Twenty20 a cash cow

Twenty20 is the name of the game today both universally and locally. While the Indian version of the shortest game of cricket is taking place in India with all its razzmatazz, Sri Lanka is conducting its own form of it at inter-provincial level. Where all this will end up is a matter of conjecture.

The saddest part of it is that such innovative competitions at international level have begun as revenge for not being given what a mogul wants. Take the Kerry Packer World Series for instance. The Australian business tycoon signed up the cream of cricketers from Australia, England, Pakistan, South Africa and West Indies to play in a one-day format of the game devised by him which introduced night cricket, coloured clothing, white balls and black sightscreens. These are all today part of the one-day game.
Why Packer started his World Series which was in direct conflict to the traditional game was because the Australian Cricket Board did not give him the exclusive TV rights to Channel Nine. The ‘Packer Circus’ as it was dubbed by the English press was staged between 1977 and 1979.

After nearly 30 years a Packer-style war between a frustrated television mogul and the Indian Cricket Board has led to the introduction of the IPL (Indian Premier League) and the ICL (Indian Cricket League) in India.
The Indian Cricket Board initially excessively tardy in embracing the 20-over format swiftly formed the IPL in direct competition to the rebel ICL.

Zee Telefilms boss Subhash Chandra’s unsuccessful bids to secure the telecast rights to the 2003 ICC Cricket World Cup and the 2006 ICC Champions trophy from the Indian Board led to the formation of the ICL. “They denied us the cricket content, so we had to create our own content,” was the ICL’s response.

The ICL became active in November and eight teams of private clubs played in the Twenty20 format vying for prize money worth US$ one million. With the International Cricket Council (ICC) giving its seal of approval to the IPL the ICL became outlawed with respective Cricket Boards banning their players for taking part in it. Thus the majority of players who took part in the ICL were either semi-retired or retired cricketers. It has also created a dangerous precedent that if any player continues to be ignored for national selection he has something to fall back on by retiring prematurely from the game and throwing his weight with the ICL.
The IPL which is officially recognised by the ICC and which deals directly with the respective Cricket Boards for the release of its players for the tournament is worth a staggering US$1.026 billion spread over a period of ten years. As part of the deal, the consortium consisting of India’s Sony Television network and Singapore-based World Sports Group will pay the Indian Board US$918 million for the television broadcast rights and US$108 million for the promotion of the tournament.

Until now the best cricketers have earned most of their money by representing their country, whether in an official eleven or a rebel team in World Series or apartheid South Africa. This period in the game’s history of primarily representing countries is in danger of ending abruptly. Top grade cricketers can now earn more by representing an Indian city rather than their country, club or province. It seems that city-based cricket has arrived and will surely spread testing the players’ commitment towards representing his country against earning a fast buck.

The sudden surge towards the shortest form of cricket is the result of the fifty-over game losing its attraction as a spectator sport. The failure of the ICC 2007 World Cup in the Caribbean to catch the public’s imagination and in direct contrast the highly successful ICC World Twenty20 in South Africa has laid the longer version open for takeover by the shortest format.

Twenty20 cricket was the brainchild of an England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) employee and astonished its many detractors by the popularity and vast attendance attracted by its inaugural county competition in 2003.

For the connoisseurs who frowned when the fifty-over game was internationally introduced in the early seventies, the Twenty20 is something they will find hard to stomach. Sri Lanka Cricket exposing schoolboys to the new format in the ongoing inter-provincial Twenty20 has proved to be the last straw for past stalwarts like Bertie Wijesinha, former All-Ceylon cricketer and reputed cricket coach who said: “Cricket is a classical art which is being jazzed up for pecuniary advantage.”