Can T10 make cricket a truly global game?

Anindya Dutta Roar Guru

By Anindya Dutta, Anindya Dutta is a Roar Guru

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    While Steve Smith has continued his march towards Bradmanesque greatness at the WACA, quietly, unobtrusively, an experiment was playing out in the midst of the deserts of Sharjah.

    At the Sharjah Cricket Stadium, six BBL-style teams have been taking part in a four-day competition of 90-minute matches in front of packed stadiums. At the centre of the action have been England’s limited-overs captain, Eoin Morgan, West Indies T20 World Cup-winning skipper Darren Sammy, Sri Lanka’s Test captain Dinesh Chandimal, and Bangladesh captain Shakib-al-Hasan, among others.

    They are all taking part in the world’s first T10 championship. There could have been no start more dramatic than when in the first match, Shahid Afridi picked up three wickets in successive balls, the final victim being India’s Virender Sehwag, to become the first bowler to take a hat-trick in T10 cricket.

    With franchise names like Bengal Tigers, Kerala Kings, Pakhtoons, Maratha Arabians, Punjab Legends and the utterly unimaginative Team Sri Lanka, this particular competition clearly caters to the expat community in the Middle East who are starved of good cricket other than Pakistan’s ‘home’ matches at Abu Dhabi.

    This narrow target market, while ensuring the success of this ‘Masala’ version of cricket as purists would have it, very importantly also provides a safe environment to test run this format with little risk to the immediate plans of the ICC, located a few short miles away in Dubai. With the presence of so many current players in the competition, one cannot but assume that this has the tacit approval of the respective boards (and hence the ICC) who have let their players put in appearances for the various teams.

    It is an interesting time to experiment with this format. There appear to be at least three birds that can be bagged at one time with this one lob of the proverbial stone into the unknown.

    First, there is again a lot of discussion about the possibility of cricket being introduced as an Olympic sport. What is clear is that for a cricket to become an Olympic sport, it needs to take take less time and be intensely gripping every moment that spectators watch it. The format must also lend itself to the staging of multiple matches on the same day so that spectators who buy a day ticket get the most bang for the buck.

    By limiting the time available for each T10 match to 90 minutes, and staging multiple matches on the same day, the Sharjah tournament is going head-on with football for ‘eyeball time’ of viewers. That is surely not a coincidence.

    Second, it is not a secret that, notwithstanding the 25 days of packed stadiums Australia is currently blessed with for the Ashes, the numbers that show up to witness Test matches around the globe are abysmally tiny.

    I was in Kolkata recently for the launch of my new book Spell-Binding Spells at the time when the magnificent Eden Gardens was hosting the first India-Sri Lanka Test. Sourav Ganguly had produced a pitch (in preparation for the upcoming tour of South Africa) never before seen in India – it had grass, it had movement and it had bounce. It was beautiful. Surendra Lakmal, Sri Lanka’s medium pacer, had just run through the Indian top order with the spellbinding figures of 6-6-0-3.

    When I ran up to the top tier of the Eden Gardens clubhouse the next morning (which was Saturday), excited to be there after 20 long years and eager to watch this fascinating contest, there were 1299 other spectators at the ground as per the official count at a stadium with a capacity close to that of the MCG. The woes that beset cricket administrators were apparent in no uncertain measure.

    That evening when I raised the issue with VVS Laxman, who has written the foreword to my book and was launching Spell-Binding Spells with me, VVS responded saying that given how cricket has moved online through live streaming and the commercialism that has followed it, perhaps there is less reason to panic about lack of spectators at Test matches from a financial standpoint.

    While VVS is a very astute analyst of the game and is deeply involved with various aspects of it, what he highlights is clearly only one side of the story. No sport in the world survives on television and online streaming alone. Cricket is a spectator sport just as football or rugby is. Take the spectator at the ground out of it, and you are left with callisthenics without the emotion. That is not cricket.

    Third, with T20, the ICC is reaching out as far as they can into countries that have at best a fringe following for the game. While the example of Afghanistan making it to Test status in a short space of time is a good story, it is surely more the exception than the rule. Capturing in the ‘cricket net’ teams made up of expatriates will not take the sport mainstream.

