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Collins column: Volume 2.0, the shift in power of T20!

Big Bash League

I was definitely one of those people. Talking to James Sutherland, Cricket Australia’s former long-term chief executive, after a game in 2014 – before working in the game – I expressed my frustration about the Big Bash.

Who knows what gibberish I was spouting – probably something about all sloggers being created equal. Of course, I had barely watched it. He responded as I’m he did a thousand times before: “T20 isn’t about you.”

Five years on, my conversion is long complete and my respect for the shortest form of the game could not be greater. That in Australia we were never really exposed to the Indian Premier League on television in those formative years denied the audience to go on the same ride that was being had in the subcontinent – or, indeed, in England. Of course, it was here where Twenty20 was invented and rolled out at the professional level.

This general disdain is where Tim Wigmore and Freddie Wilde begin their superb history of the caper formerly known as hit-and-giggle, Cricket 2.0. With T20 now closer to its 20th birthday than its 10th, it is a book that set itself the ambitious remit of documenting how such and why such a revolution occurred, especially since the IPL’s emergence in 2008. Built on the basis of scores of interviews and dozens of off-the-record conversations, the final product is a one that takes the reader well behind the curtain in an organised, digestible and enjoyable way.

Take succeeding as a batsman in T20. To do so is to understand how Brendon McCullum took to this task. The audacious 158 made by the former Black Caps skipper way back on the IPL’s opening night set the tone for so much that was to change the sport since. He articulates the complete commitment required to let go of the usual orthodoxy when it comes to preserving one’s wicket in the abridged game. How you need to be a baseballer – above the shoulder at least.

If McCullum was on the vanguard, the way franchises were picking their players took a while to catch up. When Sourav Ganguly was culled by the Kolkata Knight Riders, it signaled an shift. Data, slowly but surely, overtook the glamour of stars of the previous era. Chris Gayle was always a fine West Indian opener – across the formats – but here he was, as the authors describe, the ‘Bradman of T20.’ A chapter is devoted to his outrageous numerical domination, all governed by the simple belief that six-hitting trumps all else. Hit a six in the betting stakes with help from MightyTips.

Gayle also led the Caribbean domination. Informed in part by administrative chaos in West Indies cricket, explosive strikers seemingly born to clear the ropes were increasingly happy to park their international ambition if it meant cleaning up on domestic circuit. Still given the chance to play for the West Indies without national contracts, they formed the backbone of the strongest national teams in the format with two World T20 titles in 2012 and 2016.

There are chapters also devoted to explaining how the abbreviated forms of the game played by Caribbean kids helped, as did the intervention of Allen Stanford. While he may have been a crook, it was his moment in the sun that shaped the lives of players like Kieron Pollard, who got a taste for what might be possible and made the rational decision to play prioritise becoming T20 stars first and foremost. In his case, as the first of the innings finishers.

AB de Villiers might be the ‘unicorn’ of T20 but he never was able to do it for his country compared to his output in ODIs or Tests – in the passage on him, we learn why. Also unpacked is why his franchise, Royal Challengers Bangalore, have such a dreadful record in actually winning the IPL – especially compared to their rivals, the Chennai Super Kings.

The conclusion is that the smart cookies at CSK respected experience and continuity well above the latest in-fashion overseas star. In doing so, they don’t miss when lining up the flaws of Virat Kohli as an IPL on-field leader compared to MS Dhoni at CSK.

Club-versus-country tensions are studied, especially in an analysis of England’s belated embrace of the IPL, theorising that it underpinned their ODI World Cup success of 2019. As is the democratising effect that T20 has had on bringing in talented players – not least, Rashid Khan – who never would have stood a chance at breaking into the big time when their only shop window was playing international cricket Off-Broadway.

The off-field is examined too, including a focus on how a proliferation of T20 leagues can’t and won’t be commercially viable. In the case of leagues in South Africa and in Europe, they were cancelled in the last two years before a game was played. Will leagues merge? Expect so. If so, clubs like KKR will be well placed to take full advantage as they broaden their horizons in keeping with what Manchester City has successfully achieved in club football.

 As caring as the book is for T20, the is a necessary discussion around match-fixing that players have been subject to and the techniques used to encourage underperformance. On the other side of the ledger, there’s an alarming problem with inconsistent testing for performance-enhancing drugs.

If administrators sit up and pay attention to one aspect of this book, it has to be that. How players can dance from league to league, largely safe in the knowledge that out of testing can never capture drug use, is beyond belief in 2019. But overall, this is about the cricket. Why is fast bowling so hard yet so undervalued? Jade Dernbach is revealing and open in discussing the hardest job in the game. How in 15 years have there already been three distinct periods where different types of spin bowler dominating T20? Marrying the data with the words of those who have been at the coalface, this book helps break down this complicated terrain too, made easy for the casual observer to grasp.

With both authors are still very much in their 20s, a criticism can be levelled that there might be on occasions a bit too much repetition in order to make their points more forcefully. But as Harsha Bhogle points out in his foreword, it is this exuberance that has made Cricket 2.0 such a worthwhile and successful project. “We must listen to them,” he insists. And he’s right.

ADAM COLLINS

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