Two of the Big Bash League cricket games over the weekend gave me cause again to reflect on conservatism and how it is halting the growth of cricket. The games in Melbourne and Sydney were both cut short by rain.
On Saturday night in Melbourne the Renegades were chasing a score of 167 made by the Stars. After 8 overs the Renegades had made 3/58 and needed a further 110 to win at roughly 9 an over, which is still quite achievable in T20. The game was rained out. Using the Duckworth Lewis method, the Stars won by 11 runs. It would have been nice to know how the game would have played out. The crowd of 40,000 were robbed of the game they deserved to see.
Then on Sunday night a similar thing happened in Sydney. The Sixers made 117 off their twenty overs, which is not a competitive score in T20. After 5 and a half overs the Thunder were 4/29 in their reply. Four wickets would probably have slowed them down, but they only need 88 off 87 balls when the rain came.
Both of these games were meant to be the show case games in the BBL, where the two Sydney teams played each other and the two Melbourne teams played each other. Both were ruined not so much by the rain as they were by conservatism.
Test cricket is a complex game and over its history it has rightly been decided to stop play when ever rain would affect the wicket. When a bowling wicket gets two wet it can greatly affect the way the ball handles, giving the bowling side an unfair advantage over the batting side. In a game that lasts five days, and where very wicket is held at high value, it is important to make the game as fair as possible.
Twenty 20 cricket however is a very different game. It almost does not matter what the wicket is like, whether it supports spin or bounce, both teams play on the same surface. Wickets are taken at Twenty 20 level when batsmen make mistakes, such as hitting the ball high in the air to be caught, or when bowlers bowl tightly at the stumps and again the batsmen mistime the ball getting bowled. The game moves so quickly that these same mistakes can be made on any surface. Rain would affect these variables very little.
An important point of comparison is with football matches. Football matches of all codes are never cancelled due to rain. The strength of a league based sport is that the fans can count on a game being played week in week out no matter the weather. Twenty 20 is supposed to be a tough and exciting new game, it should not be subject to the same conditions as test cricket. It is a mistake to compare the two games so closely.
Cricket is an older sport than all codes of football. The question must be asked as to why cricket did not spread across Europe the same way that Soccer did. The answer can be found to this question by asking why Rugby did not spread at the same rate that Soccer did. Rugby is actually an older game than Soccer. In fact it was spreading around the world quite well in the 1860s and 70s. It was being played in many European countries before Soccer ever was. Rugby though was a sport marred by conservatism. Games were played at representative level and remained amateur.
Representative games were played for one's country or club, but only ever organised on a friendly one off basis. Rugby did not develop a league of their own. Soccer on the other hand developed a league in 1870. In 1888 the league was professionalised. Soccer professionalised before any other sport. This gave people the incentive to play soccer over rugby. Accordingly, games were played week in week out, meaning that a fan base built up. This did not happen in Rugby.
The simple reasons of soccer being centred around leagues and allowing the players to be paid saw soccer spread quickly across Europe, pushing rugby aside as the number one sport.
The same conservatism that held rugby back is also holding cricket back now. Cricket has been a representative sport until the advent of the IPL a few years ago. Most cricket purists have cringed at the IPL and now at the BBL. But it is league sport that offers the best chance for cricket to spread around the world. The representative model has already proven to move very slowly over the course of one hundred years.
The league model offers the opportunity for players from anywhere in the world to play at the highest level, without having to hope that their country will one day be good enough to play test cricket. The league model offers the opportunity to market the game in new markets such as America. Many an American has told me that they think the game of Twenty 20 is more exciting than baseball.
But the conservatism of the rule makers in cricket who will not allow games to be finished due to a little harmless summer rain harms the chances for the game to spread to markets that do not understand the history of the game. It also harms the viability of a league based game to fans who are not purists of the game in the way that test match followers are.
If football players can play in the rain, so can T20 players. Allow the game to evolve into something new under new conditions. Change the ball if necessary. Heck, even change the paying surface if necessary. If the game does not adapt it will die. Conservatism threatens to be the death of cricket.