Different strategies for different markets

Some Test players did come to Bangalore to take part in the Unibic 20/20 Bradman Cup. Prominent among them was M. S. Dhoni (standing, extreme right).-K. BHAGYA PRAKASH Some Test players did come to Bangalore to take part in the Unibic 20/20 Bradman Cup. Prominent among them was M. S. Dhoni (standing, extreme right).

There is every chance that the Twenty20 version will fuel some interest in countries where cricket is considered time consuming. Once the interest is created and the cricket bug catches on, then they can be made to play the game on a protracted basis, writes W. V. Raman.

Traditional cricket saw a deviation from the norm in the mid-seventies when the inaugural World Cup was played in 1975. There were some murmurs about the new limited overs format then as the purists considered Test cricket as the only authentic form of the game. However, the shorter version of the game gradually caught on with the spectators. Even cricketers welcomed it just to break away from the monotony of the longer games. In the English season, Sundays were allocated for limited overs game to bring in the public in big numbers. The limited overs format snowballed into a mega hit with the public when the official international matches were played under lights with the players wearing coloured clothing. Of course, the pioneer of these innovations was Kerry Packer who revolutionised cricket with his new ideas.

While Test cricket was considered the real version of the game by the discerning public and players alike, the limited version drew new segments of followers to the venues. Towards the mid- eighties, there was a distinct shift in the interest of the public, as the limited version saw packed stadiums and Test cricket started losing out. There was no other option for the ICC but to accept that the public was now looking for action and matches, which produced definite results unlike Test cricket. The governing body had to change with the times and conjure something new to bring in more spectators for the shorter version of the game.

Apart from innovating on a constant basis, the ICC looked at the prospect of "globalising" the game by encouraging its associate members to devote more time to the game. The upgradation of Bangladesh into a full-fledged member was the first step in this process. Of course, Bangladesh had to earn its membership by producing some results, but attempts to lure big nations like the USA, China and some European countries have not really panned out according to plan. In fact, the USA was the focus of the ICC until a couple of years ago. The world body even sanctioned a couple of the early 2007 World Cup games to the USA. But the plan was abandoned as the interest levels in the USA did not meet the expectations of the ICC.

As a result, the authorities had to put on their thinking caps and look for all the creativity that they could to bring in something new to attract more countries and of course more spectators.

This time around the result was the introduction of yet another truncated format wherein teams would play on a 20 overs basis and this was labelled Twenty20. The new version found resistance from some quarters and even today there are mixed opinions about its impact on the game. However, the ICC was firm in its stand and urged its member countries to support this venture. The apex body has already decided that a Twenty20 World Cup will be played in September. Like in the 50-over format, the English county cricketers have their noses ahead in terms of experience as the county circuit has had its fair share of Twenty20 games.

There is absolutely no doubt that the Twenty20 format has been introduced to provide entertainment to the paying public. This new version is full of action and a match can be completed in just three hours. This is probably cricket's answer to football in that it can provide great entertainment and will enable the crowd to watch the game without having to sacrifice its official duties.

The first Twenty20 game, which featured India and South Africa, was well received and this has given the ICC a lot of encouragement. The coming World Cup is expected to be a grand success.

The Twenty20 format will be fast paced and the batsmen will as usual rule the roost. The course of the game can change in the blink of an eye and there is no catching up in this format. The teams have to be alert mentally all the time and the fast pace can be exacting physically. Even a decent Twenty20 game can be as entertaining as a James Bond movie, but at the end of it all, nobody takes anything home as this game will more or less be devoid of intrigue. That being the case, how this format will impact the game and the cricketers is the question that needs to be answered.

With the increase in the number of one-day internationals, there is a general feeling that the art of spin bowling is on the wane along with the real hard Test batting capability. The Twenty20 format will further distance the young cricketers away from becoming proficient in terms of technical skills. There is no time to waste as batsmen are expected to just throw their bats at anything and the bowlers are expected to compete for economy. As it is there is a dearth of young talent in India as a result of the limited overs format played at the school level. To make matters worse, the newer version will be thrust upon aspiring youngsters at a more than required frequency as this format has been accepted at the highest level. I, for one, feel that the youngsters should not be encouraged to play too many Twenty20 games as this can do more harm than good to them. Not only that, the State Associations have to ensure that only one or two tournaments of this format are played in a year.

The ICC should do everything possible to promote this game and bring in more countries into the fold, but at the same time the apex body has to ensure that the core is not sacrificed in its quest to "globalise" the sport. It will be better for all concerned if a country embraces this game out of genuine interest and not because the ICC was successful in selling it. For example, Zimbabwe has a cricketing culture and made impressive progress. But its cricket is in a shambles now primarily due to poor management and other issues.

The coming World Cup will throw up a lot of facts. In the event of this format being likely to deter the development of cricketers, the ICC should suspend it in international cricket and introduce it only in the associate member countries.

I may seem to contradict myself, but there is every chance that the Twenty20 version will fuel some interest in countries where cricket is considered time consuming. Once the interest is created and the cricket bug catches on, then they can be made to play the game on a protracted basis, which will then necessitate development of skills. After all, it is all about employing different marketing strategies in different markets.