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Big compliment for India

Peter Roebuck

CA hopes to attract more international stars, especially Indians, writesPeter Roebuck


Australian cricket has paid its Indian counterpart a high compliment by adopting its format for Twenty20 cricket. Within a year eight franchises will be in place, one in every State and two in the most heavily populated, namely NSW and Victoria.

Whether the bidding follows the same lines is another matter. Australia is not quite as fond of free-for-alls and mavericks as the BCCI. Still, the originators of IPL deserve praise for producing such a successful event in such a short span of time. By no means should that entrepreneurial skill be taken for granted. Often it takes an unorthodox outsider to break the mould.

Just that sometimes they fly a bit too close to the sun. By the look of things the proposed tournament will be played in January, after the annual Test series and before the end of the school holidays.

Already the existing T20 is staged at that time and last summer it attracted large and vibrant crowds. A few foreign players were signed, mostly big hitters like Kieron Pollard, Chris Gayle and Shahid Afridi. Each State played a few matches under lights on balmy evenings. Although half-baked, it was enough to whet the appetite.

Embracing private sector

Now Australia intends to go a step further and embrace the private sector. By all accounts local Indian businessmen are amongst the highest bidders for franchises. If so it's a good thing, as is the news that Venkatesh Prasad is in contention for the bowling coach position with the national team. It all helps to stymie those determined to drive a wedge between our countries. They succeed by stereotyping and they need to be challenged.

Australia's problem has been that domestic cricket long ago lost its public and more recently the 50-over game has been in decline. Cricket Australia's first step has been to replace 50-over State matches with 45-over games played in two halves, with both sides facing 20 overs in the first half and 25 each after the interval. It's worth a try but it's unlikely to turn things around. NSW even stages the matches in small and hospitable suburbs and towns and still supporters stay away.

India leads the way

Something radical was needed and India led the way. Now CA is hoping to attract more international stars and especially Indians to its tournament.

Inescapably it's about money, and that means TV contracts, and India with its vast population, growing middle class and affection for the game.

Presumably that is why CA forced Mike Hussey and Doug Bollinger to stay with Chennai Super Kings till the Champions League had been completed. He who pays the piper calls the tune.

It's also about making the game sexy. However cricket needs to take care lest the tail wags the dog. Now and then Luciano Pavarotti sang a few modern melodies but he did not abandon opera. He had a bit of fun and widened his appeal without undermining his art form or neglecting his true gift.

Uncertain duration

Doubtless it sounds stuffy but cricket is a game not an entertainment, an exposition of skill not a circus. Its strength is that it is a game of uncertain duration. That can also be a weakness. On paper T20 contest is as weighty as a Test match. Certainly the scorecards look similar. The struggle between bat and ball and between teams follows more or less the same lines. The recent Test series in India reminded all and sundry of the game's possibilities. It is a land of dreams not desires.

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