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Thursday, 4 October 2012

Twenty-20 Cricket – A Threat to the Traditional Game?

This weekend’s ICC Twenty20 World Cup in Sri Lanka will include fireworks, music and rowdy crowds - a far cry from the quietly traditional game that is as English as tea and scones. Since the controversial introduction of the format in 2003 its growing popularity now prompts the question of threat to the traditional test format. T20 was the ECB’s response to poor match attendance - and its economic implications - but was originally intended only for professional inter-county competition, promoted under the slogan ‘I don’t like cricket, I love it’. When the first match was held at Lord's in front of a 27,509-strong crowd, both cricket PR and the game took a quantum leap forward. This was the largest attendance for any county cricket game since a one-day final in 1953. Australia and Pakistan soon adopted the format and similarly enjoyed record crowds. The first international T20 match was between Australia and New Zealand in 2005 and as the players ran out onto the pitch wearing retro sportswear and moustaches, it was clear that this was very different from the traditional game. The increase in match attendance, viewing figures and income that Twenty20 has generated has been way beyond the ambitions of the founder – but most impressively the format has attracted a wealth of young players to the sport. In 2011 an ECB report revealed club membership increased by 4% from 2009 and there were now 7% more cricket coaches. Additionally, Canada, the Netherlands and Afghanistan, nations less well-known for their cricket credentials, have taken to the game whilst the demographics of the average fan have changed dramatically. For example, BMRB’s TGI Sport+ survey in 2008 revealed that T20 viewers are less likely to be male, more likely to be in the younger age groups (20% are under 30 compared to 16% of cricket fans) and less concentrated in high social grades (28% are in the AB grades, compared to 35% of cricket fans). Money is an important contributor to the T20 debate; many feel the inherent commercialization of Twenty20 has damaged cricket’s core values. Those in the opposing camp argue that the income generated has revived the game. Rebecca Hopkins, Managing Director of ENS, which specializes in Sport Sponsorship PR, commented, ‘Sports that can introduce a short format successfully will attract new audiences, new players and new sponsors. Football and rugby have both done this very successfully; golf has tried with varied results however a workable short-game still eludes tennis. Traditionalists, especially in a sport as traditional as cricket, will baulk at any radical changes but hats off to the ECB’s vision and bravery – both of which have been repaid and done great things for their game.’

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