Years ago, when the closest form of contemporary cricket as a sport came into existence in the 19th century, it wasn’t just about big hits and boundaries, it signified something more.
Cricket was about strategy, the delicacy of on-field planning and most of all, persistence. We’ve come a long way since then, with the introduction of One Day Internationals (ODIs) first and then the T20s, bringing the sport into a different realm, with new brands of cricket being played and enjoyed.
Interestingly, cricket is now taking one more step. We are seeing the emergence of a newer and shorter version of cricket, the Ten10s. UAE is set to host a Ten10 league in December where the likes of Virender Sehwag and Shahid Afridi will grace the field. Spread over four days, Ten Cricket League will witness seven teams in action in Sharjah Cricket Stadium.
There is clearly a pattern here, the playtime of a game of cricket is being constantly reduced, from seven hours of ODIs to three hours of T20s to now 90 minutes of Ten10s. The larger question however, is, what does this perpetual trimming of cricket hold in store for the game, and most importantly, is it even necessary?
To understand this, we need to assess how world cricket is faring at the moment as compared to other sports. In India, there is no dearth of cricket fans. Cricket has a huge following here and is much loved to the extent that it looms large over the welfare of other sports.
While it remains a lucrative sport and money is flowing in from all side and the last decade has seen more cricket played than ever. The International Cricket Council (ICC) currently has 12 full-time members, of which Zimbabwe has shown only marginal improvement even after being in the fray for decades.
The ICC is making sincere efforts in promoting cricket in nations, hitherto untouched by it such as USA, Italy, Ghana, Papua New Guinea, through its associate membership but those efforts will take time to culminate into concrete results. Similar efforts in past recently culminated into addition of two new test playing nations, Afghanistan and Ireland.
ICC is also trying to revive the popularity of test matches by undertaking new measures, such as day-night Tests, and is receiving quite a good response as well. A record number of 3.19 million people watched the day-night test match played between New Zealand and Australia in 2015.
What cricket needs at this moment is an upsurge in the number of spectators and of participants. Shorter formats like T20s have been serving exactly that.
Test cricket, though still very much in fashion, is not attracting as many visitors as it used to do before, while T20s and the IPL are clocking up their highest viewership records. The T20 world cup in 2016 was watched by a total of 730 million people in India while the 10th edition of IPL saw an increase of 22.5% in its viewership.
Recent test series between India and Sri Lanka could only find 79429 impressions and finished below the Pro Kabaddi League in terms of viewership.
This pattern of data is primarily an echo of the lifestyles that we are leading. There are more distractions now, we have shorter attention spans and in our busy schedules, it is not a feasible option for most of us to watch five continuous days of cricket.
To this new age population, a workable option has to be presented, which comes in the package of T20 cricket. Now, the 10 over format, which is the length of a movie, seems to be a further step in catering to our new on-the-go lifestyles.
But apart from the duration and entertainment quotient, there is one more aspect of sports which is perhaps the most important and that is its financial sustainability. Lesser number of spectators directly has an impact on financial stability of a sport and that is probably the most imminent danger to the survival of Test Cricket. T20s, on the other hand, with more viewership in its kitty means more profit for everyone from the players to the boards to the sponsors.
Obviously, it leads to a call for more T20 action from everyone involved. Ten10 cricket can also hope to cash in on the viewership. If we also put into consideration the fact that it brings back legends like Sehwag, Afridi (maybe even Tendulkar) to the game, there is a higher chance of it becoming very popular, really fast.
So, does this inevitable transition affect the integrity of the cricket? T20s have energised ODI cricket as we see more runs being made and higher targets being chased and Test cricket has always been a place to hone the skills and technique which are important for players in any format of the game.
Consequently, an equilibrium is established between these three formats at the moment. But introduction of a ten over format could disrupt this balance as it is unlikely that cricket will be able to bear the weight of managing one more format. Unless, of course, the boards decide to do away with one of the currently available formats.
Besides, this also calls for a balanced approach from both players and organising boards as too much cricket can lead to fatigue, injuries and a premature end of careers. All factors considered, it will be interesting to see how this transition pans out for cricket.