Twenty20 at what cost?

When Twenty20 cricket is introduced on a regular basis, what is very important is that on the field it must be seen as a genuine game of cricket.

As all countries race to embrace Twenty20, I wonder if any of them have thought through whether it fits into the overall picture of world cricket. Yes, in the short term, it will help to fill the coffers of the players, the associations, sponsors and television companies. But is it in the best interest of the game?

At present, I am not sure whether Twenty20 is a tasty, tempting starter or a fulfilling main course. However, it seems to be an unseemly race by the associations and promoters to get into Twenty20 cricket.

That the Australian players signed up for the BCCI’s Indian Professional League competition without consulting their bosses, Cricket Australia, is of particular concern. The Australian players and the Australian Players Association have been pushing for less cricket for top players, but when the big money was about they quickly jumped on board.

I am all for cricketers earning as much money as possible, but they must accept that they also have a responsibility to the game and its future development. It is nice to pick up the cream, but the players should never forget their bread and butter, and how they were able to reach the top. No doubt their natural skills played a major role in helping them reach the top, but equally important was the Australian cricketing system that allowed them to progress to where they are today.

Some years ago, when I was coaching the Australian team, I sat down with several of the leading Australian players and posed a question: How much do you think it would have cost you if you had to pay for all the help you have had to reach this level? The players were somewhat nonplussed, and I explained to them that in individual sports, the young hopefuls have to pay for coaching, for inter-state and overseas visits to participate in tournaments etc. But in cricket, these things are all arranged and paid for by the various cricket associations.

When the players grasped what I was trying to say, they got into the spirit of the question and worked out that $(Aus)125,000 would be the amount spent on them to reach Test selection.

Today the figure would be close to $250,000 as there is junior retainership awarded for developing youngsters from the age of 15 or 16. In addition, of course, are the payments made to players, which go up to $150,000 for the top Shield players.

The more Test cricket the top players play, the lesser they will play for their local club and State. The Sheffield Shield, or the Pura Cup as it is now played, would normally have Test players for perhaps two or three matches in a season. Glenn McGrath played under 30 matches in his whole career for New South Wales.

The absence of Test players in Shield cricket has affected the standard of the competition. This must, in turn, affect the quality of players the tournament turns out. The absence of top players for their club sides has also affected the quality of club cricket. It is a sticky and worrying problem.

Deciding what form of cricket is played at the top will have a major impact on the nurseries of cricket.

So, what about Twenty20?

Obviously, it is very popular and something must be done to implement it in the cricket programme.

I view Twenty20 just as I viewed the introduction of one-day cricket. To me one-day cricket was a very useful, promotional game that was played with dash and was an enjoyable package, provided the match was close. If it wasn’t, it was a bore and a real non-event. Twenty20 could well be the same, for without a close finish there is no real drama and excitement.

No matter how many fours and sixes are hit, a Twenty20 match could be as dull and boring as a poor game in the longer version without the pulsating drama of a nerve-tingling battle by the tail-enders to ensure a draw.

The great 1960-61 series between Australia and the West Indies is a classic example. The series witnessed some closely-fought victories by both teams. However, undoubtedly, the most dramatic and nerve-wracking was when Ken McKay and Lindsay Kline, the last two batsmen, battled for just under two hours to secure a draw for Australia in the fourth Test in Adelaide.

Neither Twenty20 nor one-day cricket has the opportunity to provide such results.

When Twenty20 cricket is introduced on a regular basis, what is very important is that on the field it must be seen as a genuine game of cricket. I have no problem with what the promoters want to do outside the boundary in order to entertain the spectators and perhaps TV audiences. But on the field, cricketing standards must be maintained. For instance, I feel that it is essential not to shorten the boundaries. An avalanche of fours and sixes with a 50-yard boundary is just as boring as a slow first-class match.

Spectacular fielding and dazzling running between the wickets are needed to stimulate the pulse rate of those watching the match. Too many Twenty20 matches must not be organised until we have had the time to analyse this form of the game. Otherwise we will be in a situation we are now in with the ODIs, as the officials and players look for new ideas to bring back the halcyon days of limited overs cricket.

My one major concern with Twenty20 cricket is the effect it will have on the development of our young cricketers. I doubt whether the youngsters, brought up on a diet of Twenty20 cricket, will develop the skills and techniques needed to perform successfully in Test cricket.