Less is more. Our generation is obsessed with this adage. Less governance, smaller teams, fewer words — it seems the best things come in the smallest packages these days. You take something good, compress it to a smaller size and it becomes better.
Compressing something to a smaller size is not straightforward though. First of all, you need to know what can be compressed, and then be aware of how much you compress it before it becomes unrecognisable.
We have all zipped a file on the computer at some point or the other. When you do that, there is a fixed limit to how much a file can be compressed in size without losing any of its original content. If you stay within the limit, the compression is lossless. If you cross that limit, the compression is "lossy". Cricket recently crossed that limit and created a lossy version of itself that had a bat, ball and players but none of sport's original essence. The version is called T10 League.
The four-day slugfest of T10 was won by Kerala Kings on Sunday, thanks to some lusty hitting by Eoin Morgan and Paul Stirling in the final. But it's safe to bet that six months from now, none of the fans who watched the extravaganza are going to remember the final, or for that matter, any game from the league.
On the final day of the tournament, the giant screens at the Sharjah Cricket Stadium proudly pronounced a houseful day for them. But it's hard to tell if that is a reflection of the success of the league and the T10 format itself, or of the star power on display. After all, the cricket fans in Sharjah, which mostly comprise of Indian and Pakistani expats, will turn up to watch Virender Sehwag compose a tweet on the pitch or Shahid Afridi just stand with his arms stretched in his trademark pose.
The organisers of the tournament and the cricketers who are on their payroll keep selling the idea of finishing a game in 90 minutes, just like football. The argument falls flat when you consider how different the dynamics of the two sports are.
Football is 90 minutes of continuous play with almost no stoppage. A game of cricket has more idle time than actual action. You change ends after every over, the bowler has to walk back to his mark every ball, the captain has to discuss strategy and set fields. Sixes and wickets stop the game for minutes at a time. I have never tried to time it, but it's safe to say almost 60 to 70 percent of the time a game of cricket is idle. Heck, cricket is so idle that broadcasters can show an advertisement every five minutes. Can you do that with football, or any other sport?
You can't change the idle dynamics of cricket no matter how much you reduce the number of overs. Cricket needs to be played over several hours to ensure it has enough ebbs and flows to call it a sporting contest. Conversely, football dynamics also make it physically impossible for players to run around nonstop for more than 90 minutes, 120 minutes if you stretch it to extra time, but nothing more.
A 10-over cricket match, a one-set tennis match, a one-hole golf round can be a spectacle because of the skills on display and you still have to be good to win it. But a spectacle on its own doesn't always qualify as a sport.
Every sport has a critical duration that can't be breached to ensure there is enough time for it to flow from one side to another. T20 cricket is already pushing that critical duration to its limit, reducing it to half the size shatters it. Cricket is a team sport but it doesn't involve the whole team at the same time. Batsmen and bowlers take turns in the middle and lock horns on a one-on-one basis. A 10-over game doesn't give the chance to all 11 players in a cricket team to play their part in most games.
Before the tournament, Sehwag, Morgan and a few others were vocal about how the T10 format gives cricket a chance to be at the Olympics. Sure, making cricket an Olympic sport could great for the game, but I'd rather wait for the next 100 years for that to happen than seeing a distant cousin of the game with no balance between bat and ball feature in the world's biggest sporting event.
Sehwag also went on to say that since the game can be won with just two or three key batsmen, it means more countries have a chance to play the sport if they can produce only a couple of good players. In a team sport where winning and losing should ideally be a reflection of the whole team than a few individuals, that argument is self-defeating.
While every sport has room for an exhibition contest, cricket seems to be heading on a path where exhibition threatens to become the norm. It's a worrying trend that can have an adverse effect on the long-term health of the sport. With star power, you can pull off a successful T10 tournament. For that matter, a double wicket, a single wicket, indoor cricket or any other format one can think of will be watched by the public if stars of the game participate. But the true test of the format is in ensuring the game is interesting enough to capture fans' interest even when the superstars of the game aren't participating. T10 doesn't seem to have that kind of promise.
In a free market, you can't prevent someone from inventing a new sport or a player from earning a livelihood by participating in it, but as guardians of the game, ICC and other cricket boards must take a stand — they shouldn't sanction something that shouldn't qualify as a legit version of the sport they are all duty-bound to promote.
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