Take T20 Seriously
Despite being a huge success, the powers that be still hold their nose when dealing with T20. It seems to be viewed as a necessary evil - a vulgar diversion that brings in the dosh. Any discussion of an individual player’s performance inevitably leads to questions about whether they can also cut it in the longer forms of the game. We need to get over ourselves, join the party and celebrate T20 for what it is.
Although it is caricatured as a mindless slog, effective Twenty 20 batsmen do well by playing good old fashioned cricket shots. The best bowlers keep it tight on line and spinners have found a new lease of life. As for fielding, the urgency and athleticism demanded by the 120 ball game have taken things to a whole new level. Kane Richardson of the Adelaide Strikers took a catch on the boundary against the Hurricanes that no player would have got within ten yards of in the good old days.
It seems that the powers that be remain unimpressed. Last year, the Champions League competition in South Africa received minimal coverage - with Yorkshire and Hampshire appearing to treat it as an end of season jolly rather than a prestigious international event. In 2013, the English have decided not to bother taking part.
Instead of sneering, we should get involved. The Indian Premier League has created a blue print that has been successfully copied by the Big Bash and others. Set aside a month or two for an intensive mini season. As well as building momentum and grabbing media attention - this also enables you to attract the growing band of specialist T20 superstars to boost your product. Alongside box office bankers like Chris Gayle, Dirk Nannes and Kieron Pollard, the ranks of the travelling allstars now include home grown heroes like and Luke Wright (Melbourne Stars). As soon as his spell in Oz came to an end with defeat in the classic semi-final at the WACA , the Englishman jetted off to entertain the crowds of the Bangladesh Premier League (Note for all cricket junkies and problem gamblers: every match from the BPL is live in the UK on Sky Channel 834). It’s about time the superstar circus had a regular stop in Blighty.
Traditionally, top level domestic cricket in Australia has been played at state level. The Big Bash League did away with this, with the eight teams representing six major cities - Sydney and Melbourne getting two apiece. It’s time we followed suit. The concept of the county belongs to another age. No-one who lives out of ear shot of crunching carrots has had a county council since the 80's and the idea of county rivalries is quaint like a tea shoppe. Speaking as someone born and bred in God’s own county with a white rose tattooed on my arm, I can honestly say I have little to no interest in the fortunes of Yorkshire County Cricket Club. Since they took the show off the road and holed up at Headingley, they are to all intents and purposes Leeds CC. The city has usurped power from the county in every walk of life and we should acknowledge that. Let’s face it; how can any competition appear sexy to potential fans when it’s got Northamptonshire in it?
A new UK T20 League could base itself on test grounds with new city teams. The tired old Roses match would develop a new edge if it were Leeds v Manchester. The derby between the recently formed Renegades and Stars attracted a record domestic crowd of 46,581 to the Melbourne Cricket Ground. Nobody is really sure what Middlesex is, but the North v South London ties at the Oval and Lords would mean something. If blue and red Manchester teams could clash at Old Trafford, it would create a buzz in the North West and may create interest among sports fans around the world.
We are constantly bombarded with messages designed to cut down on obesity through healthy eating and couch avoidance, but anyone who watched the Big Bash League knows the secret of sporting excellence. To say that Kentucky Fried Chicken was well represented is understatement in the extreme. Every inch of fencing bore a portrait of a beaming, bearded colonel; every spare blade of grass was painted red and white. The lead sponsor also made sure that there were large quantities of empty, takeaway buckets at every ground so that the pissed up Aussie hordes could fashion hats and ensure that the KFC logo featured in every crowd shot.
If this overt, hammer to the skull ubiquity wasn’t enough, the commentators subtly wore away at your resistance. KFC have a long standing arrangement with Australian cricket and the former internationals reminisced about the glory days of the 80's and 90's when every wearer of the baggy green was given a card which entitled them to free food at any of Colonel Sanders’ outlets. At the drop of the hat, Allan Border, Mark Waugh et al spoke of the innocent times when the most dominant team in modern history were powered by finger lickin' good fuel. Clearly this means…I’m not sure what it means, but I have a strange craving for a two piece meal with fries and a side of coleslaw.
Sometimes, an invention comes along that is so brilliant you wonder how we lived without it before. As well as Sky Plus, the Internet and oven chips, we can now count our blessings that we live in the era of stumps that flash when the Zinger bails (Trademark KFC) are dislodged. Practically, this helps the crowd to see run outs and stumpings. Aesthetically, it looks magic when the humiliation of a dismissal is compounded by disco lights- especially at a night match.
Another innovation is the Foxcopter. Why shell out on huge blimp when you can have dinky camera mounted on remote control helicopter rotors that hovers over play? Even closer to the action is the cap mounted umpire cam. Not only do we get a close up of the screaming appeal- we experience the satisfying head shake that follows.
Sign Up Shane Warne
Even in our own, low key T20 competition, players have worn a microphone in order to communicate with the commentary booth, but no-one does it quite like the King of Spin. Rather than reflecting on the general conditions of the game, Warnie takes you inside the action- explaining a startlingly detailed plan before each delivery he sends down. The insight it gives into the art of bowling is beyond anything you can read in a book. Admittedly, he got a bit tongue tied when he went for 41 off two overs in the first game against the Renegades, but you still got the gist.
It was during the second all-Melbourne clash that the wired Warne came into his own. Staring defeat in the face, the Stars skipper decided to ‘make something happen’. Rather than set a new field or change the bowling, Warnie shouted “fuck you mate” at Marlon Samuels then manhandled the batsmen. This outburst caused Sky to butt in with their own apology for the morning UK audience. After the next ball, Warne threw the ball at Samuels for no apparent reason, which led to the West Indian launching his bat in reply.
This is a taste of what we could expect if a team could tempt Warnie back to England. The light workload means that bowlers can go on way past their previous sell by date. Murali proved he was still a force to be reckoned with in the BBL, but with Warnie, you get so much more. Who wouldn’t turn up up to watch Warnie in England, even if it was just so you could tell your grand-kids that you saw the greatest bowler of all time play live.
His legend status means that his life off the field gets as much media coverage as his cricketing exploits, especially since he and glossy magazine goddess Liz Hurley became an item. They are the perfect couple for the gossip generation and have the potential to put domestic cricket on the front and back pages. Throughout the BBL - the pair played a blinder. Warnie skipped the Stars’ game against the Strikers to spend Christmas with his celeb squeeze. Liz embellished each Stars game with her biased Twitter commentary and this time Warnie joined in - live from her bed. After controversially crashing out to the Scorchers in the semi-final, the pair produced a golden joint moment. Ambushed by a camera crew at the airport, Warne remained tight lipped. Unperturbed, the reporter asked Hurley how she felt. Her response confirmed them as the most formidable celebrity couple de jour: “I feel that you should fuck off”.