The format has evolved over nine years from its beginning as a sort of fancy-dress party
Some nine years ago, New Zealand and Australia contested cricket’s first Twenty20 international. Players lined up in their retro outfits, chuckling under the lights as Auckland’s Eden Park hosted an evening closer in appearance to a cricket-themed fancy-dress party than the sport itself.
Hamish Marshall wore a memorable, giant afro, Chris Cairns sported long sideburns, and Michael Kasprowicz unveiled a Dennis Lillee-inspired headband and moustache ensemble. The match itself led a heady, winding way through 40 overs, an engrossing journey although no one was really sure how seriously it was meant to be taken. Players laughed, joked and high-fived; at some point, Glenn McGrath jestingly threatened to bowl under-arm, in keeping with the spirit of it all.
Three hundred and sixty-three matches (at the time of writing) later, it is inconceivable that teams do not know where to locate the T20 international. As the 2014 World T20 swims into view, it becomes increasingly apparent that it is serious, specialised cricket, demanding, sometimes, a high-spec, custom-built player for its delicate needs.
Context, however, is everything. And in the T20 version, there is little of it to mini-series and one-off games suspended helplessly in the cricketing ether. Teams learn little in one or two knockabouts over half a season, gem-clipped to the rear end of Test and ODI series.
“The thinking was we’d only hold international Twenty20 at a World Twenty20 event, and limit the amount of bilateral Twenty20 and leave it for the domestic game to benefit,” Haroon Lorgat, former CEO of the ICC, said two years ago. It could also be argued that the limit of 12 T20 internationals — that a country may play in a non-World T20 year — has been imposed with a view to shielding one-day cricket.
Stuart Robinson, the former marketing manager of the ECB who conceptualised T20 cricket, feared as much. “I don’t think there is a danger of overkill but something else may have to give,” he said in 2008. “One of the other limited-over competitions will surely go in time.”
At any rate, international twenty-over cricket offers little meaningful engagement outside the World T20. How many games from bilateral series, scattered across the calendar, invite recollection?
Our memories of internationals are dominated by the tournament: Yuvraj Singh’s manhandling of Stuart Broad, Misbah-ul-Haq’s ill-judged scoop, Michael Hussey’s surgical defanging of Saeed Ajmal, and that Gangnam-soaked Caribbean night in Colombo two years ago. Then there’s the IPL, perhaps the only other T20 event with a similar global appeal. But it is still a domestic competition, with overseas participation restricted to four players. The two tournaments feed off each other, one enhancing the other in its own way. If the domestic T20 game flourishes today, it stands to reason that there should be a similar thirst to see national sides do battle in the format.Immeasurable value
To the six associates at this month’s event in Bangladesh, the value of the World T20 would be immeasurable. While that sentiment is understandable, no full-member nation, too, is likely to look on it disparagingly.
The World T20 has, after all, brought England its only global trophy, the West Indies its first major success in over 30 years, and Indian cricket considerable enrichment.
Unlike the first T20 international, the World T20 will feature no (fake) mutton-chopped fielders or bowlers with shirts unbuttoned to the navel. Squads have largely been assembled with careful thought and preparations undertaken in earnest. There will still be bloated totals and strike-rates requiring adjustment for inflation. But it is, some will say, still a World Cup.