Last week after Chris Gayle slammed his magnificent 66-ball unbeaten 175, I began calling around trying to get one of the past cricketing greats, batsmen primarily to get a reaction to Gayle’s whirlwind inning. The vast majority with whom I spoke had not seen it. Others I chose not to call because they simply ‘don’t watch T20 cricket’.

Like the great West Indies players, there are many purists who don’t like this shortest form of the game. They say it is glorified slogging and that it does nothing to help Test cricket, the traditional format that admittedly doesn’t have the audience it once had. However, the past greats and the purists might be of the opinion that T20 cricket is the bastard child that really does nothing to help the parent, but i disagree. In fact, I do believe that those who think so little of the game are a bit short-sighted because when you look at the facts, T20 cricket has helped raised the standard of cricket worldwide.

The first official T20 games were played back in 2003. But it’s genesis began a year earlier when the Benson and Hedges Cup ended in 2002. Back then the England Cricket Board needed another one-day competition to fill its place. Cricketing authorities were looking to boost the game’s popularity with the younger generation in response to dwindling crowds and reduced sponsorship. It was intended to deliver fast paced, exciting cricket accessible to thousands of fans who were put off by the longer versions of the game. Stuart Robertson, the marketing manager of the ECB, proposed a 20-over per innings game to county chairmen in 2001 and they voted 11–7 in favour of adopting the new format.

The first official Twenty20 matches were played on 13 June 2003 between the English counties in the Twenty20 Cup. The game initially was nothing more than a slog which was exciting but very fleeting, but over time we have seen players evolve to adapt to meet the demands of the new format. Indian fitness coach Ramji Srinivasan declared in an interview with the Indian fitness website Takath.com, that Twenty20 had “raised the bar” in terms of fitness levels for all players, demanding higher levels of strength, speed, agility and reaction time from all players irrespective of role in the team.

There can be no denying that since the introduction of T20 cricket, players have demonstrated greater levels of fitness and strength. Chris Gayle, for example, batted through the entire inning and was constantly fitting sixes; 17 of them, which is a world record for the  number of sixes hit in any one inning. That requires great strength and fitness to accomplish. We also have seen similar demonstrations of strength and fitness from Shane Watson, David Warner, Vinat Kohli and several other stars in the Indian Premier League.

Take also into consideration also that in the 130-plus year history of Test cricket 288 double centuries have been scored, in the last eight years 58 of them or just over 20 percent of them have been scored. Is it a coincidence that this just about the same time that T20 cricket was introduced? Scoring rates, one of the major bug bears of Test cricket, have also been on an upward swing.

During the 1960s and 70s, for example, it was standard for a team to score 200 runs in a 90-over day in Test cricket, snail’s pace when compared to the close to four runs an over Test teams are averaging nowadays and more specifically, since the dawn of T20 cricket. In the Test between Australia and South Africa played in Adelaide last year November Australia scored 550 runs in just 107.2 overs, that’s 5.12 runs per over, against one of the best bowling attacks in the world.  That kind of scoring was not limited to just that match because since the introduction of T20 cricket batsmen have been more creative and more daring in that shot selection, which has helped to speed up scoring rates in Tests.

Bowlers, too, have benefited as they have forced to develop several types of deliveries to add to their armouries. We now see bowlers having several types of slower balls without any major changes in the bowling actions. They have become better bowlers as a result, taking wickets as a faster rate than ever before.

Fielding has also improved dramatically. Fielders are doing things that at one time seemed near impossible; throwing their bodies around and cutting off balls that seemed destined for the boundaries. We see fielders demonstrating incredible agility to pull off amazing catches and hitting the stumps with throws from the outfield more frequently than ever before.

T20 cricket has also done something that Test cricket has not been able to do in ages. It has brought many young fans to the sport. Test cricket in today’s world is a no-go. People are more on the go than ever before. Very few have time to sit for five whole days to watch five-day Test matches than these days so often end in three or four days because of faster scoring rates. T20 is played over three hours, the same time it takes to complete a baseball game in Major League Baseball.

As such in the last decade there has been an explosion of T20 competitions around the world, with even the late-in-the-game West Indies starting it’s own league later this summer. We now wait to see if the crowds will come back given the fact that the West Indies are world champions and the fact that some of the sport’s great batsmen have already been enlisted by several franchises across the region. Thankfully for the franchise holders in Jamaica, the world’s greatest T20 batsman Chris Gayle will be playing right here at home.

In short T20 is a win/win for the sport of cricket. The purists might scoff and choose not to watch but that stone that would prefer to cast away is rapidly becoming the cornerstone on which the future of cricket so desperately depends. It’s time perhaps, that they start to pay attention.

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  1. dallo says:

    From an economic standpoint, it’s this format which attracts the most casual fans. Test cricket will always be the ultimate contest in my view, but attracting turnout is somewhat challenging.

    So-called purists will ever be sweatin’ over players developing bad habits, whatnot but at the end of the day there are always gonna be great test players doing great things with bat and ball.

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levyl Posted by: levyl April 29, 2013 at 11:58 am