What will the status of the Twenty20 World Cup winners be when they emerge victorious from the tournament this month?
It might sound an odd question, but think about how absurd it would be in any other sport. Imagine that six months after the FIFA World Cup, another tournament, also called the World Cup, was played with pretty much the same teams fielding pretty much the same players in a pretty similar tournament format with pretty similar viewing figures (both at the grounds and on the telly), but with 45-minute matches rather than the full 90.
I’m not questioning the existence of T20, because I love cricket, and I understand that this ultra-intense, short format of the game means people can watch a whole game in an evening after work; it gives the game more appeal, more coverage, more peak-time advertising opportunity and hence, more money. It’s also a great spectacle.
I just think its going to be weird when there are two world champions of cricket.
Test cricket is, of course, an altogether different kettle of fish; tactics and gameplay are wholly different from the one day game. The length of time matches take, and the massive possibility of draws, means that a ranking system is the only way to produce a ‘world number one team’, whereas 50 overs-a-side lends itself to definite results in the finite time of a tournament. 20-20 is very much like 50-50 in its style and ethos: score as many runs as you can as quickly as you can; restrict as many runs as stingily as you can. It, too, can be played in a tournament, which is why we have this second ‘World Cup’.
The winners will, therefore, claim to be world champions of cricket, and the best in the shortened version of the game. But the Australia team that lifted the World Cup in the West Indies a few months ago already claim that title. And ‘Twenty20 world champions’ doesn’t really mean anything, at least yet: so few T20s are played internationally (England have played the most in history with a grand total of 6; India have played just 2) that no-one will really care. Also, the games are so short that a second-rate international team could conceivably lift the trophy. The flaws in a Zimbabwe side could perhaps be papered over for three hours at a time that would undoubtedly cause a collapse over a whole day or more. What if a ‘minnow’ wins the whole thing? They are played so infrequently by the test-playing nations that the ‘world champion’ label will be redundant until they play the tournament again.
One solution would be to have an annual or biennial T20 tournament, outside of which international T20 is not played. Then it would be clear that T20, while popular and important, is not of the same caliber and class as the official cricket world cup, in the same way that the Six Nations is keenly contested every year, but with the winning side not making any pretensions to overall global superiority. Maybe the difficulties will disappear as T20 establishes its niche. But the simplest solution this time round, to avoid any argument or confusion, would be if Australia won the danged thing. Doubtless they will oblige.