Patrons of the current T20 matches in the CPL, whether at the stadiums or via television, are witnessing a non-stop array of diversions – carnival outfits; steelband music; scantily clad dancers; one-handed catches by spectators; individual mask contests; etc – that mostly begin before the first ball has been bowled and often continue long after. It has been proclaimed, and often in anger, that these diversions simply have nothing to do with cricket per se, and that comment is essentially true, but here’s what is missing from the assessment – that is precisely a major reason for the continuing rise in popularity of the shorter game. Apart from shortening it, the developers and promoters of T20 have actually done little to the game itself, but have instead cleverly turned their attention to providing additions that truly have nothing directly to do with cricket but which have significantly transformed the entertainment quotient for the spectators of the sport.
Despite all the critique from the purists, the major difference on the field as an attraction between Test cricket and T20 is that the former takes 5 days or some 30 hours to complete, while the latter is often done in 3 hours. The grounds are the same; all the gear used is the same; the bowling is the same; you get out the same way; a boundary is still four or six runs; the umpires still run the games; etc.
You still see the elegant cover drive, and the delicate snick through the slips, and the spinners turning the ball, and the diving catches. The rules are the same. The difference, if you step away and look at it, is really in the stands. Up there, everything is different; everything is cranked up. Of course a carnival costume, has nothing to with cricket, in the same way that the sexy cheerleaders in the NFL have nothing to do with the game of American football, but carnival has to do with colour and artistry and powerful Caribbean culture, so it’s there in the stands at the Caribbean T20, and the notion spreads so that even if they are not, officially, in a costume many of the folks at the big T20 matches dress up in all the colour and flags of the Caribbean; the stands are a sea of colour, of people jumping to music, waving at the TV camera, or shouting some picong at someone in the stands or even on the field. Music abounds, some of it rather lame, but some of it great, and people are up dancing and making merry every time there is a break in the action out in the middle.
Certainly it’s not everyone’s cup of tea – one English writer labelled it “a circus”, but the people building these franchises have looked at all the dead air and long quiet periods on the field in 5-day cricket; they have turned on the entertainment spigot and brought it into T20 big time, and as a business approach it has generally been successfully applied. Even in the use of the now more mobile television cameras, the producers of these events are expertly courting fan reactions with their roving close-ups and the responses justify the idea with these ‘waving at the camera’ scenes now a standard part of every cricket broadcast on TV. Of late, we are even seeing diversions coming to the field on the down time between overs with various tumblers or acrobats livening up the atmosphere.
The reality – and this may have been the franchise promoters’ intentions – is that T20 now is actually more than a cricket match; it has become an event in society where cricket is certainly the central plank but there are other pieces widening the appeal and contributing to the younger and more female spectators now present at the matches. It is in keeping with the age in which we live, in that the entertainment ingredient has become a significant factor in any business venture. It is there in music, where shows can no longer present a singer with a microphone in front of a group of static musicians; they must now have multiple dancers, elaborate lighting and pyrotechnic effects; even hydraulic stages to make performers appear and disappear. Elaborate half-time shows, with big-name performers, are now part of many sports events, and costuming for athletes is now a multi-million dollar business. We live in an age of film and video effects that can create heart-stopping presentations, and that effort to propel emotion or energies in audiences is with us in every arena. The T20 business people are simply playing to that trend in the society and the various behaviours the television broadcasts bring into our homes show the positive audience reactions. In a recent CPL match between Jamaica and Trinidad, the camera captured two buxom women in the stands, one Jamaican, one Trini, each waving their country’s banner and good-naturedly trying to get their flag captured by the camera. The sequence ended with the two of them hugging each other and collapsing with laughter.
I grew up with Test cricket, that’s all there was, so I am aware of the greater endurance required to play 5 days straight, and the more intricate techniques of building a long innings, and the artistry of a Brian Lara dissecting a field, etc, and certainly you will find those achievements in the 5-day game, but the essential point here is that the fans have some measure of all those things in T20. And indeed, if you ask them, they have cricket and more; that’s precisely why they’re in the stands; it’s more than cricket; it’s life today. Turn on the TV for the next CPL game and you’ll see for yourself.