A COMEDY SHOW

Twenty-over cricket is here to stay. People enjoy it. Recently a child said he liked 20/20 cricket "because they whack it every time." So there is no need to be snooty, writes PETER ROEBUCK.

Although India has weightier matters on its hands in the series in Pakistan, still it will sooner or later need to consider the attractions of 20-over cricket. Before too long this helter-skelter version of the game will be played in every cricketing country. Already it has flourished in England, South Africa and now Australia. Plans are afoot to take the game to the Caribbean. India ought not to be left behind.

Moreover, "comedy cricket", as it has been called down under, suits the local temperament. No one who has driven from Jaipur to Delhi or around the streets of Kolkata can doubt that Indians enjoy life in the swift lane. Not that the traffic actually goes all that fast. It's just that it moves along, at a conservative estimate, 20mph faster than might be considered safe by Michael Schumacher. About the least surprising development in recent years has been the emergence of a local grand prix driver.

Two comedy cricket matches were played in Australia recently and both drew full houses. Although no stars were playing, 10,000 people turned up to watch New South Wales and Queensland exchange sixes and wickets at North Sydney Oval. A night later 39,000 citizens filed into the 'Gabba to watch the national team take on South Africa. The match was shown on television and won a massive audience. Now the moguls are licking their lips.

Some critics are convinced that 20-over cricket is a fad and that familiarity will breed contempt. They said the same about rock n' roll, hip-hop and skateboarding. Perhaps the excitement will die down but it won't disappear. Apart from anything else, 20-over cricket offers a chance to relax and watch sport without taking it too seriously. And they think it won't last! Fears have been held that this madcap version of the game will destroy skills and spoil the appetite for the real thing, the character revealing, skill exposing tussle that is Test match cricket. Much the same was said about 50-over contests. Test match cricket was dying in the 60s. Elsewhere, mini skirts, mini minors, protests about the Vietnam War and civil rights were all the rage. Meanwhile, cricket spectators found themselves watching middle-aged men push and prod at the crease.

Fifty-over contests brought the game back to life. Cricket went into the market place, boots and all and there is no turning back. Coloured clothing, white balls, shorter boundaries, brilliant fielding, night matches and swashbuckling batting are here to stay. Last summer England and Australia attacked each other with gusto in the greatest Ashes series ever played. India and Pakistan may well do the same. It was not so long ago that these series were stalemates. Comedy cricket is merely the next step. Moreover it serves a valuable purpose by reminding us that cricket is merely a game. It is not a bad thing. Are we not a little inclined to frown and say, "things ain't wot they used t'be?" It is also a game for youth. Batting in 20-over cricket demands exuberance of the spirit, freedom of the mind. It is akin to drinking without consequence. As far as youth is concerned, it is the perfect invitation. Twenty-over cricket is here to stay. People enjoy it.

Recently a child said he liked 20/20 cricket "because they whack it every time." Nothing wrong with that. No need to be snooty. Mozart, Dickens and Shakespeare did not scorn comedy. India must board this train.