S Radhakrishnan, better known as RK, is a sports freak. After dabbling in the world of Physics at the Madras Christian College, he did his Masters in Business Administration from Mumbai. Working in a corporate world didn’t suit him and he decided to enter the world of journalism. During his stint with ESPN Star Sports, RK covered the ICC Cricket World Cup in 2003, before moving on to join NEO Sports as their prime anchor. He is now the face of NEO Prime and NEO Sports.
Having watched the first four games of the ICC World Twenty20, I can safely say the matches involving the non Test-playing nations thus far have been lopsided. While Zimbabwe were finding out which way the ball will turn facing up to Ajantha Mendis, and then struggling to cope with South Africa's battery of fast men as they crashed out of the tournament on day three, Australia beat Ireland with five overs to spare. And we still yearn for teams like Afghanistan to tell us bigger and better stories.
The shorter the game, the tighter it would get was, one of the aspects promised by the shortest format of the game. Therefore the inference was, the excitement generated will allow more countries to take up and compete with the test playing nations going forward. That was one of the premises, but evidence suggests it has been anything but so far.
Numbers reveal a fascinating story. In terms of upsets, Zimbabwe beating Australia in Cape Town in 2007 ranks slightly below Netherlands' win over England at Lord's in 2009. Australia have not lost a Twenty20 game to a non Test-playing nation since and England's loss against the Dutch was their only blemish against a nation of similar cricketing stature as Zimbabwe's. India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka have maintained their record alright and so have New Zealand and West Indies. Only Bangladesh, as a Test-playing team, have suffered more than a defeat at the hands of non Test-playing nations.
Four World Twenty20s are a reasonable period of time to start drawing conclusions about the progress of the sport. A couple of things have been conveyed thus far - while it may be true that shorter formats will provide an opportunity to create upsets, they do not guarantee you quality proliferation of the sport. Bigger and better teams consistently compete against each other over a variety of formats and therefore evolve as a cricketing unit.
The way they compete in the Twenty20 format now will and is vastly different from the way they competed in the first edition of the World Twenty29 in 2007. They play quality teams; they work on their game and consistently evolve. It may be true that we still aren't exactly able to pick a winner in the competition but we know the kind of players that will help you win the trophy and that's why better teams, playing better oppositions are beginning to find the formula of winning.
The closer they get to finding consistent formulas, the more isolated the non Test-playing nations become. Therefore, to expect an Ireland or teams like that to jump in once every two years to beat the best or even consistently push the top teams is too hard to imagine, let alone happen.
For that to happen though, teams like Afghanistan and Ireland will have to compete with better teams on a regular basis. Of the 12 Twenty20 internationals that the Asian team has played, it hasn't faced a Test-playing nation outside of the World Cup. Over a period of four years, while the Irish have played close to 30 Twenty20s, they have hardly faced top notch opposition outside the realms of the World Cup; three Twenty20s against Bangladesh in Belfast being the only exception.
You can point out the different formats of the game and hence the packed calendar for bigger teams for being unable to accommodate such fixtures. But that's going to be the biggest challenge for the governing body. Gradual inclusive growth is the only way forward. If we are keen on cricket as a sport to grow globally, we need to find a way to kick start it. Perhaps identifying a few nations to provide them with better exposure is the way forward. If organizing internationals is going to be difficult, there has to be a way to allow better club-level relations between these nations that will ensure getting used to better quality than what they might find in their homeland.
Otherwise, you will have tough competitive games in the shortest format but they will be restricted to their respective planes and nothing more. Ireland, for example,
will be able to compete consistently with Netherlands or Afghanistan; consistent being the operative word. But it is difficult to imagine them pushing countries like India or Australia consistently. The planes and hence the qualities will be different. To try and get them together on the biggest stage might provide publicity for teams that will have stories to tell and perhaps even for the game's governing body highlighting their ability to promote sport. But not too sure if consistently one-sided results will be appreciated by teams who are at the receiving end or for that matter by the biggest stake holders of the game, namely the audiences.