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Soup of This Day #143: The Urge Is Righteous But The Face Is Wrong

February 26, 2012

Belmont Cricket Club House
The main clubhouse of the Belmont Cricket Club, circa 1900. The club was located at Chester Avenue and 50th Street in Philadelphia and was a hotbed for American cricket. The US national cricket team is currently ranked 26th in the world, below Denmark and above Nepal – Image: Frank H. Taylor, c1900. Frank H. Taylor is not affiliated with Longworth72. Image cropped by Longworth72.

Dear United States of America,

I’m writing to you today for a couple of reasons:

First, I’d like to thank you for baseball, the Muppets and Steve Martin. Nice work there.

Second, I need to warn you about something. Specifically I’d like to give you a heads-up on the International Cricket Council (ICC) making a push to introduce their sport into your culture.

To be clear, I have no problem with you guys adopting cricket – It’s a great game, you’ll love it if you give it a try and there’s plenty of room on the Test cricket bandwagon. Some will tell you though that the wagon in question is a bit old and rickety and even the band is starting to eye comfortable shrubs to jump into.

And this is the crux of the problem. Those who run cricket believe that the public are drifting from the wagon. They think that the car is going to replace it and they want to make sure that it’s a car they manufactured rather than 1 derived from another sport.

So they created T20.

It’s cricket stripped of antiquities and subtleties. Each side is given just 120 balls to make a batting score. The bowling side is given 75 minutes to deliver those balls and there are fielding adjustments designed to facilitate big hits and expansive scoring.

That’s on the field. Off it and the organisers generally follow the circus methodology. The 3-ring kind of thinking, where there is never a dull moment. You can look over here and there are fireworks, while over there are dancers gyrating in front of a DJ.

Sometimes the actual cricket isn’t even in the main ring.

It does bring in a crowd. In the recent Big Bash T20 competition in Australia the shortened games were pulling in larger crowds than you’d get in total across a 4 day Sheffield Shield fixture. During a recent One Day International (ODI) between Australia and Sri Lanka at Bellerive Oval in Tasmania a commentator opined that the crowd, a healthy 9,000 plus, was around 5,000 lower than for T20 outings for the local Hobart Hurricanes.

Supporters of this new variant point to these crowds as a sign that T20 is saving cricket. Detractors argue that these crowds are not flowing through to the other more traditional forms of the game. T20 is not saving cricket they say, it’s just feeding itself. And there are some nasty side-effects – The influx of money that T20 brings has also attracted those who would seek to derive a profit for themselves at any cost.

Texan financier Allen Sanford was 1 of those who jumped on board the T20 ship early on. He organised the Stanford 20/20 tournament in 2006, building his own ground in Antigua to host it. For the 2nd edition of his tournament he was rewarded with a global audience of 300m. Encouraged he announced a deal with the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) whereby the English national team would play a West Indies all-star team, the Sanford Superstars, in 5 annual matches for a prize purse of £10m.

That was per match, winner takes all – A figure as attention demanding as the T20 spectacle itself.

The 1st outing was in 2008 and the Stanford Superstars were the benefactors, thumping England in a 10 wicket win. That was to be the 1st and last match in the series. In 2009 Allen Sanford was investigated by the US Securities and Exchange Commission who alleged that he was involved in ‘massive ongoing fraud.’ Shortly thereafter they adjusted this description to refer to a ‘massive Ponzi scheme.’ At last count his lawyers were claiming that amnesia from a jailhouse beating means that he can’t recall any of the stuff that went on before he was caught.

Allen Sanford it seems has as much substance as the T20 he championed.

Allegedly.

And then there’s the Indian Premier League (IPL).

T20 got it’s start in England, the spiritual home of cricket, in 2003. It might be the birthplace of cricket and T20 but England though is no longer the financial or administrative home of cricket. In 2005 the ICC moved from the venerable Lords ground in London to Dubai, an extravagant city that boasts no allegiance to cricket past it’s ability to turn a buck or millions. The move was in part because the UK government was unwilling to provide the ICC with tax exemptions. Ultimately though the transfer to Dubai has a symbolic air to it – Cricket’s powerbase is now the sub-continent, with India able to provide massive legions of fans and much in the way of sponsorship dollars.

India’s T20 league exemplifies this. In 2009 the IPL brand was adjudged to be worth $2.01 billion. In 2010 that figure had jumped to $4.13 billion. In 2011 the Indian government announced investigations into financial irregularities and ‘criminal activities’ related to the IPL.

There’s a strange kind of logical sense in all of this. Sanford’s Ponzi scheme is a good metaphor for T20 – There’s a lot of money and there is a fair amount of sleight of hand going on. Look over here at the fireworks and the dancers and if you can get your gaze past the kaleidoscope of sensory stimulation there’s a man handing over a paper bag of cash.

I don’t reckon this kind of thing will fly in the US – After all it was the US authorities who nailed Sanford. My concern out of this is the damage that will be done to cricket.

Watching T20 is like scoping the All-Star Home Run Derby. It’s distracting but it tells you as much about baseball as Madonna’s half-time Super Bowl show tells you about football. If either of those is the 1st thing you see in those sports you’re probably not going to get into the real deal.

So here’s my warning: Don’t get sucked into the hype of T20. There’s a saying that you hear sometimes in Australia – When we come across something that is not fair, that’s not carried on in a good spirit, we say, ‘It’s just not cricket.’

T20 is just not cricket.

Sincerely yours,

Longworth72

The Urge Is Righteous But The Face Is Wrong

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