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Last Updated: Tuesday, 25 September 2007, 11:31 GMT 12:31 UK
India 'secures future of Twenty20'
Mukul Kesavan
By Mukul Kesavan

The victorious Indian team
The Indians won a heart-stopping final
After the disastrous, 50-over World Cup in the West Indies where the death of a coach, an absurdly stretched-out schedule, exorbitantly priced tickets, and the early exit of India and Pakistan meant that everything that could go wrong, did go wrong, the ICC Twenty20 World Cup has been an administrator's dream.

The matches have attracted respectable crowds, the South Africans have been efficient hosts, the abbreviated format which many thought would make cricket a meaningless slugfest has resulted in matches played on remarkably level terms with canny bowlers more than holding their own against rampant batsmen.

Best of all the final played on Monday featured the fiercest rivalry in cricket, which, happily for the ICC, is also its biggest money-spinner.

It was an improbable outcome.

No expectations

The Pakistan team has been beset by disciplinary problems, it was bringing in a new coach and its batting stalwarts had either retired or been deemed unsuitable for this ultra-compact version of the game.

The Indians had never played a Twenty20 match. Unlike England (which pioneered the format) and South Africa, there is no domestic tournament in India built around the new format.

This radical abbreviation has invested Twenty20 cricket with the violent urgency of a baseball match where everything has to go
The Indian cricket board had been less than enthusiastic about Twenty20 because conventional ODIs [one-day internationals] have been such a reliable source of revenue.

Nobody in India, as India's captain MS Dhoni keeps pointing out, expected the Indian team to make any headway in the tournament.

And now they've gone and won it by a whisker after a heart-stopping final.

What does this mean for the future of cricket?

Indian fans watching the final game
For Indians, the games are similar in length to a Bollywood film
Well, first off it means that the format is here to stay. History is a contingent business: if India and Pakistan had exited early there would be no exulting South Asian crowds feeling they owned Twenty20, no queues of companies snaking around the block fighting to sponsor future matches or to run commercials in the cricket breaks.

India's massive television audience likes winning: it'll stay up nights watching anything that looks respectably international and where India takes the prize. By winning the inaugural Twenty20 World Cup, the Indian team has secured that format's future.

What is its impact on the other forms of the game - the 50-over ODI and the five-day Test match - likely to be?

Kris Srikkanth, a former Indian captain, said on television recently that contrary to popular belief, Twenty20 was no threat to Test cricket because the two formats were so different. Srikkanth believes that the format at risk is the 50-over ODI.

Violent urgency

There have been complaints for a while now about the predictability of limited-overs cricket, particularly about the lull in the middle overs of the game when batting teams nudge and consolidate.

Twenty20 seems to have taken care of that problem by simply eliminating the boring overs of that middle passage. This radical abbreviation has invested Twenty20 cricket with the violent urgency of a baseball match where everything has to go.

Remarkably, Indian cricket administrators for once are in a state of high readiness, perfectly poised to take advantage of the euphoria and enthusiasm for Twenty20 that the World Cup win has generated.

Yuvraj Singh of India hitting out against Australia
A successful Twenty20 league will make cricket less top-heavy
First Zee, a television company, then the Indian cricket board, because of Zee's challenge to the board's monopoly over the game in India, had announced Twenty20 leagues before the World Cup began.

Both Zee's ICL (Indian Cricket League) and the Board's IPL (Indian Premier League) plan to create league cricket based on franchised clubs modelled on the football leagues of Europe. The clubs will be free to buy players from anywhere in the world.

Were either of these league competitions to catch on (and given the World Cup win, this must be an odds-on possibility), the "honorary" nature of India's cricket administration and the shamateur status of its domestic cricketers will be a thing of the past.

A commercially viable Twenty20 league will make cricket less top-heavy, less dangerously dependent on revenues from international competition.

Ruining the longer game?

But won't its success spell ruin for the longer game?

If Twenty20 became entrenched as the profitable form of the domestic game, how long would it be before the three-day first-class competition, already nearly moribund in India from lack of spectator interest, became extinct?

This might create a generation of batsmen without a defensive technique. And, likewise, it might shape a generation of bowlers that looks to contain runs instead of bowling to take wickets.

Worse, it could encourage bits-and-pieces players at the expense of specialist batsmen and bowlers, who are the glory of the longer game.

Not inevitably. The advent of limited-overs cricket actually improved Test cricket by raising scoring rates, transforming fielding standards and nearly eliminating the interminable draw played out over five indecisive days.

Cheerleaders at aTwenty20 match
Twenty20 could be a huge commercial success

Twenty20 could take this evolution to a new level.

And the concern about the decline of specialist skills is a false alarm because Pakistan, who so nearly won the tournament, made the finals by playing five frontline bowlers who set out to take wickets.

Also, as Pakistani blogger Kamran Abbasi, has pointed out, Twenty20 cricket is the closest international cricket comes to the game that amateurs play in their neighbourhoods. How can that be bad?

'Evening show'

In fact, Chris Cairns, the fine New Zealand all-rounder, thinks that Twenty20 might herald a convergence of Test cricket and the limited-overs game.

He speculates that five years from now Twenty20 cricket could mutate into a four-innings game that would replicate the form of the Test match in miniature.

What the limited-overs game lacks currently, says Cairns, is the second chance, the shot at redemption that makes Test cricket such a satisfyingly complicated game.

If each side had two innings, played alternately, you could build that into the limited-overs game and still be done with the match in under five hours.

However, the great advantage of the Twenty20 format as it presently exists is that the spectator can be done with a game in three hours.

For Indian audiences, used to the long feature film, this is exactly the length of an "evening show".

If everything goes right and club cricket takes off, Indians might actually see their stadiums upgraded and tickets properly sold.

Once that happens there's a real chance that urban Indians might begin to watch cricket in their neighbourhoods in the way Londoners queue up to watch Arsenal or Chelsea.

None of this might happen: but it's a tribute to the massive potential of this fledgling format that level-headed players, administrators and journalists have begun dreaming.

Mukul Kesavan's book on cricket, Men in White, was published by Penguin India this year.

SEE ALSO
India team basks in media glory
25 Sep 07 |  South Asia
Win restores India pride - Dhoni
24 Sep 07 |  Cricket
Huge offer awaits Twenty20 champs
24 Sep 07 |  International Teams

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