Saturday, June 23, 2007

When I played twenty20

The last Twenty20 match I saw right through, I actually participated in it.

I was 13 playing for Twickenham under-13s, against the mighty Teddington. I felt fortunate to witness such an occasion. It was one of those rare moments when a century was scored. James Keighley, a frequent nemesis of the pisspoor Twickenham bowling attack, played a dominant knock.

All of our dibbly-bobblers were rudely dismissed. Even the honest leg-spin of your author was routinely dispatched to the trees on the far side of Twickenham Green. Keighley and his twelve brothers ran the Middlesex boy’s league like a Russian protection racket. Sure there were other good players, but they were like small-town pimps compared to the cricketing larceny organised by the Teddington syndicate.

I almost got one of them out once. A googly down the leg side, followed by a swipe, a nick and a drop. Even then, I realised the history of the moment: I could have told my grand-children about my unplayable delivery to the Little Master. I prayed that Keighley became a drunk, like the plentiful down-and-outs wondering Bushy Park.

Sadly, it seems as though Keighley has become an Australian and changed his name to Cameron White. Forgetting all his bitter memories of his lucky escape against Twickenham, he has continued to plunder runs from all his unfortunate opposition.

In his 16 twenty20 matches, he has scored 660 runs, with an average of 60 and with an extraordinary strike rate of 174. He holds the record for the highest ever twenty20 score of 141*.I feel I played a crucial part in his development. Every ball appears to him like a dodgy spinner from Twickenham and the threat must be expunged with the utmost force. So he batters the hell out of it before the wicket keeper can even say “bugger, not again”.

Since these early days, I started playing the statelier format of 25 overs. Keighley has not grown up. I’d like to think that I have moved on from such things. I am an adult. I appreciate the art of a forward defensive. That is the advantage of longer formats: variety and unpredictability. Attrition as well as expansion.

However, you don’t have the balance between attack and defence in twenty20. There is simply a battle between two extremes: the hyper-offensive batting, and the terrified bowling. There is no finesse and not much in the way of strategy. It is, if we are all being honest with ourselves, a shameless commercial exercise to entice more people to come to buy a ticket. The razzmatazz, the swinging, the cheering is all central to the format, whereas cricket is merely secondary.

The oxymoronic feature of twenty20 is that it is, in fact, incredibly boring. There are no thrills, no unexpected turns of fortune. You know exactly what the batsman is going to do, and if he succeeds in realising his intention enough times his side will win. There are two possible outcomes to every ball: he swings and hits (cue annoying music) or he swings and misses (cue even more annoying music).

But shot-making, at that tempo, is more about luck than anything else. Yes, there is “calculated risks” and clean hitting. But, that’s it. Yes, you can mess about with the field, but the game isn’t about the fielding time; the bowling is irrelevant. It’s simply a throw of the dice to see whether the batting team is lucky today.

If they are, they win. If not, they lose. You may as well make roulette a spectator sport. Frankly, it’s more fun watching Twickenham’s worst on a Tuesday afternoon.

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