Sport meets showbiz as Twenty20 comes of age
England found wanting and Tests in decline as the game changes forever
Sunday 30 December 2007
The most abiding image of the year was provided in the frenetic atmosphere of the Wanderers, Johannesburg, in late September. The stadium is always frenetic, if not downright intimidating, but here was something that had never been experienced there, or anywhere else.
This was where Twenty20 cricket came of age. With three balls remaining of the inaugural World Twenty20 Final, with the nerves of players and spectators alike shredded, Misbah-ul-Haq, the unsung Pakistan batsman, who had played a virtually lone hand in his side's pursuit of 158 to win, attempted an outrageous scoop shot over his shoulder.
It could have been a motif for the tournament and the form of the game. The shot was marginally mistimed and looped to short fine leg, where the catch was held. India, Pakistan's arch- rivals, were the champions.
This was the climax of a pulsating fortnight, throughout which the feeling grew that cricket had changed forever. The World Twenty20 in South Africa the best that can be said about England is that they turned up and on time was competitive, entertaining and significant. Not every game was imbued with high skill or passion, but neither was every game bereft of those qualities. Nor was every ground brimming with people, but the feeling always was that they were half-full, not half-empty. If it was showbiz as much as sport, its allure was obvious.
By the end, it was possible to fear for the future of Test cricket. Anybody who loves the game understands that the five-day format is its purest, most rounded version or should be but fewer people are watching it live. Skill levels, especially of bowlers, are also pretty sketchy.
Too many people are too sanguine about it. Not long after the World Twenty20 there were Test series involving South Africa and New Zealand, and Australia and Sri Lanka. Barely anybody noticed because barely anybody attended. If Twenty20 and Tests are to live in popular harmony, the time for action is imminent.
The International Cricket Council were in desperate need of this after the failure the third consecutively of the World Cup, in the West Indies this time. It was too long, contained too few attractive matches and was irrevocably marred by the tragic death of Bob Woolmer. Australia looked the winners from a long way out and crushed Sri Lanka in an unsatisfactory, abbreviated final when Adam Gilchrist made a whirlwind hundred which may not receive the enduring credit it probably deserves.
England took on a new and estimable coach in Peter Moores, but spent a long time reflecting on their previous one, Duncan Fletcher. This was partly because the running of the game was being structured in the wake of the Schofield Review, partly because Fletcher produced an autobiography which managed to criticise almost everybody.
After the Ashes whitewash and a miserable World Cup, Moores was a breath of fresh air and it was noticeable how players, officials and almost everybody else began to distance themselves from Fletcher but the results were moderate. At home, England beat a wretched West Indies in the Tests but lost in the one-dayers, lost to India in the Tests, and won the one-dayers. Away, they beat Sri Lanka in the one-dayers, lost the Tests.
There is plenty to do, and since their last act of the year was the Test loss in Sri Lanka it seemed there was more still. England were found wanting everywhere. It is clear Moores knows what he is doing, but the raw material is yet to respond to his sculpting.
In a domestic season marred by rain, Sussex won the Championship, Durham the 50-over trophy, Kent the Twenty20 and, apparently, Worcestershire the Pro40. The ECB got a new chairman, Giles Clarke, who means business. Unfortunately, that might be in every way.
Reasons to be cheerful
1. Peter Moores, the England coach, has deep knowledge, the players' support and calmness.
2. In Ryan Sidebottom, England unearthed a bowler who had honed his craft in the much-maligned County Championship. Might there be more?
3. New ECB chairman Giles Clarke is assured, passionate and will keep cricket in the news.
4. The Australians are all growing old together (aren't they?).
5. Alastair Cook scored seven Test hundreds before he was 23. Eleven before he is 24 and England may be cooking.
6. Twenty20 may not suit everyone, but it threatens to make stars of cricket and cricketers the like of which have not been seen.
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