It’s been a long 48 hours. After Alex Hales, a batsman many wanted to see in England’s test middle-order, effectively retired from red ball cricket on Tuesday, the arguments on social media have been long and intense. Some see Hales as a Judas whereas others seemed to be celebrating the creeping ‘specialisation’ of the game … even though this process might well lead to the death of test cricket.
I really hope that Hales isn’t the thin edge of the wedge. The truth is I’ve never been so concerned about the rise of T20 cricket. However, it’s also true that I haven’t always felt this way. In fact, one of my most memorable cricket watching experiences was an international T20 game held on 13th June 2005 in Southampton. I admit I was fortunate enough to enjoy some quality cricket hospitality that day, but it was the contagious sense of optimism created by the match that will always stay with me.
When I look back now, I find it incredibly ironic that it was a T20 game, rather than one of the subsequent Ashes test matches, that sticks in my memory so vividly. Yes I’ll always remember “Jones! Bowden!” and all the other signature moments that lit up that special summer, but there was something incredibly uplifting, inspirational even, about that June day at the Rose Bowl. It wasn’t just optimism about England’s chances against Australia that summer; it was an optimistic feeling about the future of cricket in general.
Of course things were very different back in 2005. International T20 was still fresh, new and exiting. Everyone, including me, seemed to love it. It brought in the crowds. Kids liked it too. And it seemed like the ideal taster for the serious action ahead. I never thought T20 would become a leviathan because it was just a bit of fun.
The action that day was superb. What’s more, England were in control from the moment that our openers, Marcus Trescothick and Geraint Jones, took 14 off Brett Lee’s second over. Michael Vaughan’s team really put down a marker that day. They let the Aussies know they were playing a very different England side – one that refused to be intimidated like the weak sides we’d put out in the recent past.
It’s strange to think that all eleven England players were making their international T20 debuts in this match. They certainly didn’t play like rookies. England batted first and made what seemed like an astronomical total back then: 179-8. The top scorers were Trescothick (who made 41), Paul Collingwood (who scored 46), and Kevin Pietersen who made 36 in just 18 balls. The latter’s performance was destructive enough to earn him the man of the match award.
In what seems like a strange quirk looking back, Andrew Strauss came out to bat at No.7 and made 18 off 16 balls at the death. That’s right. Andrew Strauss in the finisher role! Hmmm. How times have changed. It’s also interesting to note that England didn’t bother picking a spinner – something that would be unheard of in 2018. At the time experts thought that T20 would finish off spin bowling forever. How naive we all were.
Australia never looked like chasing England’s Everest-sized total. Darren Gough (3-16) and the mighty Jon Lewis (4-24), who was a very useful limited overs cricketer, proved far too much for them. The visitors lost wickets at regular intervals and were skittled for a miserable 79 all out. Get in! The margin of victory was a whopping 100 runs.
England had a pretty handy seam attack that day. The change bowlers were Flintoff and Harmison, and we had the luxury of leaving out Simon Jones, who bowled rapidly in the warm up match against Hampshire the day beforehand. The fifth bowler was Paul Collingwood, who was possibly our most reliable ODI bowler for a short period back then. People forget just how useful he was.
As for the Aussies it didn’t seem to matter that royalty like Ponting, Gilchrist, Hayden, Clarke, Lee, and McGrath were playing. They came across a superior force that day and succumbed like a child fighting Lennox Lewis. It was all incredibly satisfying.
It’s such a shame that I now look back at that day with both fondness and sadness. T20 seemed so innocent back then. I don’t think any of us thought it would go on to cannibalise first class cricket and possibly threaten the very existence of test cricket too.
Obviously some people will shrug their shoulders at recent developments and mutter something about ‘market forces’ and ‘lifestyle changes’ under their breath. They might even look down on cantankerous traditionalists like myself as daft luddites howling into the wind. However, I can’t help wondering what might have happened if T20 had been controlled rather than pushed at every opportunity at the expense of everything else.
