Twenty 20

Twenty 20 is a brand new form of cricket, which I—having spent most of 2004 in various non-cricket playing nations (Mexico, USA and Argentina)—had only barely heard of before coming home and hearing about it everywhere. Twenty 20 gets its name because each side faces only 20 overs (in the one-day form of the game they face 50). It’s a streamlined version of the game that takes a bare three hours to play, and that includes the 15 minutes in between the two innings. As opposed to the five days of test cricket match and eight hours of a one-day (pyjama cricket) game, that’s insane. That’s backyard cricket. In England, where Twenty 20 was invented, games have been selling out, and a third of those attending have never seen a game of cricket live before. New converts to cricket? Sounds good to me.

There are some nutty rules: the punishment for a no-ball seems extreme (two extra runs and the batter gets a free hit, ie, for one ball can’t get out except if they’re run out). Why is a no-ball so much worse than bowling wide? But the fielding restrictions make sense, encouraging free scoring, and I love the time restrictions. Each batter has to get to the crease within 90 seconds and the 20 overs have to be bowled in 80 minutes. This prevents cricketers using feet-dragging and procrastination as a tactic and it’s great to see. (Not that Shoaib Akhtar’s use of such tactics isn’t frequently hilarious.)

Yesterday night I got to watch Twenty 20 for the first time. Pakistan versus Australia’s second string team, Australia A. The first innings was a ripper. It was like cricket on crack (or "cracket" as Scott dubbed it). Australia A batted first, scoring fast and furious with a run rate of 9 an over, employing some of the most unorthodox batting I’ve seen in a while. It wasn’t always pretty, but it was entertaining. There were some speccie wickets taken, with Shoaib Akhtar exploding the stumps several times (including once on a free hit when, tragically, it counted for nowt). Seeing stumps cartwheeling and bails spinning through the air. Sigh. One of my very favourite things.

The second innings sucked. Pakistan just couldn’t be arsed actually batting. They looked like they thought Twenty 20 was beneath them, scoring at a rate that would have been slow for test cricket. Running between the wickets as if they were going for a gentle evening jog, not running flat out to save their lives (or, rather, their wickets). The four year old next door runs faster. And the result of their half-arsed running? Run out twice. On neither occasion were the services of the third umpire called upon. The only reason I didn’t switch channels to watch the test match between South Africa and England (c’mon South Africa!) is because I was determined to watch a whole Twenty 20 game no matter what. Australia A won easily. It was dull.

However, I don’t blame Twenty 20; I blame Pakistan. I imagine a game played between two sides who give a toss, who bat and run like they mean it, would be two innings of fun, not just one. It’s a game that addresses the problem with one-day cricket: the predictabilty and boring middle twenty overs. I hear yesterday’s game between WA Warriors (what a dumb name—why not the Sandgropers?) and the Victorian Bushrangers (Bushrangers? Please!) was fair dinkum. A ripper of the first order. Wish I’d seen it first, instead of last night’s fifty percent affair.

And anything that gets more people into watching cricket is just fine with me. Now I’ll get back to ridgy didge cricket: the test in South Africa.

Sydney, 14 January 2005