It is no surprise to see the old chestnuts being trotted-out as soon as any discussion begins on the merits, or otherwise, of Twenty20 Cricket. For the pro-lobby it’s much better than spending five days at a game, it pulls in the crowds, and the kids love it. For the cons, it isn’t a real game of cricket, the players do not need any skill to play it, the crowd are not gentlemanly, and so on, and so forth.
Dealing first with the criticisms on both sides, it has always amazed me how so-called aficionados of Test Cricket, say that that Twenty20 is not real cricket. But what is real cricket? Is it a game played by 22 professionals over five days on a fabulously manicured ground in front of a huge crowd who clap politely, or call out “Shot Sir!” every time something pleasurable occurs? Or is it a quick twenty-over thrash played by 22 local amateurs on a balmy summer’s evening on an idyllic village green pitch, watched by their friends and families who can’t wait to adjourn to the pub next door afterwards?
The answer is that it is both. They are the same basic game, played to a slightly different format, but enjoyed to the same relative degree by all taking part, whether player or spectator. Nobody has forced anybody to be there, indeed the test match spectator has paid a substantial sum for the privilege. But to hear some of them bang-on interminably about their preferred viewing-choice being the only real’ version makes me wonder if any of them ever actually played the game, because that, for me, is the real distinction between the spectator who knows the game, and the one who simply talks it.
I had the immense pleasure of having sufficient skill to play the game for over 25 years. I was never talented enough to play at any great level, but I was good enough to play consistently well at my standard once I had established what that was. So I know, like other ex-cricketers, what goes on out there, the psychology, the banter, and so on, and that, for the players, what it comes down to is as much a gladiatorial contest as any other sport. It is quite simply bowler against batsman, the one trying to outwit the other ball by ball. That is what makes the game so exciting (yes exciting!) whatever the level, to both play and watch. It is also why Twenty20 appeals to a wider fan base, because the contraction of the game time accentuates this.
At my level, we played forty-over games at the weekend, but with the preparation and/or travelling, it still pretty-much took all day. My long-suffering wife used to come with me to the games, but barely watched any of them. Instead she filled-in her time either by reading her latest Catherine Cookson, having a natter with the other long-suffering wives, making the, always delicious, teas, or even fitting-in a bit of sunbathing when the British summer allowed. She has never been with me to for a day at a test match, something she would never consider, but when my beloved Somerset made it to the Twenty20 Finals day at the Oval a couple of years ago, she didn’t hesitate to ask for a ticket, having watched some games previously on TV. She loved it, even though it rained some of the time, and, with three games being played back-to-back, lasted from 10am to gone 10pm, far longer than any test-match day.
I have never been to a full five days of the same test match, but I have always listened to as much as I could, day-in, day-out, on ‘Test Match Special. Now, having the advantage of working from home, I am able to watch plenty of a game on TV if I wish to, something I never tire of doing. I am no different, in that, to a golfing-nut friend who takes time off work to watch each golf major in its entirety, or another who is an ex-tennis player and takes two weeks off each year to watch Wimbledon. Golf majors last for four days, yet do you ever hear golfers calling that boring? On the other hand, do golfers consider a one-round pro-am as not real golf’? Of course not, and either viewpoint would be just as ridiculous as the Twenty20 argument.
Twenty20 is to Test Cricket what a Three-tenors’ version of ‘Nesan Dorma’ is to the Wagnerian Ring. A full performance of Wagner is intense and demanding of deep concentration, a three tenors concert is (or unfortunately now, was) a bit of fun. Both are just as entertaining to their fans, one just takes longer than the other. But the true lover of music will enjoy both for what they are.
As long as I can, I will go to Lords to watch the first day of the first test match of the season, and (hopefully) watch the national side get the better of whichever colonials are trying their luck that year, even if it is just for that day. I will queue for my first Pimms of the summer, and listen to the announcer politely ask someone to come and retrieve the three-year-old that has just been handed-in at the Pavilion.
The following week, I will drive down to Taunton for an evening to watch the yeomen of Somerset thrash the bowlers of some hapless Twenty20 opponents to all corners of the County ground. The friends in the bleachers will fall over each other trying to catch the enormous six hit into the crowd in order to win themselves a years’ supply of Scrumpy, while Simply the Best’ booms out over the Tannoy.
It may sound like different worlds, but it’s all Cricket, and long may it continue to be so.