Is Twenty20 the Future of Cricket?

September 29, 2007
"When the match ended in a tie, only then did we come to know that this [bowl out] would happen." Luckily for Shoaib Malik, Pakistan's ignorance of the rules didn't hinder their progress in the tournament -Cricinfo.com

Cricket is a traditional English game which has been exported over to most of its former colonies. In those days it was not structured as it is today, it was more of a leisure sport with a limited audience. Like any sport it evolved with the help of players, administrators and the audience. In the late 20th century, businessmen saw an opportunity to push their wares to the crowds thronging to see men in white hitting the ball all over the ground.

It is these four groups who are mainly responsible for bringing the sport into homes across the world. Twenty20 cricket (T20) has hit the Indian cricket fan so suddenly, that many don't even know the rules of the game. Overnight, India has become world champions and we are revelling in our team's success. But what motivates T20, why is it such a hit?

Of course, the fact that the final was played by teams from the subcontinent is helping push this version of the game faster than in other parts of the world. But, the sustenance of any sport depends on the needs and wants of its key stakeholders. In the following sections, I try to explore the stakeholders in the business of cricket, what their interests are and how T20 helps them.

Cricket Administrators

For ICC, BCCI, PCB, EDB and other cricket boards, their aim is to promote the game, to get more people to play and enjoy it. To get more and more sponsors to pour in money, they need to reach a wider audience. 1.4 billion people in the subcontinent is a huge market but there is a much bigger and richer market in Europe, the U.S. and East Asia. For the administrators, the key goal is to increase their revenues and spread their risks. Today, if a billion people are hooked on to cricket, how about in the next 15 years? How do they sustain this popularity? How can they spread their risk?

They can do that by looking for new markets, new sponsors and for that they need to compete with existing sports in markets which are fine tuned to TV audiences. T20 is being modelled by the ICC to capture those new markets. Also, at the same time, the traditional markets are moving more and more towards the "short and sweet" sports. It's unrealistic to expect people to fill stadiums or stay glued to their televisions for five days.

All the non-test playing nations who are still struggling to get test playing status will now go for T20, the easier route to instant fame and money. Here the administrator's can play spoilsport by imposing limits on the number of games that can be played. They might impose a rule on test playing nations saying they need to play at least x number of test matches, y number of one-day's to play z number of T20 matches, and I expect the equation to be z>y>x.

Bottom-line: T20 will appeal to newer markets and will give faster and higher returns in traditional markets.

The Players

"I don't think there's really time to choke, everything happens so quickly." - Shaun Pollock speaking before the start of ICC World Twenty20. Even old warhorses like Pollock learnt something new during the tournament. "I hope Twenty20 cricket will only be part of the landscape and not the future of the game. But I suppose we guys have to take this game seriously too." Daniel Vettori provides only grudging support for Twenty20 - Cricinfo.com

Why do citizens in the subcontinent go for cricket? In the UK they go for soccer, in West Indies they go for basket ball. Fame and money available in these sports act as motivators to take up the sport. Sportsmanship is inherent in an individual and sport is only an expression of this. No individual is above their needs and wants, and will always choose an avenue which will maximize their returns. There are many examples within the current Indian cricket team, where the player was initially into some other sport and slowly drifted into cricket, because he was not motivated enough to continue. For e.g. the current hockey players also want more money. If they are playing purely for the love of the sport, then they should be happy with their wins and whatever they get. Why are they crying foul?

For players, they stand a better chance to strike rich in T20, at least faster than in Test cricket. A professional sportsman expects higher pay for his talent and nothing wrong with it. The fundamental motivation for a sportsman is release of energy when he wins. They want to be in that zone for as long as possible. But along with that he needs money, which will sustain his motivation. The second motivation comes from the fame associated with the sport. Young men are given instant stardom, they are recognized the world over, and they become part of the folk lore. Fame appeals to our basic human cravings to be recognized.

Adaptability of the existing players to the new format is their key to survival. The format is better suited to those who are more agile and have a keener eye to pick the shots. In the near future, the entry into cricket will be via T20 and the best age group will be 17 to 25. Around 22-23 years they can start looking to play in ODIs, and finally if their bones still permit them, they will end up playing in white flannels from 27 till 35.

