Back in 2001, when the idea of T20 cricket was first proposed in England, it came with a warning that without such innovation, Test cricket would die.
Faced with dwindling audiences at the four-day county matches and Test cricket, the ECB commissioned a study to find a way to stimulate interest.
The answer was Twenty20. Traditional cricket was too long; it contained periods of slow, laborious tactical play. T20 was quick and easy, it would appeal to a new audience, it would introduce young people – and women – to the game. Their interest would grow and they would graduate to the more refined versions, all the way to Test level.
Fast forward 17 years. A new plan for cricket is on the table: ‘The Hundred’. It will consist of 100 balls a side, with 15 regular overs and a 10-ball over.
‘It’s going to appeal to a completely new audience,’ said England captain Joe Root. ‘The more people and kids we can get into sport, the better. It might be someone who didn’t know much about the game before and then goes on to watch a Test match.’
Which is pretty much what T20 was supposed to do. It was created strategically as a means to an end rather than an end in itself. The hope was that it would bring people into the game, that they would learn to love the game and the longer format and the nuances that it brings. It did not achieve that and it has become an end to itself for millions.
Andrew Strauss, England’s director of cricket, now believes the T20 format is too long and must be curbed in order to incorporate new fans. ‘We want that T20 audience but a different audience as well, who perhaps would like things slightly different.’
But the question remains for England’s cricket administrators (and others outside India): if T20 has failed to attract the audience they wanted, why would ‘The Hundred’?
How far do you reduce the game in search of that audience that will gravitate to Test cricket?
Just in closing, I was amused to recall the reaction of Niranjan Shah, the BCCI honorary secretary, in the ICC board meeting in March 2006 when a World T20 competition was discussed: ‘T20? Why not ten-ten or five-five or one-one? India will never play T20…’
That was put to bed quickly enough. Whatever format does emerge, we must acknowledge Test cricket is on its own here. It must stand or fall on its own merits.