If you have an interest in wine, you would know Robert Parker. People rate him the world’s top wine expert. He has been studying the subject for years and, short of naming his daughter after a grape, he has built his world around wine.
Parker writes widely read wine reviews. The good thing about them is this. You may not understand a whit about what he’s saying. But you will enjoy them. To the untrained, they seem engagingly outrageous, appearing to border on magic realism.
Here’s a sample from a Parker review: “This wine features a spectacular smorgasbord of aromas, including roasted meats, lavender, ground pepper, sweet blackberry and brandy-macerated cherries.”
What would Parker have to say if you bottled Twenty20, the latest vintage from cricket’s vineyard, and served it to him?
Maybe this: “Ruby red in colour (Twenty20 will be a red), it displays a robust nose of athleticism, lusty hitting and crowd participation. It gives off notes of innovation, irreverence and brevity. Drink it in a burst. It may not be suitable to the purist’s table but promises to be a hit among the young.”
So far, the traditionalists have had no time for Twenty20, which they see as a hideous contraption of cricket. But maybe we need to wait a while before taking any kind of extreme view on it.
There are things about Twenty20 that are not nice. It doesn’t have build-up, seduction. The action doesn’t have a slow-to-fast plot. It’s slam bang from the word ‘go’. That makes it somewhat mono-dimensional.
There are things about Twenty20 that are nice. Admit it, you don’t mind the shots. It was impossible to not watch Yuvraj Singh when he went after Stuart Broad, or Chris Gayle when he destroyed the South African attack in the opening match of the tournament.
The shorter, multiplex length has benefits too. It’s nice that at the end of three hours, there will be a winner. Bowl-outs and free hits are controversial but interesting inventions.
When critics of Twenty20 lament the mockery it makes of classical cricket, they have a point. But it is equally true that the sport needs to take preventive measures against stagnation. Bar Australia, Test match venues the world over are only occasionally full. Television ratings for the Longer Version are not what they used to be either. One-day Internationals continue to flourish, but a fatigue factor has been creeping in. The younger demographic, even in parts of India, is discovering the highs of football and Formula One, not to mention cyber games. So if cricket has rustled up a variation that might sustain its appeal, we shouldn’t be cruel to it at least.
Besides, some things ain’t gonna happen. People are not going to stop believing in Ram. Test cricket is not going to die.
A big complaint against Twenty20 is that it makes things even harder for bowlers. That might be true. But the World Championship has proven that it is not impossible for them to do well. Bowlers like RP Singh, Irfan Pathan, Sohail Tanvir and Mohammad Asif have enjoyed spells of domination, proving that bowlers can gain the upper hand as long as they apply pressure. In fact, the pressure on batsmen can be greater in a Twenty20 game because there aren’t enough overs and they have to continuously play at a brisk rate. What’s more, the situation challenges bowlers to think of a way out. Necessity being the mother of invention, who knows, we might see the birth of new types of deliveries and modern-day Bernard Bosanquets. My favourite virtue of Twenty20? It brings the fielder, always overshadowed by the guy with the bat or the ball, into the limelight.