Twenty20 cricket: too much of a good thing?

Sir Ian Botham says the Twenty20 boom has resulted in authorities being consumed by greed and fears for the future of cricket. But, as Ahmed Rizvi reports, the phenomenon continues to prosper.

Bangalore fans show their enthusiasm for Twenty20 cricket in an IPL match against the Delhi Daredevils.
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Sir Ian Botham says the Twenty20 boom has resulted in authorities being consumed by greed and fears for the future of cricket. But, as Ahmed Rizvi reports, the phenomenon continues to prosper Over the past 45 days, we have seen 60 matches in the Indian Premier League (IPL). Two days from now, the circus will be back on television with the World Twenty20 in the West Indies starting on Friday - 17 more days of cricket's golden goose, involving 12 nations and 27 matches.

The last T20 World Cup was held only 10 months ago and the regularity of cricket's shortest form is becoming offensive for some of the game's biggest names. Sir Ian Botham, the former England captain, said in recent interviews on BBC Five Live and Wisden: "We had one in June in England now there is another one in the Caribbean. "It is greed, greed, greed. That is what will kill the game, the greed of the authorities. "If you keep watching yourfavourite film every night, it soon becomes your least favourite film. So watch out - they will kill the goose that lays the golden egg. "I like what Twenty20 brings to the game. It's a few hours of fun and the whole family gets involved, but if we saturate the market with too much, people will get bored of it and it will plummet and die. "No one wants to see that, so we must get the balance right." Botham is not anti-T20. In fact, he admires the new game, but wants to see the novelty retained. "Twenty20 is the treat after the main course," he added. "It's like a slice of rich chocolate cake that tastes great and puts the finishing touch to a meal, but if you were to have nothing, but chocolate cake it wouldn't sustain you and pretty soon you'd be sick and tired of it. "Twenty20 has got a place to play, but I think it should be played once every four years internationally. I think you should play as a franchise and at countylevel because it generates a lot of moneyand brings youngsters through the turnstiles." That was the real reason for the introduction of the 20-over game in England, an invention forced by necessity. English county cricket gates were going down every year and the game was in freefall at its traditional home. This was confirmed in recent surveys among 26,000 schoolchildren in south London. Asked which three sports they would like more access to, the secondary school students put cricket at 21st place on the list, behind archery and rounders. Three years ago, a Cricket Australia survey revealed similarly disturbing details, The game was going backwards because of its failure to attract women, children and new fans. Not surprising, considering that in the 130-year history of the sport we still have just 10 Test playing nations. Then along came Twenty20, a version of the game that ticked all the boxes that cricket needed for survival and perceived revival. It was short and adrenaline-heavy for prospective new recruits, and had a dash of celebrity to keep the women interested. The game came into being after more than 4,000, 15-minute, face-to-face interviews to gauge the public appetite. More than 30 focus groups were mobilised and with the first game in England in July 2003, on a Friday the 13th of all days, as Durham took on Nottinghamshire, administrators knew they had found a winning formula. An average of 1,200 fans had been going to domestic limited-over competitions in England previously, formats which consisted of 40 and 50-over matches. In the first year of the Twenty20 Cup, that number soared to 5,000. The following year, it grew by another 1,000 and the turnstiles have been buzzing ever since. "It was your fun-size Mars bar," says Stuart Robertson, who devised the format a decade ago in his role as marketing manager with the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB). "A little taste of cricket that, hopefully, would get people who merely tolerated cricket - rather than those who considered themselves fans of the game - to upgrade to one-day and maybe four and five-day cricket." The Mars bar is, however, threatening to become the feast itself. The phenomenal success of the IPL has cricket administrators clamouring for a piece of the pie. Ironically, India was the slowest to accept the newest format of the game, but T20 has their already bulging coffers overflowing. In numbers, there are more than 100 brands associated with the IPL and advertising has increased from Dh414 million in 2009 to Dh580m. The gross profit for the eight franchises is expected to be in the region of Dh15.7m to Dh35.6m, according to an India Infoline report. An independent evaluation put the IPL's worth at US$4.5 billion (Dh14.6bn) and the league's brandvalue has outstripped that of England Premier League giants Manchester United. The 45-day spectacular had a television audience of more than two billion. It is not just the IPL franchises who are cashing in on the windfall. The domestic T20 champions and runners-up from England, Australia, South Africa, New Zealand, the West Indies and Sri Lanka stand to earn $500,000 in participation fees alone at September's 12-team Champions League in South Africa. The winner will pocket $3m. To put those numbers in perspective, the T20 champions in England get about $65,000; the Pura Cup winners in Australia take home $125,000. Taking the cue from the IPL, the ECB have doubled the number of foreigners who can play in the domestic T20 cup, from one to two. Counties are hiring specialists and stars like Ross Taylor, David Warner, Adam Gilchrist. Surrey are even trying to coax Brian Lara out of retirement. The new format has already brought millions into English domestic cricket and made counties less dependent on their annual handout from the ECB. There will be more cash flowing into their pockets this season with 151 T20 matches due to be played between June 1 and August 18. The ECB are also discussing plans to have a second IPL-style T20 competition, to run alongside the current championship. Will that be overkill? The paying public will decide.