• Bertie Moores

T10 - The New Death of Cricket?

If you believe The ECB’s 100 ball experiment will destroy the soul of cricket, then put your fears on hold as cricket is already dead. The Hundred has been comfortably beaten to the accolade of officially-sanctioned game destroyers.

Yesterday, the T10 League entered into its third instalment in the UAE, bringing in players and pensioners from around the world to engage in some good old fashioned ten over fun.

Those engaging in Twitter tirades against The Hundred should in theory be pitching a protest camp on the square at the Sheikh Zayed Stadium when they discover the T10.

We’ve been told in equal measures how The Hundred will revolutionise or damage cricket in England, but the T10 is an interesting petri dish for limited overs cricket, and may offer glimpses into how The Hundred may play out on the field. I settled myself in, optimism at the ready and cynicism on ice to absorb the first day of proceedings in all of its sixty ball glory.

One stadium, no home games and Zaheer Khan.

Reigning champions Northern Warriors and Maratha Warriors were the first to take to the pitch for this eight team, nine day tournament. All of which is surprisingly free to air in the UK.

FreeSports, a true chocolate box of a channel, serves as provider. Available on Freeview Channel 64, FreeSports is also so devoid of advertising partners I now instinctively think it the norm for a wicket to be greeted by an Argos ad of a bloke playing a tiny drum. One minute you can be watching world drone racing before being transported to T10, returning to La Liga and then the Swedish Hockey League. The off-the-wall scheduling offered up on FreeSports seemingly mirrors the selection of players on show.

Teams feature several big names and familiar faces. Watson, Perera and Bravo populate the list of household names on the teamsheets of the first couple of matches.

Indeed, the biggest treat of the first match of the day was Dre Russ pummeling a classy 58 off 24 balls to ease Northern Warriors to victory. Eoin Morgan also found impressive rhythm in the second match to lead Delhi Bulls’ successful chase with a two-a-ball fifty.

David Willey, Adil Rashid, Mason Crane, Samit Patel and Sam Billings are amongst a sizeable England contingent who will all gain crucial very-limited overs experience to put to use in The Hundred. Malan, Moeen and Morgan captain their respective sides.

Yet, reading the names of Yuvraj and a two years retired Zaheer Khan give off very strong Brian Lara Cricket 2007 vibes. The T10’s player pool is partially damaged by the multitude of Test series being played out at the moment. Yet, despite some obvious talent populating the sides, the old timers and *relative* lack of top players in the sides do not scream ‘the future of cricket’.

Being held solely in a location more well known for oil and questionable workers’ rights than cricket also lent a slight exhibition quality. Cricket has long been utilised in the UAE as one of the various soft power grabs which have also consumed F1 and Etihad FC. In fact, the appearance of His Excellency the Minister of Tolerance before the second match was a surprising interlude given that ‘Homosexuality’, ‘Public Affection’ and ‘Secret Prisons’ feature amongst sections in the country’s human rights Wikipedia page. Wait for Greenpeace to wheel out their pro-whaling spokesperson at next year’s climate conference.

The transient tournament length and the fact that the likes of Delhi Bulls and Deccan Gladiators don’t play in their respective regions further make the tournament feel that it has no grounding in the real cricket world. Thus it seems to lack the fervour and vibrancy which has become a central characteristic of the IPL.

The result is a stranger tournament than one can envisage The Hundred being, which will host a stronger contingent of top players and also have teams rooted in their respective home cities.

60 balls

It is cricket, I can confirm that much. Well, in most ways it’s cricket you’ve known since Hampshire and Sussex played out the first 20 over affair sixteen years ago. The same inventive shot arsenal. The same fireworks for every boundary. The same plethora of bowling variation. The same informal commentary with players all known by nicknames and no balls as ‘noeys’.

The actions on-field are little different to T20. Not every single shot is thwacked for six. That would be impossible. The large boundaries in Abu Dhabi made this goal more difficult admittedly with the first contest taking nine overs to dole out our first maximum. Cornered mid-match, Deccan Gladiators coach Mushtaq Ahmed reeled off some classic coachspeak about ‘treating the format like any other cricket match’ but he does have a point. The talk is the same, but in practice the effective route to success differs slightly.

The ever engaging Mark Butcher in the commentary box consistently talks about clean hitting and boundaries more so than in T20. There is no time to 'get in', while keeping the score turning over with singles and twos is less of an issue for the batting side given that the risk-reward options are skewed by the shortened innings. With the same number of wickets and half the number of balls, a team virtually cannot be bowled out and wickets are less of a punishment.

In turn the impact of wickets in swinging the game appear to lose their impact as it’s rare that the tail is approached. Dots therefore take on a heightened importance with a catch or run out is greeted with a similar quiet exhale to that of just no run.

Some cricket fans will inform you that there are simply no tactics in T20. They’d be wrong. All you need to do is hear the interviews with captains discussing field placements and the bowling variety on display. However, whether square leg comes back a few yards to cut out the two is not what naturally brings uninitiated fans in. T20 has always thrived on the fireworks the players produce but the pacing, build and tension play a part in an engaging contest.

Anecdotally and visually T20 appears to have maintained enough of that. It is not Test cricket, where battles between bat and ball remain part of its underlying appeal, but in T20 games can ebb and flow over the course of a ninety minute innings. There remains a sense of where the game could be heading whilst retaining a feeling of enough time for it to be turned around. A batsman staying in remains important and games can be flipped or stalled with appropriate regularity. It however seems the sixty ball format offers simply no build and no time for tension and intrigue to develop within the microscope of a single match.

With fewer balls each ball should mean more. Delhi Bulls coach Stephen Fleming said, “Every ball is an event, which I really like. It can swing around so quickly.” In theory this is not incorrect. A boundary can do more, a dot can do more than in T20. Although statistically true, a delivery in T20 has never been lacking the feeling of high pressure and impact. In T10 each ball has an increased statistical meaning but equally a disproportionate decrease in individually helping develop a contest.

In the second match of the day Eoin Morgan pulled out a sublime 52 to win the match for a once teetering Delhi but the game was flipped within a matter of fifteen minutes. With less build there was less payoff. I wanted more. T20 doomsayers delivered the same critiques fifteen years ago but the drop off is noticeable from a format which is short enough to fit into an evening anyway. Whether or not The Hundred will face the same issue and to what extent remains to be seen.

10 overs, are we being serious?

The profile of the Hundred will be greater than the Abu Dhabi T10. Not every innovation in sport rubs off all around the world. As a child I played one hand one bounce and auto wickey on the beach in Wales, but that doesn’t mean you see umpire Erasmus a decade on going to DRS for a potential nick to a non-existent slip corden.

The Hundred in comparison to the T10 will be held in a major cricketing nation so the potential repercussions of the tournament stand to be greater. The calibre of the names involved is also something to be noted. Combined, The Hundred could have greater ramifications for the future of cricket than this week’s duels in the desert.

That being said the T10 may not be entirely meaningless. After all, the tournament has made it to my TV and it’s ICC accredited. Accreditation may not mean anything to us but it’s a signal of goodwill and interest from the ICC. Cricket authorities are strange beasts which will pursue something if they see the cash in it - cc: Allen Stanford. The Abu Dhabi T10 may offer an indication of things to come but ironically this shortest of forms may take more time than most to establish itself.

Remember, it’s all still cricket. Yorkers, bouncers, wides, swings, cuts and pulls are still there, but whether it retains interest in the same way is another question. The world keeps spinning and if people take to 60 balls then they take to it. If not then we already know they’ve taken to 120.

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