@Ben_Wisden 4 minute read
Looking back now, the opening day of the SA20 feels like cricket’s last normal moment.
Back then, 10 days and several lifetimes ago, there was still time to build up hype, to play out conversations, to breathe. The return of Jofra Archer felt like a proper event. It’s not long since a weird Michael Neser catch kept everyone going for days.
That game, between MI Cape Town and Paarl Royals, both spin-offs of the IPL cinematic universe, is strange enough: Rashid Khan has an XI with Olly Stone, Sam Curran and Archer in it, and opts to open with the dutiful left-arm spin of George Linde. Archer eventually comes on for over No.3, a wicket maiden, naturally. It’s like he’s never been gone. This is nice. This makes sense.
Two days later, the International League T20 gets underway, and soon after that, the Under-19 Women’s T20 World Cup launches. This is when the fever dream really begins to set in.
The criss-crossing flight paths take on a spider-web’s complexity. Dasun Shanaka captains Sri Lanka to a world-record defeat to India in Kerala on January 15, and a day later is playing for Dubai Capitals in the ILT20, a four-hour plane ride all the time he gets to digest his side’s humbling. Mohammad Rizwan gets about the same to soak in his 77 against New Zealand before joining up with Comilla Victorians in the BPL. Josh Cobb, the last man out of Dhaka, can only look on as every other English player in the BPL heads off for South Africa or Dubai. There are 60 English players (at least) and one Scotsman (at least) in action across the four T20 leagues. A county pre-season back home must be a lonely thing.
Mankads, plenty of them, and yet never as many as you think. Sri Lanka try and fail two in the same U19WC game. Adam Zampa botched an attempt earlier – though maybe he should have succeeded, by the laws’ letter, and the MCC tweak the wording soon after. Gerhard Erasmus gets run out at the non-striker’s end in a different way, and Ben Duckett says it’s better than being Mankadded, followed by a puke emoji. Mohammed Shami successfully catches out Shanaka, and Rohit Sharma retracts the appeal. There’s only one actual Mankad – of a Rwandan teenager – but that’s still a month’s worth of discourse.
There’s much else that’s weird: A child steps onto the field to pick up a ball inside the field of play in the ILT20. Dead ball. Two BBL batters hit the roof. Six. Tom Kohler-Cadmore hits a three-pitches-wide full toss to the boundary. Dead ball. A TV umpire gives Hardik Pandya out bowled when Tom Latham knocks a bail off with his hands (accidentally). Latham then does so again (accidentally). Ishan Kishan returns the favour after Latham’s first ball (deliberately). Two Pakistan players walk into their crease with the synchronicity of S Club in their pomp, a photo finish needed to decide who is run out. A Sri Lanka batter plays a picture-perfect block, admires his own work as he holds the pose, forgets to regain his ground and is caught short by a direct hit.
Much of it is good: Shubman Gill becomes the youngest man to make an ODI double hundred, breaking the record of Kishan, four games and about a month hence, and Michael Bracewell almost trumps him in the chase. Virat Kohli makes his third hundred in four games, and his fourth in seven January 15ths. Iftikhar Ahmed makes a 45-ball hundred from No.6. Marco Jansen demolishes Rashid Khan in one of the great heists. Kyle Mayers bowls the ball of the century. Will Jacks takes a nonchalant one-hander. A man in the crowd takes a millionaire-making one-hander.
Some of it is plain silly. James Vince is dubbed ‘the Guardian of the Green Belt’. Joburg Super Kings collapse from 72-2 in six overs to 78-7 after 10. BBL teams collapse constantly. Shakib Al Hasan – while batting – gets angry at an uncalled wide. Shakib Al Hasan – in flip-flops – gets angry at something else, though no one is quite sure of what.
Much of it is concerning: The Daily Mail report several allegations of corruption in the T10 League. Jamie Overton returns home from the UAE with a stress fracture. A report commissioned following a group-stage T20 World Cup exit concludes West Indies cricket “may cease to exist as an entity” due to the proliferation of T20 leagues around the world.
And if all of this is exhausting to watch, what must it be like to play? India’s schedule is basically one constant bilateral series, interspersed by the odd World Cup. Five days after the T20 World Cup final, they began a tour of New Zealand. Three days after returning home, Bangladesh arrived. There was a whole week between the Tigers’ exit and the first game against Sri Lanka, and then two days before the first game of the Black Caps’ return visit. Another week between that and the Australia Tests. The ECB have concluded that their best players play too much cricket, but are still offering them a sweetener so they don’t skip The Hundred, pretty please.
And let’s spare a thought for the fan. Is all of this good for cricket or bad for cricket or just what cricket is now? Partly it’s difficult to answer because much of this isn’t for the obsessive who wants to devour everything possible. Each competition serves its own purpose. The SA20 is for cricket fans in the Rainbow Nation – heartingly re-energised by some hit and giggle. The BPL is for people who like seeing Shakib get angry. The BBL is for children with buckets on their heads. The ILT20 is for David Cameron, for some reason. Also, confecting an opinion would take a while, and the next game’s about to start.