Bottom-line: Money and fame motivates professional sportsmen, T20 offers that much quicker.

The Audience

This generation wants instant gratification. Within a span of 3 hours they experience the highs and lows of the sport and can go back to their normal business. In this fast moving world, one can't expect to wait for 8 hours, forget 5 days. The very reasons why the one day format became popular holds true for T20 today.

The age group of the audience will be as young as the 4 year old to his parents who will be in late 20's. They have the disposable income and can swing with the ups and lows of the game.

Bottom-line: For now the one day format is still drawing crowds, but will it do so in the near future?

The Sponsors

The risk with advertising in cricket, like any other sport, is that if your team looses then you've lost the viewership along with it. Case in point - the recently concluded World Cup. Add to that, waiting for the player to be picked for the team before rolling out their advertisements shot with him. With fortunes changing faster in T20 matches we will see a higher turn around of players compared to one dayers, which in turn means a higher number of individuals available for advertisers. Now they have more choices compared to the few who demand a premium. Also, with a higher chance of attracting more viewership compared to ODIs, advertisers will have more eye balls. That too, young eye balls, a marketer's dream.

A sportsman is chosen to be the brand ambassador with the hope that when he hits a six or takes a wicket, that success is associated with the product which are representing and people will want to buy it. With T20 the chance of hitting a six or taking a wicket is higher than that in an ODI, definitely higher than that of test match. This is expected to improve the saleability of a particular product which the player is endorsing.

All through the match, the viewer is glued to the screen, since he or she doesn't want to miss the six or the wicket or a catch and this is ideal condition for TV advertisements. In ODIs, one generally misses half the match because of office hours. Three hours of T20 are well timed to capture the attention of prime time audience.

Bottom-line: It makes more business sense for sponsors to invest more in T20 matches than in one day matches and definitely not in test cricket.

On a sidenote, there is one more group which is an integral part of cricket stakeholders - the official and unofficial commentators and columnists. They too, like the rest, want to have more of the shorter version as they get the money by spending lesser time in front of the mike. The best part is they need not have to talk too much about technique, because in T20 all that matters is how far you hit the ball and how often you hit the ball.

Cricket is for entertainment, and people want full value for their time and money. Faster the action, greater is instant satisfaction you get. It sets you free from your monotonous office and house work; it gives you a topic to discuss with a stranger in a bus, train or pub. But if there is not much action to see or discuss, it is of no use. Not everyone has the patience to understand cover drives, doosras and gullys, but they sure understand that when the ball goes out it means more points, and when the wicket is gone its sad for one team and joy for another team.

They want to feel these emotions faster, and more often. T20 fits the bill perfectly. So, will it have the power to knock out the longer versions of the sport? The answer to that is available when you look at the way one day cricket evolved and its impact on test cricket. Another question to be asked, will there be anything which will dislodge T20 cricket? Do I hear Super-Sixes?

Finally here's a punch from Dhoni to his former coach.

"Before I start I should say I read an article by you in Cricinfo. You'd said Australia were the favourites. Today I think me and the boys, we proved you wrong."
Mahendra Singh Dhoni speaking to Ravi Shastri after India's victory over Australia in the semi-finals of the ICC World Twenty20 - Cricinfo.com

A mid 30's IT professional , with interests and opinions on Politics, Economics and general life.
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September 29, 2007
04:46 AM

Are you crazy ? Cricket is a gentlemen's game, Twenty20 is nothing but baseball with different rules, I see it as re modeled baseball Twenty20 a game which needs no brain, but lot of brawn. Players will have to build up muscles, no need to run anymore either it a boundary or get out.

I see the other way happening, i.e 1.4 billion people being sucked into base ball because of Twenty20

September 29, 2007
07:49 AM

T20 will catch up in India. Its as long as a Bollywood movie, its got dashing heroes, its got beautiful heroines in the stands(and cameramen sure find them), its got music and dance sequence betwen overs.
And to top it all, cricket and patriotism go hand in hand in India.
It will be popular...to say it will be future or not, we'll have to wait and watch.

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