The problem of plenty in cricket

You know it’s gone too far when there are too many World Cups. Cricket needs to clear the pitch. Start with the T20.
West Indies celebrate after winning the T20 World Cup. Does the cricket world really need a T20 Cup though?(AP)
West Indies celebrate after winning the T20 World Cup. Does the cricket world really need a T20 Cup though?(AP)
Updated on Jul 26, 2020 08:19 AM IST
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Hindustan Times, New Delhi | ByRudraneil Sengupta

There was a time when a cricket World Cup came around every four years. You could get excited about it. Each edition brought with it its own unique buzz, left behind its own special legacy. Some were odes to the great teams of the time, testaments to long, powerful reigns — the West Indies in the ’70s, Australia in the 2000s. Some introduced abrupt shifts in the narrative, pointing in new, unexpected directions — India in ’83, Sri Lanka in ’96. And some were simply about the people — Imran Khan and the late great Martin Crowe in 1992, or Sachin Tendulkar being carried on Virat Kohli’s shoulders after the final at Wankhede in 2011.

Now, there’s a World Cup every year. At least there will be between 2021 and 2023, if all goes to plan. That’s two T20 World Cups and one 50-over one. And the inaugural Test World Championship, its points counter ticking again already, with the West Indies tour of England marking the return of cricket after its pandemic-enforced break.

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Does this packed calendar run the risk of devaluing the significance of a World Cup? Can fans keep up with this competitive onslaught? Has cricket overstretched itself?

It’s not a new question, but it is an important one. Those who play the game and those who watch it have been debating this for years, and yet there is no let-up in cricket’s drive to diversify and intensify.

England would have hosted the inaugural 100 by now if not for the pandemic, South Africa has 3TC — three-team cricket! There are T10 leagues in many nations, and of course T20 leagues lurk at every street corner.

I can’t think of another major team sport with as many variations on a theme. It’s as if cricket does not have an essence, or does not trust its own essence.

Is there a way to simplify things, retain the sanctity of major tournaments like the World Cups, and not have so much cricket in so many different guises?

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There is little disagreement that the heart of the game lies in the longest format, so let’s leave that be; the newly introduced World Test Championship may make a difference in bringing people back to the red ball. And it is easy to predict that we will see a lot more of Day-Night Tests in the near future, another measure that may help fill stands and increase viewership.

I am tempted to say that perhaps the time for 50-over cricket is gone, but then I think of the 2019 World Cup, and I have to hold my tongue. Now that was a legacy tournament if ever there was one. No one’s going to forget that tied final in a hurry. That’s just the kind of mayhem a sport needs.

Is it time, then, to give T20 over to the leagues? Is there any real need for cricketing nations to play the shortest format, or organise a World Cup in it? Why not just let it be a thing that exists in leagues around the world, generating its own local excitement in India or the Caribbean or the Big Bash Down Under, with a large floating population of players from all cricketing nations — young and old, unknown and well-established — mingling together in a solid cricketing ecosystem?

Of course, that’s exactly what happens already in these T20 leagues, and almost all of them are successful, all of them create vast opportunities for players, make for great television, and create excellent fan bases — all things that a good league system is supposed to do. Why not make more space for it by dropping T20s from the international calendar?

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Friday, January 21, 2022