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Twenty20 stampede Stampeding began when countries fought to promote a champions league for the winners – and some runners-up – of domestic 20-over competitions. In early June, the ECB declared that a memorandum of understanding had been signed with Australia, India and South Africa; but the English and Indian boards fell out as the latter wanted 50% ownership. The ECB tried to set up their own champions league, and Abu Dhabi’s royal family were courted, but they preferred to invest in Manchester City football club.
India went ahead with organising their multimillion-dollar Champions League – before the recession every 20-over league was “multimillion-dollar” – with Australia and South Africa as their junior partners. To make room in the schedule, the First Test in Perth between these junior partners was put back five days: thus 20-over cricket was established as the priority, even though the launch of the Champions League was later postponed a year. Then Sri Lanka’s 13 best players refused to tour England for a Test series in May 2009 because they had already pledged themselves to the IPL. In the New Year, England’s star cricketers decided they were going to India for half of the second IPL season, even if they returned home only four days before the First Test in May. Christopher Martin-Jenkins observed that Twenty20 was a “Frankenstein which could devour everything unless rationally controlled”.
The next stage in the midsummer stampede began with a helicopter hovering over Lord’s, landing on the Nursery, and disgorging a selfproclaimed Texan billionaire. Great West Indian cricketers, who had never bowed a knee to any opponent, paid homage to Sir Allen Stanford – or, rather, were paid to pay homage amid the collective sycophancy. The ECB argued, reasonably, that it was better to have such an entrepreneur operating inside the tent, rather than outside, as Kerry Packer had done. But before agreeing to play an annual game of Twenty20 for $20m, for five years, the ECB should have stipulated that their team to play the Stanford Superstars would not be called England, with all the values and traditions which the name implies. Then they would not have been so embarrassed when Stanford’s business empire came under investigation in early 2009, and he was charged with fraud “of shocking magnitude”. The man who wanted to be king of the Caribbean might not have been what he seemed.
The 20-over tournaments proliferated: the IPL, the EPL, the Stanford 20/20 for $20m, a Stanford quadrangular at Lord’s, the Champions League, the ICC World Twenty20, and the Indian Cricket League which, having largely confined itself to signing non-Indian players past their prime, recruited a team of Bangladeshis – and further weakened the weakest. Every one was an attempt to cash in, although only the IPL had understood that 20-over cricket needs an extra ingredient to appeal to a wider audience, including women and girls: in its case, the glamorous association with Bollywood film stars and other Indian celebrities. Hence, the IPL is surviving the recession, so far, while the other acronyms are crumbling. The English Premier League has contracted not only in terms of teams but in nomenclature too, down to a proposed, pitiful, P20.
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A voice of sanity Amid last year’s tumult came a still, small voice of calm: a cricketer’s, not an administrator’s. The captain of Sri Lanka, Mahela Jayawardene, spoke on behalf of the whole sport when he said: “You can’t have three or four Twenty20 international tournaments a year. You just can’t have that. It has to be controlled. Tests are very important; one-day cricket is very important. You can’t think that everybody wants Twenty20 cricket.”
Almost every international cricketer, when questioned, says the ultimate form of the game is Test cricket: hence the introduction in this edition of the Wisden Test XI, selected from the best performers in the calendar year. Any contest is a purer test of skills if not limited by time: Hector v Achilles could not have been a Homeric contest if limited to five minutes, or a Wimbledon final confined to an hour. Yet these values were not reflected in payments. Some Sri Lankans were being paid a few thousand dollars for a Test and a hundred times as much for a six-week IPL season. Predictions were made, not least by the former England captain Michael Vaughan, that the cricketer of the future would be a mercenary flying from one 20-over tournament to another without ever playing Test matches for his country. Soon afterwards a Sydney club cricketer, David Warner, signed for Delhi Daredevils and brought the Melbourne crowd to its feet with a spectacular innings in a Twenty20 international for Australia, without ever having played a first-class game – or revealed his personality. Administrators must use the profits from 20-over tournaments to cross-subsidise Test match fees.
The England captaincies In addition to the Twenty20 turmoil, last summer saw the sudden resignation of the England captaincy by Michael Vaughan, and the almost simultaneous departure of Paul Collingwood as the limited-overs captain. Then came the spectacular accession to the Test and one-day captaincies of Kevin Pietersen who, as expected, was no shade of grey: he began by winning everything, then lost everything.
For Vaughan, the strain of being England captain became too much, and it should be asked why. His reign could be said to have lasted five years, but for almost a third of that time his right knee would not allow him to play, and he stepped down from the one-day leadership after the 2007 World Cup. Yet the day after the Edgbaston Test he broke down in tears, saying his personality had been changed so much by the job that he “wanted to be me again”. It has become customary for England captains to resign in tears, not far from a breakdown, and it should not be.
Pietersen’s reign lasted five months and, as Vaughan could not be persuaded to stay, it was an experiment worth making. The temptation to promote Pietersen was akin to a child being left alone in a chemistry lab: put all the most inflammable ingredients together and see what happens. The resulting spontaneous combustion overwhelmed the South Africans, after they had achieved the primary purpose of their visit, winning the Test series; and the Pietersen experiment might just have lasted long enough for the Australians to be consumed this summer.
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