I can only hope that people eventually begin to tire of T20 cricket. Yes it’s very immediate and extremely entertaining on a certain level, but as a sport it lacks depth and nuance. I know that now because I’ve watched so much of it. The problem, however, is that the authorities act like they’re hostages to social and lifestyle changes. They give the impression that flogging T20 is the only way they can keep cricket in general relevant.
I’m afraid I can never agree with this perspective. People might be time poor these days but they’re still perfectly capable of engaging with something that unfolds over a number of days. What’s more, modern technology has increased the media channels via which cricket can be digested. Following the course of a test match should be easier than its ever been.
My personal view is that cricket administrators – one could probably broaden this to sports administrators in general – are simply lazy and short sighted. They always have been and they probably always will. Their priorities are usually short-term profits and they struggle to look further than that. Consequently they allow their sports to be driven by market forces rather than grasping the nettle, being proactive, and shaping their sport’s destiny.
I believe things can be better, and that the different forms of cricket can live in harmony, because I’ve become a big fan of NFL. Yes I know that professional American football doesn’t exist outside North America, and that sports like cricket are different because reform would require agreement between different national boards, but it still shows what can be done with determination and vision.
For example, back in 1994 the NFL realised it had a problem. The big teams were monopolising the best players and something had to be done. The result was the implementation of a salary cap. This reform, alongside the existing draft system whereby the best players from college go to the teams with the worst records, kept the league competitive and the teams on a level playing field.
I’m not saying that a salary cap in cricket would solve all our beloved sport’s problems, but the authorities definitely need to look at what players are earning in different forms of the game. Maybe they could even look at pooling funds generated by tests, ODIs, and T20s, and then distributing this money equally? I know the obstacles would be considerable but it got to be worth thinking about.
The big problem (as I see it) is that I don’t think cricket’s administrators actually want anything to change. They don’t want to curtail T20 or save test cricket. After all, if you struck oil in your back garden would you really care about the protection order on that beautiful willow tree in the corner?
Written in collaboration with Keith Prowse
I’m getting bored of talking about this. I like T20, I like Test cricket, I think most other cricket fans are the same. I’d probably be more likely to watch test cricket on the tv, but more likely to attend a live T20 game, purely because its more convenient, NOT because I actually prefer it as a format – I imagine the majority of spectators are the same.
I think people vastly overestimate the actual and potential enthusiasm for T20 amongst the general public and vastly underestimate the actual and potential enthusiasm for test cricket, particularly in the UK.
I think if they actually showed, say, live Ashes cricket on sky sports 1 and live IPL on sky sports 2, they would be surprised to find that far, far more people would be watching the test match.
Test match cricket is not really in any danger, ie they’re not just suddenly going to stop playing it altogether. The main problem is that the quality deteriorates until Alistair Cook becomes a good batsman again. Of course – no-one in the media will actually acknowledge that this is what is happening.
Funnily enough I am the complete opposite! I love a day of test cricket, trying to work out all the nuances of the strategy between bowler and batsman or in fact figuring them out and seeing if the players actually execute that which you know is right! Watching a Kohli, Smith and, sometimes, Root building an innings and batting for hours, slowly at first and then quickening the pace as they get comfortable. And bowlers bending their backs with the the new ball, breaking them with the old ball until they can squeeze some reverse swing out of it.
T20 I might watch the odd game on the TV. It is too noisy, too many ugly shots, too many restrictions on the fielding side and the boundaries too short for modern bats! May be a good background to drink and get a buzz, shout at each other without actually conversing, group sing some cliched lyrics but nothing to wrap the old intellect around. The odd good moment is always repeated ad infinitum on the tele and the wine/beer/rum is less expensive and usually of better quality at home too.
The nuances of strategy are one of the main interests for me in 20-20. Test cricket if left to an ordinary captain, which most teams have, can drift and become a negative excercise in waiting for mistakes. Look how readily defensive fields are set in order to curtail scoring options. 20-20 has become a science, with a constant stream of stratagems. To miss this is to misunderstand the game. There are plenty of ugly shots in test cricket and beautiful ones in 20-20.
