Cow Corner

Low crowds and mismatches mar start of World T20

Cow Corner

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It is coming up to 10 years since the Twenty20 format was unleashed on the world, and for better or worse, it has taken the game off in new and unforeseen directions.

We have seen domestic crowds unlike those produced by any other format, and they have witnessed a raft of strokes the game had never seen. Imagine trying to explain the scoop shots and switch hits to the cricketers of a generation ago, or asking the late great Fred Trueman to bowl a 'slower ball bouncer'. The game has moved on apace.

The success of T20 led to the creation of an Indian league which has offered unimaginable riches and extraordinary exposure. The format has strained the sanctity of Test cricket, with players in their dotage giving up their Test cricket to eke a bit more time and money out of the shorter game, or even creating cricketing 'mercenaries', going around league to league and making money without threatening the international  game.

You don't have to like the format — but the one charge that has been near-impossible to level at T20 is that it lacks excitement.

Enter the ICC.

The current edition of the World T20 in Sri Lanka is now four days and six matches old, and could scarcely have generated less excitement.

It is a 12-team competition, with the 10 Test nations and the associate qualifiers of Ireland and Afghanistan. But despite being a punchy three-week format, the first week is being spent playing a series of one-sided matches with almost no prospect of a major force being eliminated.

As such, the home nation, which Cowers can vouch for being cricket-mad, has stayed well away. Every ground is cavernously empty and devoid of atmosphere.

Being a Brit, the issues of empty seats touches a nerve with Cowers. We collectively fumed as a country during the Olympics as event after event saw a smattering of empty seats, apparently reserved for the Olympic family and going to waste. The circumstances are different, but this is an issue on another scale.

But then it's hard to blame Sri Lankans for being underwhelmed by what has been seen so far. The closest match of six has been the 23-run victory by India over Afghanistan in Group A — about as close as an Olympic final featuring Usain Bolt, albeit a few rungs down the ladder of elite sport.

Associate nations are good for the game, and Cowers wouldn't want them to miss out on their place, but even without changing the format of the competition, a couple of key tweaks could have been made.

Take, for instance, the opening match: it should have seen Sri Lanka play South Africa. Two top teams, playing for their future in the group. As it stands, the pair will face off this weekend with nothing at stake — their place in the next round, and even which group they will go into, has been established. The same is true for India and England.

Two teams — Zimbabwe and Afghanistan — are out before Pakistan have even played a game. What logic is there to that?

If the ICC would let Cow Corner tinker with their careful planning for the day, there are a few possible ways to address this. Two six-team groups would be one option, with the top two from each reaching the semi-finals.

An unseeded first stage would be another — it might pit three highly-rated teams against one another, but then if you can't get out of the group do you deserve to win the tournament in any case?

The move to a 16-team format in 2014, which the ICC have hinted at, might equally create its own possibilities for a restructure.

It should pick up. There'll be more at stake once into the Super Eight stage, with two matches a day, each featuring two top teams.

The betting for the Twenty20 World Cup at present has the top seven teams available at anywhere between 9/2 and 6/1 — there is precious little to separate any side, and that should manifest itself in some thrilling cricket.

But if a World T20 is played in Sri Lanka and only a few hundred people are in the crowd to see it, does it make a sound?

T20 is about the carnival as well as the competition — it encourages cricketers to innovate, and it thrives on the participation of the crowd. The IPL understands that, which is why it regularly draws enormous attendances. It can reach saturation point as well, which the ECB didn't understand when they scheduled too many matches in recent editions of their own domestic tournament.

But the point is simple: full houses having fun in the stadium translates smoothly to the audience at home watching on television — crowds add a sense of occasion and importance to matches. You might well be sat on the sofa in your pants and eating crisps as the game unfolds, but it doesn't hurt to feel you're part of the party.

Sri Lanka is a beautiful place which can provide that ambience and more — but for the sake of the competition, we could do with seeing it sooner than later.

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