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.