Sunday 7 October 2012

The world moves away from England

In the fog of the phoney KP wars, its easy to forget that hostilities began with him pilloried as a mercenary for wanting to play in the IPL, and ended with Andy Flower saying that 'ideally' England's players should participate in franchise cricket but 'the calendar doesn't allow it'. That seems to be a significant shift, almost unremarked upon.

As Muttiah Muralitharan said in the summer, English T20 cricket is already behind the curve. Shorn of Pietersen and put up against sides studded with men who share his worldliness and  experience, 'callow' was the adjective that attached itself to them. And it attached itself most to the younger players, who have grown up in the era of T20 cricket, who have known nothing else. Bairstow, Hales and Buttler may only be 23, but then so is Virat Kohli. The two English batsmen who can wreak the appropriate havok, Wright and Morgan, are franchise players - indeed England owe the Big Bash one for Wright's re-emergence.

It's easy to say the T20 game has moved on and slightly harder to anatomise how, but at its centre has been Chris Gayle. His method (blogged about here) is based around hitting sixes, and he has an IPL championship and a World title to back up his point. It's obvious now that the side that hits the most sixes usually wins (just as the side that takes the most singles usually loses). In Sri Lanka, five of the top six runscorers in the tournament - Watson, Samuels, Gayle, McCullum and Wright - also hit the most sixes (the exception was Jayawardene, and after him Kohli, who are players of the very highest class). West Indies, who have achieved the rare feat of winning a sub-continental World Championship while coming from outside the region, have, in Gayle and Pollard, the two most prolific six-hitters in the history of the format.

If England saw their chance to sample a future without Pietersen, well now they know. The scale of their decline should worry them. It may cause deep pain in the dressing room, but how he was missed.

For KP, who is said to have trousered $2m for his commentary work, things could hardly have worked out better. His deep-rooted instinct that the IPL is not just a chance to make money, but a place to learn how to play T20 cricket while competing with and against the very best under high pressure and in front of big crowds, is deeply right. The ECB, who, while England held the World Cup had the semblance of an argument for their insistence that the only things that will save Test cricket are two early-season games against weakened opposition, now don't have that. Their team director now agrees with Pietersen. KP really is winning big, here.

Perhaps they can now see that dogma will not save Test cricket, just it will have no effect on the doomed 50 over game (and it is doomed, it's just dying slowly). What will save Test cricket is meaning and competition, not frequency. Its genius will not be dimmed by adjusting the calendar.

NB: it's interesting that while contractual dogma meant England played a World T20 competition without the world's number one ranked player, they also played it without the fifth-highest runscorer in all of T20 cricket. His name is, er Owais Shah.


David said...

I agree completely!

As an aside, wasn't it heartening to hear Marlon Samuels affirming the primacy of Test cricket, at least in his mind?

That he (an example of a player who went from being just another Carribean player who squandered his talent to a example of how you can turn your life around) and Virat Kohli (perhaps the most exciting young player in thw world and the first of the "Tendulkar heirs" who might actually deserve the label) seem to believe that Test cricket is the pinnacle is very reassuring to me.

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you know Marlon Samuels is a pretty weird guy, I met him a couple of years ago and he was funnily weird, but a humble guy