Following the success of the recent Twenty20 cricket world cup, I want to pose the question as to whether Twenty20 cricket is a dumbing down of the game of cricket. This is not an original thought - many others have voiced the same question.
Twenty20 cricket makes for a fast and exciting game, that doesn't last for too long - so it can be played in an afternoon or an evening. But does the rise of this form of cricket mean that people will be less interested in the longer form of the game? And, possibly more importantly, does this mean that county and national structures will be more interested in developing players suitable to the shortened form of the game, and patience as a batsman or a bowler will no longer be a virtue?
This is a topic that I know a little about, having talked about this very question in an essay for my 'Economics of Sport' module. In it, I conducted analysis on attendance data for the different competitions.
One of the influences on attendance at cricket matches is the introduction of day/night games. This increases the appeal of one-day cricket as not only do spectators have to commit less time than if they were to watch a County Championship match, but a they are more likely to be able to fit day/night games around their other commitments such as school or work.
When looking at attendance figures for Middlesex County Cricket Club this point is emphasised. In the year 2000, there were eight National League matches held at Lords (the home ground of Middlesex County Cricket Club), four of these matches were played at ‘normal’ times, whilst the other four were played under day/night conditions. Attendance at the day/night games was almost double that of the ‘normal’ games (12974 for ‘normal’ and 23606 for day/night games). Indeed, Paton and Cooke (2005) in their econometric analysis of attendances for the 2000-2002 period find that matches being played in the day/night format are likely to attract around 1700 more spectators (61% higher).
One of the main factors that I found that influenced attendance was that of 'uncertainty of outcome'. This is where more spectators turn up to watch matches were the result is hard to predict. When you have two teams of varying capabilities then over a three, four or five day game, the better team is likely to shine through and win overall. However, with matches having a total of just 40 overs, ‘twenty20’ style of cricket means that a lesser ability team can sometimes cause an upset. This can be seen for the Derbyshire County Cricket Club. In the year 2003, they failed to win a single of their county championship (four day) games. In the 2005 ‘twenty20’ cup, they managed to win half of their games.
However, it is not all doom and gloom for the longer versions of cricket. Whilst the data that was analysed saw an increase in attendance for matches played over one day (or half a day), figures show that County Championship annual attendance has risen from 479,946 in 2000 to 530,938 in 2003.
This is largely down to the restructuring of the championship into two leagues. With teams split into two ability-based divisions, they are likely to be playing matches against teams more evenly matched and so therefore it would be less obvious who was going to win. Also, with the possibility of promotion and relegation between the two divisions would mean that there would be a decrease in the number of irrelevant matches as teams vied for the top spots, or to avoid relegation.
In conclusion, I would say that Twenty20 cricket is a good thing. It brings more spectators in to watch matches and generally produces more interest in the sport. It is important, however, for County Championship cricket not to get left behind. But with the changes made to league structure several years ago, attendances for these matches appears to be on the increase.
Please accept my apologies for the length of this post, but I (and Dave, I'm sure!) would be interested to get your comments.