Its time for Bikini Cricket
“Twenty20 [twen-tee twen-tee, twuhn-tee twuhn-tee] – noun, adjective - Noun- a version of cricket introduced in England in 2003, specifically to bring in the English family of mom, dad, kid and dog to the games. Also refers to a version of cricket played between two sides over 20 overs each. Twenty20 cricket is typically characterised by a football style dugout/bench and on-field cricketers wired to the commentary box. Adjective – If its cricket in England, it is Twenty20 (as Sky Sports calls it these days).”
That’s how you’re thick and fat Oxford Unabridged would describe twenty20 cricket. I choose to call it Bikini cricket. Ask me why, and I have a metaphorical answer to it. If limited-overs cricket was known by the colloquial as Pyjama cricket, stripping it a bit more would reveal nothing more than a Bikini. Another analogy could be a common term in Bollywood – the Item Number. Enough of the explanation, time to move on to the core of this game.
As mentioned before, this rather short and cute version of cricket was introduced by the England and Wales Cricket Board in 2003 to bring in the crowds as they felt cricket was a dying sport in the country. More so, because cricket in England was and is believed to be an Elite sport. Involving the masses was critical for cricket in England. The administrated resorted to a game that was designed and packaged to entertain. Four years old today, Twenty20 cricket has hardly looked back since then. In fact, it’s grown beyond expectations. It has managed to do what it set out to – pull in the crowds, with some whack-whack entertainment and emerged a big cash cow for the ECB and other cricket Boards since then. And with the ICC looking in to include Twenty20 as a formal cricketing version and a World Cup to acknowledge its impact, Bikini cricket is here to stay.
After seeing the impact and the interest this carnival generated in England
, other countries did their bit to initially experiment and later adopt this product. South Africa
, in 2003-04 was the first country outside of the United Kingdom
to take up to it and today, twenty20 cricket is considered to be a big hit there. Sri Lanka
led the way as far as the sub-continent is concerned with the inaugural edition in 2004. Bangladesh
re-launched their much-famed corporate league as their version of twenty20. Pakistan
followed suit with the ABN-Amro Cup in 2004, almost converting the cricket field into farms and zoos, with teams named as Lahore Lions, Rawalpindi Rams, Karachi Dolphins, Sialkot Stallions etc. One area where the Pakistani edition scores over other Asian countries is where they ensured that their stars took part in the tournament. I remember watching Inzamam-Ul-Haq taking guard for Multan Bears (aptly named one would suggest)
and Shoaib Malik playing for Sialkot Stallions. Australia
played their first domestic twenty20 tournament in 2005 with KFC as their main sponsors. Sir Allen Stanford’s vision gave the West Indies
a sighter of what Twenty20 cricket really meant to the world. Crowds pouring in, drums back in motion, the atmosphere in the Caribbean
were nothing short of a carnival. These teams have in most ways seen the twenty20 as a major area to revive the lack of public interest in domestic cricket.
Whilst other countries associated and affiliated with the ICC gradually started realizing this fantasy into a reality, India, the game’s sleeping-yet-overactive commercial giant saw this as a major infringement to their ambitions. Former BCCI Presidents, across factions made statements like “Tomorrow someone will start a 10/10, does it mean we start that too ?” and “Twenty20 is not real cricket.” One might not blame them, as after 75 years of the Board’s existence, they do not have a system that can call itself World Class, beginning with the top of course. And one of the highlights of India’s withdrawal syndrome in this case is that India played its first twenty20 International in South Africa (Johannesburg), even before they staged a domestic twenty20 tournament, which is rather bemusing. To confound this a little further, India won that game, thanks to Dinesh Karthik late heroics. And budge, they did ! To growing pressures within the ICC, where their always-trusted Asian “fraternity” supported the ICC’s Twenty20 vision, leaving India as the loner ! India hosted its first ever Twenty20 domestic tournament in 2007, an absolute shocker by itself. Even though state associations in India have managed to capitalise on the twenty20 waves through the Bradman Cup (played in Bangalore annually and hosted by KSCA and the ANZC) and the DY Patil Invitation 20/20 Cup (played in Navi Mumbai at the DY Patil College Stadium), the Board never took this seriously.
The Indian Board, by their own admission did not have a fantabulous response to the event, especially with the domestic season almost over and most national players just having returned from that infamous World Cup exit. Drooping public interest in the game might have been one of the causes, maybe. But some however, chose to make amends by their participation and eventually, a young Tamil Nadu side led by Dinesh Karthik ran out as worthy winners. And to not have it televised was an acute disaster by itself. The Board could have searched for better excuses than saying, “Our contract with Nimbus only extends to Ranji Trophy matches.” and if one is not mistaken, the deal was struck to promote First Class cricket and not to discriminate between the versions. The reluctance of the Board to tow the global line meant that a women’s twenty20 match between Asia XI and the Africa XI was the first international of the kind to be played on Indian soil.
Internationally too, twenty20 seems to have made its mark. The Asian teams have not really seen the potential of the game, but the Australians, the South Africans, the Kiwis and the English don’t mind a twenty20 international or two wherever they go or whoever visits their land. Again, shorter boundaries, more hits to the fence, and three hours of full-fledged action. The boring jerseys take a break as New Zealand tried putting on their Beige sleeves and sporting the retro moustached look. The Aussies gave their long-spellings a break by trying something different in the Ashes Twenty20 clash last year. Gilchrist got rechristened as Church, Clarke as Pup, Ponting as Punter and so on and so forth. Quite refreshing indeed.
The purists may deem this form of the game as an absolute nonsense and they do have their right to, having seen many an intriguing contest between bat and ball. But, as I mentioned earlier, Twenty20 is here to stay, be a nimble ant and take little baby steps towards giving cricket a modern look. However, I still am of the firm belief that while cricket can be played in Pyjamas, or as I say Bikinis, the Whites and the Baggy caps will and must go nowhere.
(More to follow, on why twenty20 cricket is not as easy as it looks)