x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

World Twenty20 has yet to leave its mark

With domestic leagues increasingly popular, the ICC tournament lacks significance yet.

The World Twenty20 is shortly followed by the Champions League T20. Gareth Copley / Getty Images
The World Twenty20 is shortly followed by the Champions League T20. Gareth Copley / Getty Images

Today Twenty20 cricket produces the most overwrought discussions in cricket. The most that is, behind those on one-day international cricket and Test cricket. It is cricket as Franz Kafka might have written it, in a perpetual circle of threatened existentialism: Twenty20 is threatening all ODIs and Tests, but Twenty20 is now also losing viewership, as are ODIs and Tests.

Every big Test series, big ODI and Twenty20 tournament is frameworked by such concerns; "Test cricket needs this series to prove it is alive and thriving"; "This is the time for 50-over cricket to show it has a place"; "Do we have too much Twenty20?" By the end nothing is proved or disproved, only forgotten until the next big series or tournament.

Who knows where any kind of cricket is heading? What many are coming to know is that one cricket game is bleeding into the next; to wake up one day and mistakenly imagine that Australia are playing the Sialkot Stallions in the Bangladesh Premier League Ashes over five days of 50 overs is not so mistaken. And it is all dying.

Well before the World Twenty20 was over, ads for the Champions League had begun. On Tuesday, not two full days after the Sri Lanka-West Indies final, it will begin, featuring players we have all just seen in Sri Lanka. Representation will be different but at least the format is the same.

What Twenty20 has done is frazzle our minds about how cricket has divided itself and how a standard of cricket is to be judged. For years, cricket was domestic or international, essentially the former finding and developing players for the latter. This was a safe, easily comprehensible divide.

Twenty20 has created a new category of representation, the international domestic tournament, and nobody is sure where it stands, above or below anything else. Matters of form, and thus national selection, are confused. How good is someone who has scored lots of runs in the Sri Lanka Premier League (SLPL), given that he mostly faced domestic quality bowlers and only a sprinkling of international quality ones?

MS Dhoni, inevitably, was asked how, given the Indian Premier League (IPL), India had yet again not managed to make it to the last four of the World Twenty20 (they have not, if it matters, since the IPL began). Patiently, Dhoni provided a long and pretty detailed response: "I have always said it is a domestic tournament. There are a lot of international players in all sides, but the role of the domestic players is very important. When you are playing against international sides, the bowling attack of the opposition is much better."

This is far more confusing than the simple club and country divide Twenty20 was supposed to create. That anyway affects players. Supporters? I do not think I have yet met a hard core Chennai Super Kings fan, as a random example. For them, Twenty20 has not created allegiances to the club (not yet anyway) as much as allegiance to the format itself: in April you will follow the Super Kings, in August the Ruhuna Royals, in December the Sydney Thunder, in February the Khulna Royal Bengals and back again.

Allegiance, and more cricket. Next year, as well as all the already five existing leagues (on the IPL franchise model), there may be two more in Pakistan and the West Indies.

Suddenly the World Twenty20 feels a little smaller doesn't it? Especially because it became clearer as the tournament progressed how few Twenty20s are played between international sides outside this event in a year.

Before it began the ICC was predicting record broadcast figures. The tournament would be watched in 226 territories, by a record 1.5 billion viewers it said. This feels like it should mean something but other than more money coming in, it is not clear what, nor why it should be significant.


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