My wife, dear soul, asked the other day when the Caribbean Premier League was going to end. She can’t wait for it’s conclusion. No surprise there. On the other hand, I wish the CPL could carry on beyond this final week. That to me, is the shock.
As I have written in this space from time to time, Twenty20 cricket is not my favourite form of the game. I willingly identify with the dinosaur class that still favours Test match play. But over the past three weeks, I have found myself watching much of the action, and not always out of a sense of duty.
The first edition of the CPL has been fun. Great fun.
It has just been fascinating to me how people across the Caribbean have taken to this competition. Watching on TV how the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium was packed in a way I have never seen it, especially for Antigua Hawksbills’ do-or-die match against Guyana Amazon Warriors last week, I was taken aback.
That North Sound ground is a hard place to pack out, so out of the way it is in comparison to the Antigua Recreation Ground in the centre of St John’s, the capital. Of all the venues for this CPL, I was doubtful that the crowds would flock there. But in every one of the Hawksbills’ matches in Antigua, the crowds came out, waving, jumping, having a West Indian whale of a time, but getting into the cricket itself. And the Hawksbills were never CPL front-runners.
The reaction in every island, starting in Barbados with the first match, right up to Jamaica where they had to close the gates at Sabina Park for the last game there against Trinidad and Tobago Red Steel, has been extraordinary. It was like a figurative Mexican Wave of enthusiasm had swept through island after island; no territory wanting to be left out of the fun. The players fed off it, the zeal of the West Indians seeming to be greater than when they are in regional competition.
If it was not obvious before, Caribbean people love T20 cricket. They have loved the CPL. And as the games passed by and the sixes cleared the boundaries and spectacular catches and pieces of fielding kept giving local TV material for plays of the day, a new, uninvited voice in my head kept asking: Who will miss Test cricket? Is the five-day or four-day format really relevant to cricket’s future?
Previously, I would have been firmly in the “yes” camp; Test cricket is needed and still relevant. But now, I’m saying no.
I always admired and enjoyed watching Rahul Dravid play a Test innings, and I have found his comments on the game since his retirement equally worthwhile.
But I found myself disagreeing with his recent comments on the future of Test cricket.
He says this for instance: “Test cricket, an older, larger entity is the trunk of a tree and the shorter game--be it T20 or ODIs--is its branches, its offshoots. Now to be fair, it is the branches that carry the fruit, earn the benefits of the larger garden in which they stand and so catch the eye. The trunk, though, is the old, massive, larger thing which took a very long time to reach height and bulk. But it is actually a life source: chip away at the trunk or cut it down and the branches will fall off, the fruit will dry up.”
That seems a logical argument. But in cricket, I don’t see T20--the branch--dying away if Test play--the trunk--does. While T20 has benefited from the presence of stars who have become such through the Test game, there are a host of others who have not cut their teeth in Tests who are thriving in the 20-over format.
Dravid is quite right when he says: “The fundamental core of every cricketer’s game is enriched by playing four and five-day cricket. By using those well-trained powers of adaptability, discipline, resilience and focus as a T20 cricketer, you will have double the advantage than the player possessed only of talent and timing.
“The skill of learning how to think clearly under pressure is required in T20, but it is built through having to endure pressure for a session, two sessions, an entire day, a series of spells.”
Test and first-class play can certainly make a cricketer more skilful at T20. But think about Kieron Pollard, yet to play a Test match, but who is a T20 drawing card and match-winner everywhere. Australian David Warner made his way into Australia’s Test team, not as a result of his runs in first-class cricket, but because of his play as a T20 opener. Consistent Andre Fletcher caught the eye in this CPL. But will he ever be a genuine Test opener? Will Johnson Charles? Will it matter when they could have regular work in the CPL and elsewhere?
I still feel that Pollard will be all the better for playing Tests, but examples like his and Warner’s suggests that the one does not necessarily need the other. Just as there are good T20 players who will struggle in the longer format, there are also decent Test cricketers who will never find T20s to be their bottle of beer.
The attraction of T20 cricket is its instantaneous nature and high energy. This internet, high speed generation does not care too much about the finer points. Give them visuals. Give them action. They jump just as high for the “voop” that goes for six as the one that clears the boundary via a stroke played with a straight bat: “However we get it, we happy!”
Dravid reckons the sport is “maybe one generation away,” from reaching the point where “entire youth structures could cater only to T20, without any emphasis on the longer form of the game.”
Definitely, I can see that being the case. He says this would be a disservice to the youngsters. And he is right about that too. But by then, who would miss what they don’t know they are missing? Would the majority of spectators then worry about “proper” batting and bowling? No one will care enough about that.
The world governing body ICC has not helped Test cricket’s cause by dithering on finding ways to make it a more marketable product. The game still does not have a Test championship in place. And if the ICC makes the mistake to relegate the lower-ranked nations to playing among themselves primarily, the popularity of that format in those territories will dwindle even more. I’m not convinced that the ICC’s decision-makers really care that deeply about Test cricket’s future. That is not where their money-making lies.
Mind you, Test cricket as it is beng played, is perfectly fine. It is still highly-skilled action that produces drama and theatre. It is just that the grand climax does not arrive as quickly as in 40 overs.
But that is just what I think. That may be what Dravid believes passionately. But our generation will eventually pass off the scene. And then what?
The CPL generation will have its way.