Cricketers await the verdict with mounting anxiety, writes Peter Roebuck
Greatness cannot be small. It does not exist to score little points or cheat or hover in the fringes. It has the fearlessness to confront any opponent, tackle any situation, and look itself in the eye, often the most painful examination of them all.
Greatness does not whisper, it roars declaims, recites, persuades, relies on oratory not mundane argument. Many dare not strive to be great. It is too risky, too exposing, too naked. Many prefer to play the percentages.
Failure is a bitter pill. Others seek greatness but cannot attain it and, so marvel at the deeds of the accomplished.
Is it possible for a T20 player to achieve greatness? Surely, the stage is not big enough, the activity not demanding enough.
No creating greatness
The Greeks and Romans wrote tragedies about flawed greatness. Kitchen-sink drama was not for them. Greatness is a mountain not a hill. Trifling deeds, passing phases, even valiant interventions are not enough. Conquest is required. T20 offers only victory and defeat. It cannot create greatness; only invite it to take part.
At present, T20 is dominating debate in the game. Other cricket is underway but it's not attracting much attention. Already, the first delivery of the English first class season has been bowled in Abu Dhabi. And the ball was red not pink. Soon, New Zealand and Sri Lanka will play full international matches in the USA.
Cricket tends to be portrayed as a game for stuffed shirts and colonial types, all stiff upper lip, cucumber sandwiches and hypocrisy.
Daring and adaptable
History tells another tale, identifies it as amongst the most daring and adaptable of recreations.
But action elsewhere are mere side shows to the IPL and the third T20 World Cup. Already the squads have been named. Australia chose a team of specialists consisting mostly of fast bowlers (anyone wanting to watch outright pace bowling had better watch T20 because these blokes hardly appear elsewhere) and young batsmen able to rotate their hips (modern coaches talk about little else — Elvis Presley has become as much a role model for batsmen as Brian Lara.
For all the jargon, though, cricket does not change that much. Choose a team from this IPL and try to leave out Sachin Tendulkar, Jacques Kallis or Anil Kumble.
And the reason is simple. Nothing lasting can be built unless the foundations are strong. Tendulkar and Kallis have superb techniques. Warne and Kumble could land the ball on a rabble rouser's brain. Audacious newcomers will continue to attract attention because the fresh is always more exciting than the familiar. But they will remain inconsistent because their games are built on sand.
As far as T20 is concerned, the giants are awakening. Now they realise it has a huge following and the stakes are high. Accordingly, they are bringing method to the madness.
Good cricketers will always adapt. Just that it can take time. Old dogs can learn new tricks. Offer them a big enough bone and let nature take its course.
Cricket has been as good as any other sport at enticing greatness from the recesses of the mind. Now, though, greatness faces an unprecedented challenge. It needs to cut its teeth in a format that does not require its existence.
Youngsters can become stars, millionaires and celebrities without so much as trying to make greatness's acquaintance. But a game dies without greatness.
Much will be learnt about sporting greatness in the next few seasons. The dilemma is easy to state. Can a lightweight version of sport — 7-a-side rugby, speed chess or T20 — produce greatness or merely a mirage?
Cricketers await the verdict with mounting anxiety.