    On the other hand, creating a 90-minute version of the game that reaches out to the masses has the potential to bring in not only new spectators into the ground, but also new participants into the game as the sport grows in acceptance and interest. Making it an Olympic sport will exponentially expand participation from athletes and countries eager to find a new source for adding another medal to their tally.

    It is clear that the idea of the T10 format is to get new participants and spectators to the game. By creating a 90-minute capsule format with the associated entertainment that a BBL or an IPL have already mastered, cricket might just have given itself the chance to reinvent itself into a sport that has mass appeal like football.

    It is worth reminding ourselves that in 2007, when the first World T20 took place in South Africa, India had only ever played one Twenty20. It fell upon a long-haired wicketkeeper called MS Dhoni, who had no leadership experience but plenty of attitude and gumption, to take a team of young hopefuls to compete in a format completely unfamiliar to them, and come back champions of the world.

    The following year, the IPL would be thrust upon the world and cricket would never be the same again.

    The purists of the game are vehemently against the T10 format. That is not surprising, and is indeed human. Change is rarely easy to accept. Before one dismisses this as yet another fad that will soon go away, we should at the very least keep an open mind.

    I suggest that it would take a brave man to bet against a scenario that at Paris in 2024, exactly 124 years after hosts France became the last team to play cricket at the Olympics against Great Britain, history will not repeat itself.

    Anindya Dutta has recently published his second book, Spell-Binding Spells: Cricket’s Most Magnificent Bowling Spells. You can grab a copy on Amazon.

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    The Crowd Says (40)

    • Roar Guru

      December 20th 2017 @ 7:18am
      Dutski said | December 20th 2017 @ 7:18am | ! Report

      Why stop there? Surely 10 overs is too long. Why not just have one over per side, and show that in ad breaks of popular TV shows. Imagine the ratings!!!
      I know I’m an old stick in the mud, but surely… surely there is an inherent self-limitation in tinkering with things in a never ending quest to appeal to those with short attention spans. You see, they have short atten
      Sorry
      TL:DR
      ?

      • December 20th 2017 @ 7:54am
        Carl said | December 20th 2017 @ 7:54am | ! Report

        True. But T20 is very popular right now. It is pure entertainment. Flat tracks and big bats. Swimming pools, fireworks, cheerleaders and fluro waves, hook up mics and LED bails. It is what the people want. The pity is most people don’t know who won the competition.

        • December 20th 2017 @ 12:50pm
          Slane said | December 20th 2017 @ 12:50pm | ! Report

          T20’s popularity isn’t because of the fireworks, big hits and cheerleaders, though. It’s grabbing people because it’s a normal length sport. You can actually sit down and watch a whole game. It’s astonishing that we didn’t think of it earlier. Somehow we convinced ourselves that playing one match(test) across 5 days is the best way to go about playing cricket. Whilst test cricket is certainly the most difficult(for players, fans and broadcasters), that doesn’t necessarily translate to being the most popular.

      • December 20th 2017 @ 10:38am
        Albo said | December 20th 2017 @ 10:38am | ! Report

        And if we try really hard we will eventually mutate the game into………baseball !

        • Columnist

          December 20th 2017 @ 10:00pm
          Spiro Zavos said | December 20th 2017 @ 10:00pm | ! Report

          Robin Williams once reckoned that cricket was “baseball on valium.” I’d say that if T10 catches on the Williams joke will have to be changed to “baseball is T10 on valium.”

          Incidentally, congratulations to Anindya on his new book “Spell-binding Spells,”, a fascinating study of most of the greatest bursts of bowling in the history of Test cricket.

          • Roar Guru

            December 25th 2017 @ 5:24pm
            Anindya Dutta said | December 25th 2017 @ 5:24pm | ! Report

            Thank you so much Spiro! Appreciate the kind words. Hope Roarers will like it.

      • Roar Guru

        December 20th 2017 @ 12:42pm
        Anindya Dutta said | December 20th 2017 @ 12:42pm | ! Report

        Haha love the ending! What i actually find interesting in the format is the 90-minute version that can work alongside more popular sports in order to broad base the followers of the game. I don’t necessarily think that’s a bad idea. Am in in love with the idea? Of course not. Should it replace Test cricket absolutely not! And if it is less than 10 overs it’s unnecessary because it’s too short.

