JOHANNESBURG – Now that the English are feeling the pinch as far as players choosing which format they will play, the volume around T20 cricket has increased again.
This week England top order batsman Alex Hales joined his international teammate Adil Rashid in choosing to forgo a ‘red ball’ contract to concentrate solely on the limited overs formats. Players choosing to concentrate only on ‘white ball’ cricket is nothing new, West Indies players have been doing it for a few years.
The England coach Trevor Bayliss, has also said T20 Internationals should be scrapped, except for a few months before the T20 World Cup. Again that’s not new.
Former South African coach Mickey Arthur outlined that view nearly 10 years ago, saying at the time the T20 format should be played at domestic/franchise level only, with a World Cup the only time it should feature as competition at international level.
Arthur’s concern at the time was for domestic cricket and the fact that spectators would only be interested in watching international T20 matches and lose interest in the domestic stuff. To a degree he’s been proved right. While SuperSport Park was full for the RamSlam final this season, the round-robin matches weren’t as well attended - except for the odd game down in Cape Town - despite the sponsors putting up R2-million for spectators taking one-handed catches.
Arthur was right a decade ago just as Bayliss is right now.
The current men's series between India and South Africa and the triangular series in New Zealand, have seen only the Indians pick their star players. Australia - with the exception of David Warner - picked a group of youngsters and players who’d performed well in the Big Bash. But their household names - household for the majority of South Africans, and possibly Australians, too - have been in South Africa preparing for the Test series that starts in Durban next week.
South Africa have had a host of injuries impact their side, but the bowling unit being used for the Indian T20 series features none of Kagiso Rabada, Morne Morkel or even Lungi Ngidi, who are all being ‘rested’ with an eye on those Tests against Australia.
International T20 cricket, outside of the World T20, isn’t taken very seriously at all. Meanwhile, franchise T20 tournaments, like the IPL and the Big Bash, arguably hold a higher profile in the format.
The proliferation of franchise T20 tournaments around the world from Nepal to Afghanistan - except in South Africa, of course - means players will have a number of opportunities, with salaries for the most part in US dollars, of earning a living without needing to engage in first class cricket.
That leads to a fundamental shift in the sport and as Rashid and Hales’ moves indicate. Contracts, in future will change, too. One part of the negotiation between Cricket SA and the SA Cricketers Association regarding the next memorandum of understanding, will concern contracts for players who only play ‘white ball’ formats, such as JP Duminy.
For now, there is merit in what Bayliss said recently and Arthur all those years ago. The T20 format is the perfect form of the game to raise much needed awareness - and by extension income - for domestic cricket. It will help clear up the congested international calendar, too. Now if only the ICC would step up and do something.