Cricket’s Twenty-20 Evolution, For Better or Worse

In its 150 year history, Test match cricket has faced its share of developments and progressions. Think back to Kerry Packer’s World Series Cricket of the late 1970’s, England’s Douglas Jardine and his bodyline tactics towards Bradman’s Australian’s of the early 1930’s, or even the evolution from underarm to overarm bowling throughout the W.G. Grace era of the 19th century. Yet in Test cricket’s most recent decade, a newfound source of variation, in the form of Twenty-20 cricket, is transforming the traditional game for the foreseeable future.

Upon Twenty-20 cricket’s inception, at the discretion of the ECB in English county cricket in 2003, it had spread to all corners domestically, and to the international scene by 2005 when Australian faced New Zealand at Auckland’s Eden Park in the inaugural T-20 international. Within two years, 2007 saw the first of many recent T-20 world cups, and marked the moment Twenty-20 cricket was here to stay. Almost a decade on, and most primary cricketing nations now hold prestigious and commercially successful domestic competitions. An annual world circuit of the Indian Premier League, Big Bash League, Pakistan Super League, England’s T20 Blast and the Caribbean Premier League to name a few. With this yearly circuit of highly financed, short-form cricket, many international stars, be it retired or in their primes, follow the circuit, the likes of Chris Gayle, Kevin Pietersen, Dwayne Bravo, Sunil Narine, Lasith Malinga, Brendon McCullum and Shaun Tait headlining the T-20 world. The allure of astronomical salaries has attracted these big name stars, many of which have achieved great or varying degrees of success at Test level. It is also now fascinatingly uncommon to see current Test players without some form of T-20 contract to fulfil, the uniquely Test only players of Alistair Cook or Chris Rogers, now few and far between.

Twenty-20 cricket and its repurcussions have been widely felt by the Test cricket community. For instance, the dismal past decade of West Indian Test cricket can be largely attributed to the rise and riches of domestic Twenty-20 tournaments. Stars including Chris Gayle, Dwayne Bravo, Kieron Pollard, Andre Russell and Sunil Narine have turned their back on the longest form of the game, due largely to the easy going, highly bankrolled nature of Twenty-20 cricket. This has left West Indian Test cricket, once the most fearsome and ruthless assemblage of Test cricketers in the history of the game throughout the 1980’s and early 90’s, now languishing at the bottom of the Test rankings, just ahead of minnows Bangladesh.

Twenty-20 cricket may also be attributed to the weakening trend of diminishing Test match crowds. Aside from traditional nations of England and Australia, all the world’s Test countries have seen recent Test crowds drop, often the unseemly sight of empty, soulless stadiums, a common occurrence at many Test matches, particularly beyond their opening days. By contrast, domestic T20 crowds across the world continue on a drastic rise. Most nations now see their domestic T-20 competition haul in crowds averaging over 20,000, and we only have to look to tomorrow’s Melbourne derby between the Stars and Renegades at the MCG, which will invariably draw a crowd larger than the 63,000 at Boxing Day. The reasons are simple; a society trend and desire for fast-paced, jam-packed entertainment in a short period of time, garners perfectly for the T-20 game, and worryingly for Test cricket

However, T-20 cricket, despite its enormous domestic success, still appears a novelty of entertainment at international level. Often held at the end of a Test or One Day series, international T-20’s appear to hold a deficiency of attraction, their lack of significance and meaning in the context of international cricket seeing their popularity surprisingly halted. It is in this case, the context, history and significance of the game, where Test match cricket will thankfully always hold a focal point of attraction over International Twenty-20 cricket.

Although many, still with a love for Test cricket, believe Twenty-20 cricket, and its domestic abundance, has brought, particularly in the case of the Australian’s, a style of cricket unconducive to Test match success. Since the T-20’s inception, the success of Australia since its late 1990’s and early 2000’s ‘Golden Era’ has greatly weakened. It can be attributed that T-20’s prominence has impacted this plight of Australia’s, with T-20’s style of play detracting from the attributes proven for Test match success. The tradition of long, arduous batting for a 6 hour day, a value placed upon your wicket, repeated spells of line and length bowling, and repeated efforts of quality over 15 sessions of a Test match all go out the window in the context of a Twenty-20 game. This trend has seems to have filtered into prominence in Test cricket, a lack of these traits has, in the most recent decade, ever present in Australia’s Test side. It may well be, that T-20 cricket has diminished the quality and attributes of Australian Test cricketers, let alone those of competing nations.

However, the prominence of Twenty-20 cricket can also be seen, both on and off the field, as a point of growth in pushing Test match cricket forward. For instance, T-20’s night hours, and its ensuing popularity, have caused administrators of world cricket to think radically. The growth of T-20 cricket has pushed Test cricket in the right direction, the steps, now seemingly permanent, towards day-night Test matches an instant hit with fans and viewers, in drawing them back to the traditional form of the game. On the field, despite the previously mentioned drawbacks T-20 may have brought to the game, there are its significant benefits for Test match cricket. Look towards India, the Mecca of domestic T-20 cricket with its IPL franchises. India’s Test match side now emphatically holds the number 1 ranking, headlined by its aggressive nature of play and leadership under Virat Kohli. It can certainly be claimed that the boom of T-20 cricket has transformed India’s Test team into the power it is today. We must also look to Australia’s most recent Test in Melbourne. Chiefly, Australian Vice Captain David Warner, a product of the T-20 boom, has now evolved into the most feared opening batsman in the world, with 17 Test centuries in just 59 Tests at a phenomenal strike rate of 77, proof the style of cricket T-20’s have developed, does hold a game-changing place in Test Match cricket. He led from the front on day 3 of the rain interrupted Test with a run a ball 140, to propel Australia into a position of dominance. This was followed by the onslaught of Mitchell Starc and Steve Smith on the morning of day 5. Starc’s lusty blows, 7 sixes in an innings of 84, and Smith’s diverse, ingenious stroke play are both a by-product of T-20 cricket, encouraging cricketers into more powerful hitting, and more delicate and astute placement and stroke play. The pair added over 150 runs in under a session, to give Australia a lead beyond 180 prior to the final lunch break. Australia would proceed to rip through the heart of Pakistan’s batting line-up, to claim a remarkable victory by an innings. Clearly, the flow-on effects of Twenty-20 cricket saw Smith and Starc score at such a rate, that Australia could get into the position of opportunity for a Test match win.

It is for yesterday’s result, that we must embrace all that Twenty-20 cricket brings to the broader game of cricket. An enhanced level of skill, excitement and engagement that can create thrilling days and results of Test match play, such as that on Sunday afternoon at the MCG.


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