T20 isn’t real cricket, so let’s not pretend it is

T20 isn’t real cricket, so let’s not pretend it is. When I’ve watched it, I’ll be honest with you, I find it appalling that it is even called cricket.

It should be called ‘Whack-A-Ball’ or ‘Slugfest’. It has been so boiled down and down and down from the mother game, that little is left that is worthy of the noble name of cricket.

Yes, it’s a spectacle and you’d have to be stupid not to see what people like about it. But, to use a well-worn phrase, it’s just not cricket. T20 is naked pole dancing, compared to cricket’s Foxtrot.

It’s vulgar and shamelessly appeals to the lowest common denominator. Real cricket is being choked to death by T20 and is now all but on a life-support machine.

T20 is an insult to the good name of cricket. I should have seen this state of affairs coming a long time ago. As a boy growing up in the 60s and 70s, cricket had a definite hierarchy to it.

At the top was Test cricket: the absolute pinnacle of the game. Underneath that was county cricket: the lifeblood of the game. Under that was one-day cricket, which was a bit of fun, but was looked down on by some as a cheapened, rather coarse form of the game.

I was a fan of the John Player League which happened on Sundays and was broadcast live on BBC2. It had its glory days in the 70s and early 80s and was always popular, attracting decent crowds on fine days.

Naysayers 50 years ago warned that one-day cricket was a dangerous indulgence in slogging, was against the true spirit of the game and that the short format risked undermining everything.

In today’s T20 dominated world, a 40-over game now seems positively long and drawn out!

But in the 70s I couldn’t see the problem. I still loved Test and county cricket – always going to the annual Yorkshire game at Acklam Park in Middlesbrough and visiting Headingley once a season.

As I watched England get skittled out for 93 by Australia in the first World Cup semi-final on 18th June 1975, eventually losing by four wickets, it still didn’t occur to me that one-day cricket would kill the real game.

But it should have done because even back then, there were always kids who would only watch the short form and had no patience for a match that lasted three or five days.

They were the T20 audience in waiting. I was the odd one who liked all formats.

One-day cricket has always been popular. Up until 1962, it had almost always been a three or five-day sport. Then the Gillette Cup was introduced in 1963 and was as new and exciting as the Beatles.

The final at Lords would usually be sold out. So when the 40-over format started in 1969, the fears that one-day cricket would overtake the game were already smouldering.

Slow Batters like Geoff Boycott or John Edrich were dropped or shoved down the order, because they found it hard to adjust to the cruder demands of 40-over cricket. It’s obvious in hindsight where we were heading.

But even so, no-one could ever have envisaged the degree to which one-day cricket would become the dominant mode for the game, nor that cricket’s longer formats would become, with a few exceptions, so unpopular.

The once noble three-day County game now seems a blissful irrelevance in 2018.

In today’s world of short attention spans, inculcated by a fast, cheap, vulgar popular culture which has to impress in the blink of an eye or risk being ignored, it’s no surprise that the garish mutant that is T20 is so attractive to people.

But surely the whole point of the game we called cricket was that it unfolded slowly over many days.

The point was that it was plodding, detailed, complex and nuanced; a mix of psychology and skill, influenced by the weather, as much as anything.

Hitting a six was a rare thing of beauty, and that’s why it was thrilling when it happened. T20 has totally debased that emotion.

If cricket used to be chess, T20 is cocaine-fuelled strip poker. It is all sugar and no savoury.

Writer and one-time Wisden editor Matthew Engel has written that “everything worthwhile about it (cricket) is being destroyed: it’s culture that the umpire’s decision is final; the delicate balance between bat and ball as the game degenerates into a six-hitting contest.”

There can’t be many sports which have so profoundly reinvented themselves, in order to chase money. But sadly, in doing so, they have promulgated something that is very far away from everything that made cricket what it was.

They have made something that is crass and vulgar, but then we can look around and see that crass and vulgar sells and sells big, so the future looks bright for all things T20 and I know I’m howling at the moon.

But can I just ask one thing, please? Stop calling it cricket, eh. Because cricket is the last thing T20 is.

By John Nicholson