There is something about Twenty20 that makes for riveting television. I am not so sure that watching matches live provokes the same excitement, the same level of breathlessness . Sports ideal for television like snooker, golf, boxing depend on the moments of stillness when the sportsman is in close-up. The image of the snooker player settling down to play his shot (with all the possibilities available to the viewer), the golfer preparing to swing and the boxer waiting for an opening bring to their movements a stillness that draws you in, making you an accomplice.
Twenty20 has the same effect. The format compresses a range of emotions over three and a half hours, and eliminates the need to be sitting at different areas of the field to get the full impact of the hitting. Sixes are exciting, but not if the ball lands in the crowd across you. In the early days of television, the camera followed the action from one side only, the theory being that it thus gave you the picture if you were sitting behind the bowlers arm on one side, and behind the wicketkeeper on the other.
That was before common sense dictated that we ought not to limit technology to human proportions, but use it to the fullest. Thus we had two and four and 24 cameras to give the impression that you were sitting and watching from all possible areas of the stadium. The living room sofa suddenly became the best place to watch a limited overs match from. It didn’t apply to Test cricket because the camera could never capture the subtlety, the changing texture of a long innings.
The shorter the game, and the more focused its emotions, the greater it is for television. That is why the 50-over World Cup in the subcontinent in 2011 might well be the last of its kind. Twenty20 will not kill Test cricket so much as the 50-ver game since that is what it is closest to. Television viewers spoilt by the (admittedly limited) emotions on display of the Twenty20 game, where the two main ingredients are sixes and dot balls, will not abide by a format that, in the middle overs tends to be boring and limited in its appeal.
Players can, of course, bring to the 50-over game the techniques learnt in Twenty20. Like the innovation of moving the front foot away from the line of the ball rather than towards it to give greater freedom to the swinging bat. Or the one unveiled in England recently when Sri Lanka’s Dilshan flicked the ball over his head and that of the wicket keeper too, to take advantage of an untenanted area of the field. But if the attempt is to make 50-over matches like Twenty20, then there’ll be two formats similar to each other, and the shorter one will survive.
Tactics that emerged during the recent World Cup have given bowlers some hope, even if someone like Sri Lanka’s Mahela Jayawardene, one of the most elegant players in the game thought nothing of playing a reverse sweep – already the ugliest stroke in the game – with the back of his bat. Innovations are piling up at a steady rate; they will make the 50-over game irrelevant and unnecessary.
What will be interesting is to see which way the traffic flows. Will Twenty20 attract diehard Test fans or will it be the other way around â? and this is the argument of the authorities â? with fans of the shorter game being attracted to the longer one? Actually, it doesnnâ?t matter. Once the 50-over game withers away it will be good for both Twenty20 and Test cricket, since these two formats have nothing in common. You can be a heavy metal fan who loves listening to Mozart.