I prefer the 5 day format, as it is clearly the greater test, with changes in conditions and opportunities to experiment, but the 2 formats are so different I don’t think it is fair to compare them.
Test cricket is the subtler game, and if I’m honest is often better watched on TV rather than in the ground. The battle is a technical one between batsmen and bowler.
T20 is much better live than on TV. You can actually see where the gaps in the fields are and understand what the batsman is trying to do.
Totally agree. The arguments just go round in circles. The panic mode about test cricket seems totally irrational to me. All the players, including the white ball specialists, when pressed, accept test cricket is the ultimate form of the game and it is still well attended in this country, reflecting sustained interest, though there are empty stands in many other countries for the red ball game which seem to fill for the white ball.
I would disagree that the media ignore the problem of falling standards, as there are many analysts in the game who have talked and written about this for years and are still doing so. Look at the criticism Root gets for not translating good starts into big hundreds. Attacking innings by the likes of Bairstow, Stokes and Ali are always going to get more coverage than the grafting of a Cook, if only because there’s more to talk about, not because it promotes a white ball mentality. Even the popular press give test matches more coverage than 1-dayers.
I am not surprised to find more folk would tune in to an Ashes test than IPL in this country. This has little to do with the format, more to do with being a supporter. There is precious little for an Englishman to support in the IPL, whereas we’re all involved in Ashes history. Also the pre publicity for an Ashes series is akin to a major soccer international, so everyone is aware of it, whereas the IPL has minimal general media coverage in this country.
Look at Champions League soccer. Interest declines sharply when no English team is involved, yet it remains just as entertaining a package, but as we don’t identify with the protagonists we lose interest, even though the TV companies try their best to promote it.
“it is still well attended in this country, reflecting sustained interest, though there are empty stands in many other countries for the red ball game which seem to fill for the white ball”.
It is well attended in London – but often not outside. The picture is more complex elsewhere. Pakistan and West Indies play in front of empty grounds – however the former have had to play on neutral grounds and the latter are a basket case. Australia have just had a second record Ashes crowd (bizarrely described as “disappointing” by Moeen Ali) while the loses millions. SA, NZ and SL are patchy but Tests in those countries can pack crowds in with the right combination of factors. The crowds were excellent for the recent SA-India series.
I’ve attended test matches at Edgbaston, Headingley and Trent Bridge in the past 3 years, and all have been sell-outs or near-sell-outs. Only Headingley had any visible empty seats whasoever – and this was a cold, damp miserable May day against mediocre opponents. Both Edgbaston and Trent Bridge were buzzing – and appeared to be full to capacity, despite ticket prices having doubled in about 5 years.
I would disagree that it’s a London thing. Attendances at the Oval often seem more sparse than consistently good ones at my home ground, Edgbaston and Old Trafford. Both cities being as sport oriented as London.
would disagree that the media ignore the problem of falling standards, as there are many analysts in the game who have talked and written about this for years and are still doing so
Can you point me to an article that openly acknowledges or at least intimates that the overall standard of test cricket is significantly below that of the 1990s and 2000s?
Its not that there are no good players and no good teams. Its just that the great team to good team to mediocre team to crap team ratio amongst the top 10 test nations has gone from ~1/3/4/2 to 0/2/4/4, or something like that.
Almost anything written by the leading players of the 1980’s and 1990’s will imply a decline. Botham, Gower, Willis especially, Atherton, Hussein, Stewart, etc (the usual suspects).
Not that it amounts to much but we get a syndicated column by Derek Pringle in the Birmingham Mail which is often a diatribe on this.
World cricket will come to regret the introduction of T20. It will destroy cricket. Also grounds seem to be getting smaller. Other sports like golf are increasing distances due to the size of clubs etc. Bats get biggger boundaries get smaller. The game becomes dull. Cricket has been ruined.
