I almost watched an entire T20 game the other week, well two in fact - England's victorious semi-final and final of the World T20. And well worth a partial view they were too.
The skill and discipline of the English side not only fully merited them a first international trophy and the praise that followed but actually caused me to reflect on my general distaste for what I had considered the Lambrusco in cricket's cellar. Having reflected, however, particularly in the light of last week's First Test, my overall impression is of an entirely new game developing. It may be a little unkind to describe it as the bastard child of cricket and baseball, but then again I can't really think of a better description.
Baseball is not the worse game ever, and so neither is T20. But it is cricket stripped of at least one essential and defining element. I have written previously about how Test cricket is aptly named. It places demands on its participants that simply cannot be fully tested in a limited overs environment: stamina and concentration come to mind. Perhaps most important of all though, is the value it places on patience. Patience for bowlers and batsmen, particularly for captains, but also for spectators.
Perhaps the most striking feature of England's play in the West Indies was their discipline, particularly in their bowling and fielding. One only has to think of Glenn McGrath to recognise that discipline is a quality as applicable to the long game as the short. But what made McGrath a 'relentless genius' was that he allied discipline to patience. His 563 test wickets and 381 ODI dismissals came because he gave batsman no respite. Of course he had the physical attributes: stamina to bowl long spells when needed and fantastic control based on a simple but metronomic action, but without the patience to maintain that line and length of a concerted period he would have been nothing like the bowler he was. By comparison T20 bowling seems to be heading in the opposite direction. With great skill, it must be added, the English bowlers served up a mixed bag of 'change-up' slower short balls, bouncers and fast yorkers. Exactly in the manner of a baseball pitcher. Nothing for patience, everything for variety.
To be fair, I did see the odd delivery patted back to the bowler during the World Cup matches, which, on simple mathematics, would be the equivalent of blocking out an entire over of a day's Test cricket. So perhaps patience is not entirely excluded. This is however an unsatisfactory comparison. A blocker is not necessarily a patient player, more likely he is simply a limited one. Patience comes from the self-confident (not arrogant) knowledge that sooner or later your opponent will make a mistake - you just have to make sure you are still around to take advantage. It is a mark of the very best cricketers and as such its value increases the higher the standard of play. KP, please take note.
In the absence of such subtleties, the T20 sprint places greater emphasis on other attributes such as innovation and raw power. It also puts an even greater emphasis on fielding. Fielding is the 'defence' of cricket, where teams of more limited ability can reduce the gap to their more talented opponents. Baseball is obsessed with statistics, including those for 'errors' committed during a game. Now, T20 is not quite so low scoring and so an individual error is not quite so costly, but I would be amazed if Andy Flower and indeed every international team coach, does not already have similar statistics for their fielders. This is certainly no bad thing. Perhaps one-day cricket's greatest gift to the overall game has been the improvement it has brought to fielding (including some elements such as the slide pick-up taken directly from baseball) in all forms of the game.Whilst T20's star continues to shine, we can expect such trends to continue.
Fielding will, however, only ever be a side-attraction; it lacks complexity and therefore interest. And to my mind that follows for T20 too. One day I may watch a whole game. I doubt it though, I just don't have the patience.