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Test matches will benefit from Twenty20's success
by Boria Majumdar
Sep 28, 2007
That Indians are cricket crazy, rather international cricket crazy, is a serious understatement. At Jinan airport in China, waiting for a flight to Beijing, this was borne out to me yet again. An Indian businessman from Doha, waiting to travel to Beijing and then to Muscat, had purchased the Willow TV live streaming to watch India play Pakistan in the Twenty20 final.

And just when the announcement was made that there was a two-hour delay did he jump up in ecstasy. Sreesanth had caught Misbah-ul-Haq at fine leg and Mahendra Dhoni and his men had entered Indian cricket’s folklore. His excitement was cause for major concern for his co-passengers. Why would someone leap up in joy at the announcement of a serious flight holdup? Little did they know that for Srinivas the extra wait was an opportunity to live through the prize distribution ceremony of India’s second preeminent cricketing moment after the 1983 fairytale.

“The first thing I’d do on reaching Muscat is to buy the package for the India-Australia one day series. May be we can finally break the Australian jinx”, suggested an elated Srinivas. This brings us to the moot question following the Twenty20 world cup. That Twenty20 is a format for the future is by now well established. Full houses for most contests in South Africa have supplied the necessary evidence.

Whether or not it will sound the death knell for the fifty over game is a far more pertinent question? And if history is anything to go by, it can be suggested with certainty that the fifty over game has little to fear. Rather, Twenty20 will inject new energy into all forms of cricket. In India for example not one will miss the forthcoming one-day series against Australia. The disastrous 50 over world cup is finally behind us and it is expected that Indian cricket fans at home and in the diaspora will lap up the all the cricket played by the national team in the coming months.

Soon after the Twenty20 world cup was over, Indians in Melbourne and Sydney have started queuing up for tickets for the historic boxing-day and new year Tests at the MCG and SCG. Says Richard Cashman, sports historian and social scientist, “There have been some debates in the Australian media of late on whether the year end contest will be as keenly watched as the 2003-4 series because the Australians have had the edge in India-Australia contests in recent times. The Twenty20 semi-final has changed all that. Cricket Australia is sure to witness a windfall come December.”

Back in the 1970s when the one-day fifty over contests were striving to gain currency, there was considerable speculation over its future. So much so that Robin Marlar writing in the Indian Cricket Annual of 1977 called ‘circus cricket’ a bore. Once it was established, however, people questioned if it would hurt Test cricket. It didn’t. Test matches, if anything, have benefited from the popularity of the one-day game. In England and Australia for example most Test matches played between 2005-7 have been complete sellouts. The recently concluded India England Test series was a historic cash bonanza for the ECB.

Studies of fan behavior demonstrate that supporters tend to stay away from sporting contests if they have a negative gut feel about the result. Twenty20 has once again successfully introduced that element of uncertainty integral to cricket. With yet another format, teams will now have more chances to redeem failures and fans will find it far easier to erase memories of past disasters. Indian fans for example have completely forgotten the disastrous Caribbean caper or even the recent one-day series loss to England. And most are waiting with bated breath for the Australia series to begin.

The truth is that Twenty20, if anything, will hurt the commercialization of other sporting codes in India. Sponsors now have a new format to invest in alongside Test and 50 over cricket and the little money invested in other sporting codes might soon be diverted into cricket yet again. Following the success of Twenty20, confidence will have increased that money invested in cricket is secure with surfeit cushions against failure available and soccer and hockey administrators will find it doubly hard to alter this monopoly in future. India’s emphatic 7-2 Asia cup hockey victory against Korea has already gone into the back burner and the only animated sporting talk in the country is about the world champion Indian cricket team.

Finally, what this victory has also done is that it has altered a fundamental reality of Indian cricket. Indian cricket, history proves, has always been about individuals and not the team per se. Hence we continue to hail Hazare’s twin centuries at Adelaide even when India had lost the match by an innings.

This victory without the holy trinity having played any part in it marks a watershed in the history of India’s cricket. With this individual performance will finally be outshouted by the clamour for national victory. Players will be worshipped not for fantastic innings per se but for those performances, however short they may be, that prove decisive. Joginder Sharma, with a decisive last over against Australia was as much a star as Rohit Sharma or Sreesanth, who had scored 50 and picked up 2 for 12. Stars will now be made on the basis of last minute save-play. Thus, a young R P Singh, a relative newcomer to the side is as much a hero as Dhoni for example by conceding just five runs in the penultimate over of the Australia game, which he bowled. The crowd hailed the saviour, who brought victory by 14 runs.

In the ultimate analysis the victory in the Twenty20 world cup has once again fuelled the Indian dream to have a crack at world domination. Test match cricket and fifty over contests will live off its benefits in the foreseeable future.
 
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