(Book Review | Cricket 2.0, Inside The T20 Revolution)
By John Cheeran
Is T20, cricket or an altogether a different game, carved out from the rib cage of Test and ODI cricket?
Yes, say Tim Wigmore and Freddie Wilde, considering the 13-year-old evolution of the newbie, in their meticulously researched and brilliantly argued book, Cricket 2.0, Inside The T20 Revolution.
All of us—players, writers, spectators-—are lucky to be witnesses and participants in our different and varied ways in the emergence of a new form of sport. Such moments are rare in sport. Chronicling T20’s defining moments and its surge towards absurd popularity, should have excited those who are paid to ruminate on the game. Wigmore and Wilde did, and the result is an insightful book.
In Cricket 2.0, the authors say that although there are still 22 players on a 22-yard pitch with six stumps and a leather ball, T20 is a different game.
To give an idea of how different is T20, Wigmore and Wilde bring in former South African cricketer and former Indian national team coach Gary Kirsten. Kirsten says: “It is very detailed. T20 cricket—much more detailed than Test cricket. Test match cricket is the simplest form of the game. You don’t actually need that many plans. You are not under pressure as batsman; you can have a couple of bad overs and you are under no pressure to score runs, whereas T 20 cricket is on your case ball by all.” An illuminating comment indeed.
T20 is driven by data. So, Wigmore and Wilde say. There are three distinct phases in a T20 game—first six overs (power play), overs to seven to 15 (the middle) and overs 16 to 20 (the death overs). And data is mined accordingly for the distinct phases.
As you watch another edition of IPL, you are bombarded with a deluge of data—strike rate for batsmen and bowlers, average, matchups, economy rate, etc. How each batsman or bowler has fared against the bowler or batsman in the previous two editions of the IPL. What’s the strike rate of batsman in power play, middle overs and death overs. And there is then the actual match to focus on.
How much of these data are relevant? Wigmore and Wilde say that what matters is an arc of three years. Not the past, but only the recent past.
Test cricket was imagined as an open-ended game with all possibilities. By limiting the game to 20 overs, T20 has radically overhauled the approach to batting. And that has had its impact on bowlers.
Brendon McCullum, one of the early gurus of T20 batting, tells the authors that if a batsman can pick up a 20-run or 22-run over, you have potentially won the game.
That has been happening in the 13th edition of IPL being played in Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Sharjah. The likes of Rahul Tewatia, Axar Patel and Nicolas Pooran have given big hitting further depths.
T20 is largely about aggressively looking for runs, but an all-out attack, most often, leads to a meltdown. Even the ongoing edition of IPL has given us many such examples. (KKR 84/8 against RCB) Although the intent of the batsman is to hit every ball out of the park, the reality is that all skills of traditional cricket still remains relevant in T20, and the consistent passages of play when even the likes of Virat Kohli is happy to go forward by taking singles should not be forgotten.
The story of any sport is the stories of its heroes. Wigmore and Wilde also take a closer look at the careers of McCullum, Chris Gayle, AB de Villiers, Kieron Pollard, Andre Russell and Rashid Khan to go beyond the numbers.
The authors examine all aspects of T20—data obsession, auction strategies, doping, betting, changes in approaches to batting and bowling—and also take a peek into future and come up with 31 predictions for the future of T20. It stems from the belief that T20 will continue to remain popular and the now widely accepted opinion that ODI and Test cricket will be carried on the shoulders of the youngster. All the predictions are interesting but will too many thrilling finishes, ties and super overs dull the senses in the long run?
Interesting, too, is the take on how T20 succeeded in democratizing cricket, opening up career paths for cricketers from Afghanistan and other outposts of the game and bridging the gap in earning potential of players, especially from the West Indies.
There is money in T20 cricket and money changes men and cricketers. The authors have relied on many sources to put together their book–interviews with past and current players, administrators, analysts and agents; autobiographies of players, podcasts, newspaper and magazine reports. But striking was the absence of any comment from one of the T20 greats, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, or, for that matter, Virat Kohli. It shows that although the game of cricket has been democratized, cricketers themselves have become so far removed from the paying public as well as from those who hold a mirror to the 22-yard.
One of the strengths of Cricket 2.0 is the attempts Wigmore and Wilde make to explain the game. And they have taken a close look at why Chennai Super Kings have aced the format while Royal Challengers have pitifully failed in winning the IPL.
Considering what has been happening in 2020, Wigmore and Wilde may like to change a few lines in that most-read chapter of this entertaining book.