James is absolutely right here.
What is cricket? More than any other sport it changes to reflect changes in society. This is widely acknowledged throughout numerous sporting histories. Many would say it’s what goes on on the village green and has nothing to do with the professional game. Certainly Test Cricket is the pinnacle of technical expertise, but does that make it the heart and soul? Isn’t 20-20 is just another format, no more or less valid than any other? I certainly don’t find 20-20 dull. You have to view it from a different perspective to other formats. Try telling the players they’re taking part in meaningless matches. By and large they seem to enjoy it and all the razzamataz that surrounds it. I don’t see any players turning their backs on it for county cricket in a reverse of the Hales and Rashid trend.
I think there are actually quite a lot of red-ball cricketers who don’t play (professional) white ball cricket and vice versa. They just don’t make a sing and dance about it.
Lennox Lewis not Lennon.
Yes that game did lay down a marker, the fear had gone. I’m okay with T20. My only beef is that in the UK it is seen as a booze fest. It’s difficult to take kids to such an environment and enjoy yourself.
Test cricket can be just as much a booze fest. I was there on the Saturday of last season’s West Indies test at Edgbaston. By lunchtime there were hundreds of boozed up lads in fancy dress, oblivious to anything other than being the centre of attention at their own party and this is during a game when we were doing well, so their were plenty of things to applaud on the field.
Money, money, money is the guiding force. Its got little to do with cricket, and the majority of watchers either don’t know whose playing or really care. It could be two teams of monkeys, and would make little difference to attendance’s. Its the “game” for the instant, I am, haven’t got the time, lets get pissed society. Cricket has always mirrored society through the ages and continues to do so now. It’ll survive but at what cost?
It actually started domestically in 2003. Surrey won the innauragal competition with a certain Ali Brown smashing the ball everywhere. Played over 2 & a half weeks it was a bit of fun – now there are countless meaningless games,Internationals and leagues proving more is not better, particularly when it’s largely heaving the ball into the crowd every other ball.
I hope the new franchise dies a death, although the ECB can’t financially let it fail, the Blast and some small counties will probably go down the pan in the process because two domestic completions won’t survive. If cricket takes a hit, and T20 dies so be it. It’ll be worth the short term pain.
Now I think I’ve had it with this subject.
The damage is done. Amateur cricket is dying and pro Cricket is becoming a 2020 circus. Enjoy what we now call the ‘lomg’ Format of 40/45/50 overs as it’s being phased out fast in favour of rather mundane and same win lose.
I’m not entirely sure amateur cricket is dying particularly fast – some clubs are struggling, sure, but only because of the general lack of exposure means that new players entering the sport are few and far-between. This could easily be reversed.
But the ECB are doing their best to kill it. Here in Surrey the ECB, via the Surrey authorities, are encouraging the leagues to move to shorter limited over games. As a result I know of older players (40+) in most teams who say they will retire when this is implemented. Why does this matter? Because they are the club members who run the club, prepare the wickets, coach the colts etc. Lose them and clubs will fold.
Surely the clubs have to vote in any changes, so any changes that do go ahead must reflect the will of the players
You would not believe the degree of pressure being put onto league committees, who are then in a position to shape the proposals to be put to AGMs. I suspect the next move will be to tie things like the ECB small grants scheme (which is not that small, giving £1-10k and 90% of cost) to clubs playing short format. We bought a new roller for £10k using the scheme but I am guessing we will not be eligible for much longer.
We obviously all hear your points James (and obviously all generally enjoy reading them – otherwise we wouldn’t be here), but it is sort of becoming a ‘bash T20 over the head with a shitty stick-fest’. Your feelings towards the format is loud and clear.
However ….What can be done about it? What can the general test cricket lover do to try to reverse things?
I have no answer and I’m not sure I’ve found one from you in he months that I’ve been reading this great blog.
I actually like T20. It’s not the format I have a problem with; it’s just where everything is leading to.
