North column: T20 cricket struggling in international game

By Marcus North

The forthcoming T20 Tri-Series between England, Australia and New Zealand offers cricket purists something of a throwback to the old-school one-day tournaments we used to see and love. It is hoped that the structure of the series will offer some context to the game’s newest format that is, as we all know, thriving globally on a domestic level.

Now first things first; I love T20 cricket. I played and captained the Perth Scorchers and also turned out for the Sydney Sixers in the Big Bash.

But at international level, I feel the format struggles and falls way short of the standards you see and appreciate in 50-over and Test cricket. It just feels like an add-on to the Lord Mayor’s show and I question how seriously players take it when they are playing in international colours.

Not wanting to beat about the bush, T20 is a bit of fun, but there is only so much ‘fun’ – without context – you can tie into cricket and I have to question whether this T20 series is required after three months of hard international conflict between Australia and England – where the sides excelled in red and white-ball cricket respectively.

With the Big Bash and the IPL, not to mention the other T20 competitions sprouting up all over the place, the game is very well-suited to the shortest format and you feel the fans’ engagement with a league system.

At club and domestic level, the fact that it is something of an expedition isn’t an issue, but at international level it just feels like another game; a marketing strategy to put even more bums on seats, and people just aren’t getting it. It’s lost with the public, and it’s important not to get too greedy and turn people away from a format that pulls in the crowds and hopefully the next generation of viewers and players. And just as we come to the business end of the Big Bash, some of the top players are being pulled away from a tournament that has the nation gripped to go and play for their country in something that will be a lot more low key.

So, let T20 grow domestically across the leagues. It’s lost in the international arena.

Meanwhile, last week was a cruel one for the likes of Joe Root and a few other England stars who were overlooked in the IPL’s player draft.

It seems strange that a player of Root’s class and calibre can be ignored, but I guess there is an air of familiarity with many of these franchise owners and continuity is certainly a factor here. Also, with England’s top brass – like Root – having to miss the final this year, as well as a big chunk of next year’s tournament due to the World Cup, there is a sense that despite the huge sums owners are forking out, they can find better, long-term value elsewhere. These franchises can’t build for the final and to be the best team if their best players won’t be there.

This is why England’s love affair with the IPL has been something of a fragmented one. The county season closes the door on many players participating. Australia players have no such concerns; with their international and domestic season over, they are free to play wherever they want for as long as they want.

I suppose you can see why a few Australians, like Shane Watson and Steve Smith, have been called on to lead their teams as captain. The owners know they are buying quality but they also know they are buying someone who can be a long-term ambassador for the badge they are wearing.

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