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Three formats of cricket can co-exist
by Suresh Menon
Jan 28, 2008
By Suresh Menon - Dreamcricket Special Columnist

Most franchisees of the Indian Professional League (IPL) hope to break even over the next two to four years. And when you consider that the deal is for a ten-year period, it is fair to assume that everybody - the players (average salary for 44 days’ work is said to be around a quarter million dollars), the business houses, and the Board won’t just be laughing all the way to the bank, they will be hooting and howling and dancing and turning cartwheels.

Even a generation ago, Indian players on the domestic circuit dealt in rupees, in thousands and envied the Kapil Devs and the Sunil Gavaskars who alone seemed to be making money by the bucketfuls. Now they deal in dollars, and in millions, and it takes no rocket scientist to figure out which form of the game will become the most attractive. The Indian Board has thrown its weight behind Twenty20.

Former England captain Mike Atherton believes that is the way the game is headed. In his column in The Sunday Telegraph he has written: “To query whether the increasing dominance of Twenty20 is a good or bad thing for cricket is pointless, rather like ruminating on whether it is good or bad to grow old. It is going to happen; get over it. Get over it quickly because it is happening right now.” The underlying fear is that Twenty20 is getting ready to destroy the traditional game.

It is the form of the game guaranteed to attract the sponsors, the big players, and the media. But - and this I believe is why the obituary notices are premature - Twenty20 cannot exist without the traditional game. When the one-day international arrived in 1970-71, and the first World Cup was held in 1975, it was assumed that Test cricket would soon be obliterated. By keeping the two forms separate, the authorities avoided that. But there was another, deeper reason too - in three decades, the format had begun to pale; the glorious uncertainties were squeezed out. All the variations had been played out.

Test cricket’s variations are infinite, and that will keep it going long after Twenty20 has been destroyed by greedy officials.

Twenty20 scored so quickly because it reintroduced excitement into the shorter game. That, and the fact that it was India which won the first Twenty20 world. Had the results of the two major tournaments of last year - the World Cup in the West Indies, where India lost disastrously, and the Twenty20 in South Africa, where India won unexpectedly been reversed, then the Board would not have plunged in so readily and made its billion.

As long as the International Cricket Council keeps its vision uncluttered - as it has by ruling on the maximum number of Twenty20 internationals a country is allowed to play in a year - all the forms of the game can thrive. But should it decide that the market must rule, and if that market is controlled by India which might decree that Twenty20 is the chosen one, then cricket is in trouble, but only in the short run.

I am a great fan of Twenty20 cricket - but only if it involves the stars of the game; and these stars are made by Test and one-day cricket. Twenty20 is the closest cricket comes to being an individual sport. The IPL realizes this, and that is why players like Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly and Rahul Dravid, who do not figure in the national Twenty20 team have been named ‘icons’ of the IPL. To keep the format alive it is necessary to limit the number of matches on offer for the spectator either in the stands or at home.

If the IPL hopes to bring fans back into the stadium, then the tournament might lead to at least some of our stadiums becoming spectator-friendly. So much money, so little comfort - that is the story right now.

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