‘Spate of limited-over cricket formats killing player satisfaction’
While it’s understood that large amounts are required to run cricket in the professional era, there also needs to be a balance between player satisfaction and entertainment value, writes Ian ChappellUpdated: Apr 29, 2018 11:00 IST
If money speaks all languages, then in recent times it’s become fluent in cricket chat. The lure of lucre is influencing most decisions on the game; the administrators are infatuated by the bottom line and many of the players -- underpaid by their country -- seek the ample riches of the T20 circuit.
The IPL set the pattern with lucrative contracts for not only star players but also some of varying standards and skill sets. This set off an explosion in T20 leagues and they’re now popping up like daisies in the sunshine, as boards look to capitalise on the latest cricketing fad.
While it’s understood that large amounts are required to run the game in the professional era, there also needs to be a balance between player satisfaction and entertainment value. The advent of an inaugural T10 league in the UAE and the English Cricket Board’s plan to launch a T100 tournament in 2020 should trigger player concerns regarding that balance. The English plan to have a 100 ball-a-side league, appears to have been done without much consultation with the players. The question then arises -- just as it did during the limbo craze -- “How low can you go?”
At what point will it be decided the number of deliveries that constitute an innings isn’t enough to satisfy the desires of all eleven players?
Where does natural evolution end and plain greed and overkill take over?
For around a century, the balance was probably too much in favour of player satisfaction. The Test match fulfilled the needs of all eleven players and at it’s best, the game provided ample entertainment. As the entertainment quotient of Test matches dipped to unacceptable levels, the One-day format appeared and this appeased all parties. There was still enough cricket to involve all eleven players adequately and the entertainment quotient enthused the fans.
A combination of Tests and ODIs provided the ideal balance; the latter produced the funds required to run the game and the former allowed the players to hone their all-round skills.
After a concerted period of success the complaints commenced about the middle period in the fifty-over game. The cry went up; “You might as well just watch the first fifteen and the last ten overs.”
In response to this perception the T20 game was invented, which prompted the obvious question; “What’s the next step if fans become disillusioned with the T20 format?”
Judging by the latest incarnations, the answer seems to lie somewhere between 60 and 100-ball innings. Those formats may be good for impatient fans and broadcasters but what about the players?
The fifty over game works out an average of thirty balls per wicket. When reduced to 20 overs, it’s an average of only 12 balls per wicket, which doesn’t seem adequate for the player satisfaction quotient. Once the format requires less than 50 overs, it greatly favours opening batsmen and for much of the rest of the lineup it’s a matter of too many sacrificed rather than satisfying innings.
To be good at fielding it needs to be enjoyed but it’s more enjoyable when complemented by a few decent stints at the crease. The common complaint from bowlers is “cricket’s a batsman’s game” but a maximum of four overs compared to an average of two for the willow wielders seems to negate that argument.
The recent drastic reduction in the number of overs that constitute a game has tilted the balance way too much in favour of entertainment over the sport. Fifty overs provided the ideal balance between the two aims; the players’ needs and the fans’ entertainment value.
These are delicate times in the evolution of the game and there’s a need for more consultation between players and administrators on the appearance of that future. It’s crucial to come to an agreement on the ideal number of versions for cricket and the length of those formats. Once that is agreed upon, it’s then up to the players to perform skilfully and entertain the public.
(Ian Chappell, former Australia cricket team Test captain, writes for Hindustan Times exclusively.)