Sorry for all the T20 related material recently. I’m just responding to what the main stories are in the news. We’ve had the tri-series, and the retirements of Hales and Rashid to digest. There’s not a lot else going on – although I might write something about the Lions soon.
When it comes to solutions I was really trying to invite some suggestions from readers at the end of my piece. I really don’t know what can be done, other than the administrators rediscovering some faith in first class cricket. ICC politics and the rise of powerful competitions like the IPL make it extremely difficult to know what’s actually possible. There needs to be a collective banging of heads throughout the cricket world. I’m all ears if someone has any suggestions.
We could come up with lots of great suggestions, but they’d all rely on someone at either the ecb or the icc to actually give a shit about the future of the sport
So the best thing is to spend our time complaining over and over again to people that feel the same? Is that why people read this blog? I very much hope not.
Certainly I think engaging with people and making an effort to put our views across is a worthwhile activity. It’s by no means inevitable that red ball cricket shrinks or disappears, its entirely within the power of the ecb and icc to both protect it and return it to previous levels of quality and popularity.
Maybe the franchise will be a solution of sorts if it falls on its arse. I’m not so sure I expect (or want that) though.
My post certainly wasn’t a dig, and I’m as perplexed as the next person about a solution. However, one of the main things I remember from 2005 was that it was all on terrestrial TVand that got the whole country interested (despite Mark fucking Nicholas). Could it be that that some form of campaign to get home tests on free to air tv is an option? After all “we” sort of invented test cricket, shouldn’t we be the ones that try to save it before Netflickers and Youtubers get “free” coverage with every £50 spent?
Its fine – its a topic that needs talking about – my gripe is not that we’re talking about it, its that we’re having to talk about it, and having to make the same arguments over and over again, because a lot of people just seem to make daft pronouncements that they obviously haven’t thought through, and its because of that that ECB are able to push through these reforms that are clearly going to be bad for the game.
Like the eejit on twitter who claimed to love test cricket but still thinks we should just get rid of 4 day county cricket because no-one watches it – apparently unaware that this would also mean the end of his favourite format.
A lot of people also appear to simply parrot the same claims over and over, simply because someone else said them, despite there actually being very little evidence that they’re actually true – like how kids only enjoy T20 cricket or that we have more limited attention spans now than we did 15 years ago.
This problem isn’t just linked to cricket – morons making bold pronouncements about fields they have no understanding of are simply a feature of the internet age in general.
Limited attention spans are a fact of life. Anyone who has kids or is around them for any length of time can see this. Talk to any teacher who’s been around for a while and I come from a family of them and they will tell you that unless you get their interest, by coming down to their level, it is difficult to engage them atall. This is clearly a modern trend, as when I was at school the syllabus was standardised, not designed for easy access. Maybe this modern trend is better, making learning less of a chore, but it does not help them when they have to come to terms with the adult world, which doesn’t make these type of concessions. This is not a moronic pronouncement by an ignoramous.
I have not come accross a youngster in years who is willing to sit down and watch test cricket on TV, they would rather play interactive computer games like cricket manager and create their own matches. I would probably have been the same at their age if we had had the technology then. However, in your defence there are precious few who I know who watch any cricket on TV.
Your personal anecdotes notwithstanding, I’m not sure there is actually any research to suggest that kids nowadays have any more limited attention span than they did 20 years ago or more. Its all just a matter of perception. Old people always think young people are useless idiots with no attention span, morale fibre, whatever. They always have thought this and always will.
Old people are correct. Always have been. Always will be.
T20 is soma for the deltas and epsilons. To mix my dystopian metaphors, “you want a vision of the future, Winston, imagine a tattooed cyborg thrashing a six from a bowling machine over a 60m boundary while a Ravi Shastri hologram yells ‘boom – that’s out of here!'”.
Test over T20 anyday !
Cricket is world-famous and even getting more spectators after the arrival of 20 matches.
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