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T20 or Tests: Why choose?

April 24, 2008 19:26 IST

Dileep Premachandran is clear that the IPL has found both home and raison d'etre; the only question in his mind is how the more traditional forms of cricket [while on that, it's a bit like how, when the Net first happened along, I used to hear journalists talk of 'traditional' media, including print and television and excluding us Web types; suddenly ODIs—which, till the other day, cued regular laments about how it was killing off Test cricket, has become traditional] will cope with the upstart and, as 'traditional media' has had to do, reinvent themselves to meet the challenge.

I'd love to put Dileep in a room with Mukul Kesavan and Nirmal Shekhar—high quality journalists all, but on this issue, apparently holding widely divergent views. Mukul in The Telegraph is clearly unimpressed.

As a cricket match, it was awful and not only, or even mainly, because it was one-sided. It was a non-contest because it was incoherent. Nobody in my bay knew the names of the Indian players who hadn't played for the country. That wasn't their fault but normally, in the course of a cricket match, you get to know the players specially if you're at the stadium because you watch them move about when nothing is happening; cricket has lots of 'dead' time in between individual deliveries and overs that helps the spectator into a state of relaxed alertness....

The cricket played thus far has been low-grade rubbish. The innings played by McCullum or Hussey or Sehwag tell us more about the bowler's predicament in the Twenty20 format than the batsman's gifts. In this ultra-compact version of cricket, the game's natural bias in favour of the batsman is exaggerated to the point of caricature. Each individual batsman can bat as long as he's not out and the batting side has the insurance of ten wickets over a measly twenty overs whereas the poor bowler can't bowl more than four overs, no-balls are penalized by free hits and the slightest deviation down the leg side constitutes a wide. Every bowler is the fall guy, the mug who helps the batsman make the paying public cheer.

Ahem. I could argue, but won't; this piece, with due respect to an author I greatly respect, seems powered by some choler [the slightest deviation down the legside is equally penalized in ODIs, for instance; McGrath and Asif would be better placed to respond to that other bit about bowlers being fetch and carry men].

Mukul has company in Nirmal Shekar, who in the Hindu is equally acerbic:

Compression kills sport; it gnaws away at sport's artistic aspirations, its claim to aesthetic élan. Art, and sport, cannot aspire for the high ground when they are condensed to the perpetual climax of the present.

The best of sport allows for the pause. It lets us sit back and savour the has-been and dream of the still-to-come. Nothing that is breathless -- and therefore leaves no room for a complex cognitive process leading to emotional fulfillment -- can lay claims to sporting greatness.

When you reduce a football match to a penalty shoot-out, a Diego Maradona becomes irrelevant; it is like a 10-minute rendering of Don Giovanni, at once a sham and an insult to artistic genius.

The sine qua non of sport is not the end result of a match but the process used by the performers to get there. And when that process is condensed into bullet points, it leaves sport culturally impoverished.

Oh-kay! Now I know why I get so pissed off at those lightning chess games Vishy Anand wins with fair regularity. No, seriously -- why does so much of contemporary punditry force us to choose, between two forms of entertainment? I love Tests -- the lyrical pace, the ebbs and flows, the strategic thrusts and counter-thrusts, the mistakes and recoveries, the gradual build up, like some grand opera, towards a thunderous finish [except when two sets of batsmen reduce bowlers to irrelevancies, far more painfully than in T20s because in Tests, the pain is spread over five days; remember Chennai's sleep fest recently, folks?]. And from what I have watched of T20 thus far, between the World Cup, some ICL games, and now these [yes, there have been one sided games -- let that form that is without sin cast the first stone], I like that the short form carries with it all these nuances, except that they come considerably compressed. In a Test for instance, you try to recover from a bad session; in ODIs from a bad spell; here, it is often from one bad ball.

So again -- must argument remain confined to the diametrically opposite viewpoints: either you like Test cricket, in which case you hope T20 dies an unnatural death, preferably under the wheels of Lalit Modi's speeding car, or you like T20, in which case Test cricket can go do the other thing?

Prem Panicker