In less than a week, the World Twenty20 begins in Nagpur when Hong Kong take on Zimbabwe. It hardly matters what the opening game is. We could have begun with India against Pakistan and it still would not have rid the impression that welcoming the World Twenty20 is a little like welcoming the country cousins in this day and age.
How else to describe the arrival of this tournament, to find the world’s best team no less, in a calendar stuffed full with starrier attractions in a world and format where the idea of a team and its following has never been less relevant?
Just look at this calendar for a start. A brief summer break following the end of the Caribbean Premier League (CPL) last July has been followed swiftly by – deep breath here – the Bangladesh Premier League (BPL) and the Ram Slam T20 from November through to December, the Big Bash League from December through January and the Pakistan Super League in February.
Right after the World Twenty20 ends, the Indian Premier League (IPL) begins. Before that is even remotely over, the T20 Blast in England will have begun. Before that is over, and it is interminably long, the CPL will have begun and probably ended and then we are, well, you know where we are. Back again, at the start of the treadmill.
These are all domestic leagues, somewhat staffed by local players but completed by stars from around the globe, playing for, in most cases, city-based franchises with players from all nationalities. That is the nature of the calendar that cricket now ticks to, one in which national affiliations and allegiances mean less and less. For a tournament like the World Twenty20 to land up in the middle of this whirl is not only to risk it getting lost within; it is also realising that perhaps Twenty20 is better played in the way of these leagues and not at international level.
For one, there remains zero context to international Twenty20s other than when a World Twenty20 comes along, until now every couple of years but not till 2020 after this.
Between the last event and this one, the most internationals any team has played is 18 (Pakistan). But England, Australia and the West Indies have played just nine, eight and eight matches respectively. The average number of matches for a Full Member is 12.7. That is, to emphasise again, over two years.
Compare that to, say, the IPL. In just one season, in just under two months, one player can play well over that average; if an Australian played the entire IPL, he could end up playing double the matches in one two-month season than he has played for the national side in two years.
The same applies to the T20 Blast. Even in the new, small PSL, a player can play more matches in a month for Islamabad United than in two years for his national team.
So what, then, is the point of an international Twenty20 unless it is happening at a World Twenty20, where even there, the maximum number of matches most Full Members can play is six?
There is no real context to any of them because, for a start, there are not enough of them to matter. There are, conversely, not enough of them to remember.
Every league, meanwhile, creates its own context every season, not every two years, or four, but every season. You may forget what happened in the 2015 IPL, maybe even who won it, a few days after it ends but for the duration it is on, it will be difficult to not be aware of the bigger narrative of the season. And if not, it will be relatively straightforward to catch up and plug into it.
A bilateral Twenty20 series on the other hand? What do you latch on to what is so often a one-off game, usually a series of two, or even a three-match series?
And because there are no restrictions in a domestic league on the players you pick and combine, or the brains you employ to ensure you extract the best out of them, there is a fair chance that the quality of cricket will always be better than at international level.
As one case in point, how much better was the PSL to watch than the type of cricket Pakistan is producing right now in the format, and has done for the last year? How much more modern did it look than Pakistan?
Any sporting world event will always retain a certain pull, an element of thrill. That goes without saying because that is the way the world is designed. And so the World Twenty20 will fascinate. But the real value of the format is to be found away from the world stage.
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