they players therein.  I would imagine that this is also motivated, in part, because of the initial poor scheduling.  I have been following the Shield this season and was dismayed that the fixtures dried up for a couple of weeks in October, starting up again just in time for the Test players to miss out on another gallop.  Fortunately this has been corrected.  Better late than never!

An Odd Gong for the Little Master

The great Indian batsman, Sachin Tendulkar has received an Order of Australia, courtesy of the Australian Prime Minister, Julia Gillard.  I say that this is a little odd for a few reasons. 

Firstly, it is rare (but not unheard of) for someone who is not Australian to have this honour bestowed upon them.  There are just three other cricketers in this category, all of them West Indian.  Brian Lara, Clive Lloyd and Sir Garfield Sobers.

Secondly, as Julia Gillard has no particular interest in cricket and the announcement of the award happily coincides with the PM’s visit to India, it smacks of a political stunt.  The PM’s PR team could argue that as Tendulkar was to be given this honour, what better time to announce it than the Australian PM’s visit to India?  That is all well and good but I am troubled that the honour was given because of the PM’s visit.  If the PM was not visiting India, would the gong have been given?

And finally, the motivation for the award eludes me and many others.  The Order of Australia is not awarded for being an immortalised sporting star.  Brian Lara’s citation stated, “for service to Australia-Caribbean relations by promoting goodwill, friendship and sportsmanship through the sport of cricket”.  Tendulkar’s role in the “Monkey Gate” incident in 2008 left a bad taste in many people’s mouths and affected public opinion of him.  Not that he was directly involved in the unpleasantries.  But the fact that at the initial hearing, Tendulkar stated that he heard nothing and later, at the appeal, changed to say that he heard what Harbhajan said and it was not what Symonds thought, caused many to question Tendulkar’s integrity in the matter.

As his two accounts contradicted, Tendulkar must have been untruthful either at the initial hearing or the appeal.  And the changing of his story caused a furore and did quite the opposite of promoting goodwill between Australian and India cricket.  And not only that, it didn’t help the man that he was protecting.  Harbhajan Singh went home to IPL to shame himself in a very public and humiliating way (in an on-field incident with Sreesanth).  Perhaps if Tendulkar had stuck with his original story, and Harbhajan had been forced to “take his medicine” in Australia, some reform may have resulted.

I don’t begrudge any awards Tendulkar receives but this particular one is unorthodox, to say the least.