By Mike King
Former West Indies captain Clive Lloyd has certainly fuelled debate with his assertion that the growth of the T20 format has “messed up” West Indies cricket.
Lloyd said he was concerned that playing Test cricket was no longer paramount for some players, who have found it more beneficial to play in the lucrative T20 leagues around the world.
The truth is Lloyd is partially right and partially wrong.
Blaming the advent of the T20 format for messing up WI Test cricketers is a little off. There are many more deep-seated issues, for example, the quality of the first class game and playing surfaces, the state of regional cricket and regular administration hiccups.
T20s have kept the interest in the game alive in the Caribbean. How the cricketers are guided through it is another issue. This is what I believe Lloyd is alluding to. Cricket in the Caribbean had a myriad of issues before T20s even started.
The fault is not that of T20; T20 pays the bills for other formats.
The T20 leagues now provide a platform for exciting talents like Chris Gayle, Kieron Pollard, Dwayne Bravo, Dwayne Smith, Sunil Narine and Andre Russell to parade their wares and make a good living that can inspire the kids to take up the sport.
Where I support Lloyd is from the developmental aspect. T20, hit or miss, or as some would say “fast food cricket”, has provided fleeting entertainment value for spectators but it has to be said that the average modern day young cricketer is not even attempting to work on his game, as T20 provides him with the avenue to just swing his bat merrily for a few overs or not have to worry about a second spell.
Players are not even bothered about taking their game to the next level because they don’t need to play Test cricket to make a decent living. Dwayne Smith and Kieron Pollard are far from being the finished product. They both lack the tight defence and temperament to make big scores against quality bowling, but it doesn’t matter as they are in huge demand in the T20 leagues around the globe.
Pollard has never played a Test match, has just four regional first-class hundreds, but is already a millionaire from his T20 exploits. If Pollard, Smith, Glen Maxwell and Alex Hales, were products of the 1960s and 70s, they would have had to work harder on their game as Test cricket was the only option then.
LLoyd thinks that T20 has hurt West Indies cricket. I think that T20 has hurt world cricket. Some players have fatter bank accounts but the cricket in the strictest sense of the word lacks culture and class. T20 is a diluted version of the game that has popular appeal.
T20 reminds me of a Sylvester Stallone or Steven Seagal movie, all action, but with a weak plot and no real depth. So sadly as it is now the norm to see a movie with a weak script, it is par for the course to see a cricket match without a high-class innings or top bowling spell.
There is a strong view that T20 is responsible for the high percentage of modern day players who are squandering good starts after getting to 30 or 40. The point is, that players have become so conditioned to batting for ten or 12 overs, it is difficult for them to make the adjustment when they play Test cricket.
T20 and One-Day Internationals have also badly affected tour itineraries. There is hardly a first-class match prior to and during Test matches and hence touring teams get limited preparation heading into Test matches.
To bowl spin there are lots of important basics in technique that need to be developed. That is not happening right now because the youngsters at the grass-roots level are playing the limited-overs versions. Because of the lure of money, youngsters want to play the shortest format.
I don’t think it is a good idea to push teenagers who are now trying to learn the art of spin into T20 cricket. Till the age of 21, there should be no exposure to T20 cricket for young spinners. Kids should play only three- or four-day cricket – learn to flight the ball, learn to get hit. Right now the natural instinct in T20 is to push through the ball rather than flight and guile.
Lloyd may not be that far off the mark. For T20 has become a necessary evil.
He will be replaced in the T&T team by wicketkeeper-batsman Stephen Katwaroo.