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How T20 is transforming the gentleman’s game

Aditya Mani Jha | Updated on May 15, 2020 Published on May 15, 2020

Battles at the crease line: The T20 format challenged the conventional wisdom that underpinned the traditional format of the game   -  BHAGYA PRAKASH K

‘Cricket 2.0: Inside the T20 Revolution’, a new book by sports journalists Tim Wigmore and Freddie Wilde captures the highs and lows of the evolving formats of cricket

In the opening chapter of sports journalists Tim Wigmore and Freddie Wilde’s excellent Cricket 2.0: Inside the T20 Revolution, we meet the explosive former New Zealand batsman Brendon McCullum on the eve of one of his most significant innings (and, as the authors point out, one of the most significant modern-day innings, period): His fire-starting 158 runs off 73 balls for the Kolkata Knight Riders against the Royal Challengers Bangalore, in the very first Indian Premier League game, on April 18, 2008.

Cricket 2.0: Inside the T20 Revolution; Tim Wigmore and Freddie Wilde; Penguin; Non-fiction, ₹499

 

According to McCullum, he wasn’t feeling comfortable at the crease at all — of the first six balls he faced, he failed to score off five, which according to him was “worse than getting out in T20”. And therein rests one of the many insights unique to Twenty20 (T20) as a format (so much so that the authors rightly place it as almost a different game altogether): Batsmen cannot put too high a price on their wickets, they need to play without fear and just try and hit more sixes than the opposition. Wigmore and Wilde cite fellow cricket journalist Scyld Berry to explain the philosophical underpinnings of batsmen’s fear of getting out:

“In the book The Game of Life, Scyld Berry wrote: ‘When a batsman has been dropped by a fielder we say he was “given a life”. We are saying that a batsman is alive when he is at the wicket. When he is out, therefore, he is dead, killed by the bowler, perhaps aided and abetted by the fielders. If the batsman makes a false stroke, it can be a “fatal” mistake. Thus a dismissal in cricket can be equated to death.’ This elegiac assessment of a wicket distils the psychological depth and weight of batting, and the importance traditionally placed on defence and on wicket preservation.”

Real technical analysis, based on facts and figures, is a rare quality in mainstream writings about the sport. Wigmore and Wilde’s Cricket 2.0, thankfully, has been rigorously stripped of the maudlin sentimentality that has passed for cricket writing for a long, long time now. In that vein, the most important achievement of the book is the way the authors have captured a kind of reverse osmosis between T20 and the ODI (one-day international) game. When T20 started, it was widely assumed that the tricks and techniques suited to the ODI game would be the key to T20 success. Instead, the education flowed in the reverse direction. England’s ODI batsmen (Jonny Bairstow, Jason Roy, Jos Buttler and Eoin Morgan, in particular) were able to export their T20 learning to the 50-over game. As we know now, this was crucial to their victory in the 50-over World Cup in 2019.

This isn’t to say that Wigmore and Wilde are disinterested in the behind-the-scenes, all-too-human drama of cricket. Impressive character sketches of T20 superstars such as Chris Gayle and Sunil Narine are combined with more introspective, stats-and-analysis-driven portraits of lesser-known T20 luminaries such as the England fast bowler Jade Dernbach. A similarly thorough deconstruction of AB de Villiers’s T20 career tells us just how far ahead of the pack the South African genius, called “a batting Unicorn” by the authors, really is. Wigmore and Wilde take us through all of T20’s major hits, moments that showed us all that the format had to offer: From MS Dhoni and India’s victory in the inaugural World T20 in 2007, to the short-lived Champions League T20, to the advent of the Big Bash, the Caribbean Premier League (CPL) and other IPL-style tournaments around the world.

In a funny, and occasionally touching, segment towards the end of the book, the authors introduce us to Ali Khan, a young Pakistani immigrant in the US, working at a telecom firm (called ‘Cricket Wireless’ for no reason at all). Sleepwalking through one club game after another, nobody really cared that Khan “regularly bowled at 90 mph or more” — until a CPL contract happened (all CPL teams have to pick one North American player on their roster) and the West Indies all-rounder Dwayne Bravo, one of the most successful and experienced T20 cricketers on the planet, met Khan and urged him to never give up on his dream. By 2018, Khan had quit Cricket Wireless and become a professional cricketer after being signed by the agency Insignia. Here’s what he had to say about T20: “It would have been really hard if there were no leagues or T20 (...) T20 has given me an opportunity to showcase my skills in front of a wider audience. Associate players running shoulder to shoulder with known international stalwarts has given us an opportunity to show that we can stand with the best in the world.”

This, then, is perhaps the most meaningful way in which T20 is revolutionising cricket — democratisation, the decentring of power away from traditional strongholds such as India, England and Australia, the so-called Big Three. And Wigmore and Wilde’s book is our first accomplished document of this revolution. It’s a story that’s still developing, but, by god, it’s been bagfuls of fun so far.

Published on May 15, 2020

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