The game of cricket is enjoying an upsurge in global interest after a lull in the last decade that was characterized by Australian domination and controversial occurrences mainly involving Pakistan. This is in no small part due to the mainstream adoption and runaway popularity of a shorter version of cricket otherwise referred to as Twenty20 cricket.
T20 cricket as it is sometimes called uses the traditional cricket rules. Both versions of the game have two teams and a single innings, but the difference here is that each team will only bat for a maximum of 20 overs instead of 50. The method of point accumulation is also similar to the earlier forms of cricket; a run is scored by the striking batsman hitting the ball with his bat, running to the opposite end of the pitch and touching the crease there without being dismissed. Hits that reach the boundary of the field are automatically awarded four runs if the ball touches the ground en route to the boundary or six runs if the ball clears the boundary on the full.
Comparison with other forms
What has made Twenty20 so popular is the limited nature of its play that characterizes its length. Unlike tradition cricket games, a Twenty20 game lasts about three hours generally; putting it in line with most other popular sporting events. This also makes it much easier for Twenty20 matches to be televised.
In most cases Twenty20 is definitely very close to standard cricket; surprisingly people have definitely seen a difference though. Many critics say Twenty20 is a much more exciting and athletic variety of cricket.
That a team has only 20 overs to score as many runs as possible minimizes the likelihood of a middle order batting collapse, a crucial factor behind the conservative nature of batting in a one day international or a test match. If anything the reverse is true whereby a team risks not scoring enough runs at the end of twenty overs if their batting is of a conservative nature. This gives the opposing team an easier target to aim for hence the care-free batting that sees a plethora of fours and sixes being scored.
Indian Premier League
The establishment of the Indian Premier League (IPL) was another watershed moment in the rise of Twenty20. Cricket fanaticism in the subcontinent borders on the obsessive. The huge following the game commands coupled with the favorable demographics of India provided a heady concoction that was tapped into by corporates and the result was the birth of the league. The short exciting nature of T20 meant locals could take cricket in their daily stride without having to forego a whole day to sit in the turnstile.
The Indian Premier League proved highly successful with sell-out crowds, high television revenues and subsequently, corporate investment that has the knock-on effect of providing lucrative player contracts. This has seen leading stars such as Jacques Kallis, Jayawardene, Shane Warne and Adam Gilchrist et al join the league to supplement the Indian stars such as Yuvraj Singh, MS Dhoni and Sachin Tendulkar. IPL became the first sporting event ever to be broadcast live on YouTube, an avant garde in sports broadcasting that saw the lead taken up by other competitive sports like football in the recently concluded Copa America tournament.
Future of the game
The rise of T20 has got sections of critics writing epitaphs on the demise of the conventional formats of test and one day cricket. However, the technical appeal of the longer version of the game, steeped in purist tradition will see put to this for the foreseeable future.
In Kenya, the game hasn’t got the kind of following witnessed during the heady heights of 2003 when Kenya got to the semifinal stage of the ICC Cricket World Cup. The local trend however suggests a slow adoption of a sport that eventually turns into a frenzy as witnessed by the rise in popularity of the English Football league in the early 2000’s.
The decline of standards in the local game following the zenith of 2003 should see us try our hand at the less technical, more athletic and infinitely exciting version of Twenty20 cricket. A precedent can be seen in rugby where Kenya flourishes in Sevens rugby while struggling to gain a foothold in the technical version that is Fifteen’s rugby. The impressive performance of the Kenya team in the 2010 Associates Twenty20 Series in Kenya might prove to be an early indicator of the local potential in store for T20. Of encouragement too is the launch by Cricket Kenya of a new regional franchise competition in Twenty20 cricket. The East African Cup that commences on 20 August 2011 and will feature six newly constituted teams from Kenya and Uganda is designed to improve the standard of domestic cricket in the region, develop more players capable of playing at international level and stimulate interest in the game throughout East Africa. This might just prove to be the boost of helium the game needs as to take it to soaring heights.
As we move to the future, cricket fans are left wondering which direction the game will take, with some seeing change as inevitable. With one day and especially test cricket struggling to attract spectators, it would be no great surprise if the popular Twenty20 version continues to push things in a different direction.