On the Front Foot: Short format has been quick to lose the novelty of speed
When Twenty20 first began, its novelty lay not only in its shortness but in its speed.
It was played at a stupendously high pace, with bowlers charging back to their marks and the new batsman sprinting to the crease. What fun this was, a phenomenon, almost a new sport.
Trust the players to spoil it. Bit by bit, they have ensured that this once bright young thing is now played at virtually the same sedentary pace as other forms of the game.
Preparation, or rather over-preparation, can be blamed. Technology means that there is a strategy for every eventuality. Captains are armed with plans for each opposition player: where he (or she) hits the ball, what shots they favour in a given position.
Equally, batsmen are constantly working out what sort of delivery might be coming next. They will know, for instance, that a particular bowler frequently follows a yorker with, say, a slower-ball bouncer and adjust accordingly. It all takes time out of the game. Fielders are forever changing or exchanging positions. The number of times in this World Twenty20 that a captain has suddenly realised he has got the wrong man catching at long-off and changed him equates almost to the number of balls. And then there are the drinks breaks.
It has been extremely hot, inhumanly so, but the players are taking the mickey. A wicket falls and the 12th man comes on with drinks. Another wicket falls next ball and on he comes again. There is much to be commended in the fact that the careful planning means that it is not hit-and-giggle cricket but a serious contest played by serious professionals. But on the way T20 has lost its essential raison d'être. Over to the umpires to stop the nonsense.
Twenty20 came too late for Sachin Tendulkar. He played one international back in 2006 in South Africa, scored 10 and quit the scene. It was rather like one-day internationals arriving in the twilight of Garry Sobers's career. Sobers only played a solitary ODI (and was out for 0 at Headingley in 1973, caught Bob Taylor, bowled Chris Old).
Tendulkar has made up for it in the Indian Premier League, in which he is the third-highest run- scorer. But one of the greatest of all careers is drawing to a close, as Tendulkar admitted in an interview last week. He said that he would reassess things during India's Test series against England next month.
Questions are beginning to be asked because Tendulkar was out bowled in his past three Test innings, and in his last 19 has been out bowled or lbw 10 times. It is indicative of failing reflexes, eyesight or both. But retirement poses a dilemma. If he were to depart at the end of the England series it would mean finishing his illustrious career at Nagpur, a perfectly amenable place in the centre of the country with a flourishing orange-growing industry, but still a cricketing backwater.
More fitting would be quitting in Mumbai, his home town, where he is simply idolised. But Mumbai is staging the Second Test so it would mean departing halfway through the series. Fail in the first two and the new panel of selectors might be brave enough to do the unthinkable.
In Twenty20 everything is reduced a little, even for the likes of Chris Gayle. In one-day internationals it is a rule of thumb that if a player scores a hundred, his side win.
In T20, if an individual batsman scores 70 or more his team win 77 per cent of the time, and even with scores of 40 or more the winning ratio is well over 60 per cent. In Twenty20, 40 is big potatoes.
Remember Hashim Amla who bestrode the English summer? He and South Africa ran out of steam in Sri Lanka. Amla scored 71 runs in five innings and finished with a duck. The game remains the master.
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