        • December 20th 2017 @ 1:42pm
          fp11 said | December 20th 2017 @ 1:42pm | ! Report

          Cricket will never ever be played at the Olympics!

          • December 21st 2017 @ 2:32am
            tim said | December 21st 2017 @ 2:32am | ! Report

            “Never ever” is hard to justify when it has previously been an Olympic event, as mentioned in the article.

      • December 20th 2017 @ 1:43pm
        fp11 said | December 20th 2017 @ 1:43pm | ! Report

        My question is – Why is it called T10? T20=Twenty20. T10=???

        • December 20th 2017 @ 1:52pm
          Kersi Meher-homji said | December 20th 2017 @ 1:52pm | ! Report

          T10 is Ten10, just as T20 is Twenty20.

    • Roar Guru

      December 20th 2017 @ 8:45am
      The Bush said | December 20th 2017 @ 8:45am | ! Report

      Scary.

      Let’s hope this is more in line with the Hong Kong 8s or whatever it was and not the sign of things to come.

      I’ve come around to seeing the enjoyment factor in T20, but T10 and only 90 minutes is a step too far for me.

      • Roar Guru

        December 20th 2017 @ 12:47pm
        Anindya Dutta said | December 20th 2017 @ 12:47pm | ! Report

        I agree Bush. As you know From followING my writing you I am about as traditionalist as it gets so far as cricket is concerned. I am obsessed with its history. So for me this format is jarring. But I wrote the piece because I wanted to bring it out for discussion with the positives that I see in it. The negatives are many and are exactly what the comments on this thread show. But perhaps there is a middle ground to getting more countries and more people involved in the game and destroying it. We should not conclude that whatever has been presented this weekend HAS to be the format. Perhaps as a different format of the game it could be 10 overs with less players? just a thought.

        Also don’t know if you saw the Call—Out Bush at the bottom of the article for my book? I think you might find it interesting. Check it out when you can.

      • Roar Rookie

        December 20th 2017 @ 1:06pm
        Matthew Pearce said | December 20th 2017 @ 1:06pm | ! Report

        Agreed. T20 is good fun and easier for my non-cricketing relatives, but 10 overs is not enough. Flash in the pan and even more forgettable.

    • December 20th 2017 @ 8:48am
      Brainstrust said | December 20th 2017 @ 8:48am | ! Report

      The one sport that makes peanuts is athletics and thats because its too short. You have to at least offer 2 hours to make the grade, they might get away with T15 but never T10. That stadium looked small on the highlights.
      Olympic sport see the thing you don’t realise is Olympic sport all the money goes to the IOC.

    • December 20th 2017 @ 9:00am
      BA Sports said | December 20th 2017 @ 9:00am | ! Report

      Is being apart of the Olympic Games still important?

      The Olympic Games are fast losing relevance, particularly in the big markets. The whole point of getting a sport into the Olympic Games is both prestige and exposure, but the Olympics seems to be losing both..

      • December 20th 2017 @ 9:58am
        bazza said | December 20th 2017 @ 9:58am | ! Report

        Def Agree olympics espically summer is dropping in relevance

    • Roar Guru

      December 20th 2017 @ 9:03am
      JamesH said | December 20th 2017 @ 9:03am | ! Report

      “What is clear is that for a cricket to become an Olympic sport, it needs to take take less time and be intensely gripping every moment that spectators watch it.”

      Like all those other thrill-a-minute Olympic sports, you mean?

      I don’t understand why anyone would want cricket to be an Olympic sport anyway, especially not in a 10/10 format.

    • December 20th 2017 @ 9:07am
      spruce moose said | December 20th 2017 @ 9:07am | ! Report

      I can’t wait for when cricket becomes a one ball per innings match.

      I can see it now: Australia v West Indies.

      Mitch Starc bowls an inswinging yorker at Chris Gayle, who inside edges it to fine leg for four, and then in the second innings Sunil Narine bowls a doosra to Warner who connects with it but it lands inside the boundary for a four for a tie game.

      Then they have a tiebreaker over which lasts longer than the match because, well, we love a tiebreaker.

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