The first touring team has arrived and played against the Prime Minister’s XI, an abbreviated game by design as the Sri Lankans are gearing up for a 20-over series, while the home players prepare simultaneously for the shortest and longest forms.
The program of four full rounds of Shield cricket before the opening Test match looked terrific on paper, a throwback a to the summer sequences of a gradual and well prepared build up, for players and followers – then the T20 juggernaut muscled in. The shifting paradigm of 21st century cricket is well and truly embossed on our psyche. Twenty-over matches have been growing at an astonishing rate, proliferating and, in a number of cases, staggering into financial oblivion.
The Indian Premier League rages on with the momentum of a runaway banking royal commission, in England they have “invented” a format with 20 balls less, gaudy colour schemes and ill fitting names – it comes endorsed by Boris Johnson but is yet to be ratified by the voters. The Hundred’s present is loud, its future untested, uncertain and not understood – which appears to be the antithesis of its conception. The Caribbean Premier League parties on but is rumoured to be in financial stress. The BBL’s and WBBL’s futures are secure and we look forward to a mid-December kick-off (why don’t we have a term for the first ball in a cricket match? – suggestions accepted here) and a season with two weeks lopped off the tail. The WBBL final is set down for December 8.
Late in the summer the Women’s T20 World Cup will shower fans with the gifts of “maximum” counts and orbital measurements, stuff the bowlers, they’re only allowed play to provide the cannon fodder – “lovely slower ball, it only went seven rows back” guff , but I digress. International T20 cricket attracts a lesser profile than the big franchise models perhaps because singular games and/or disjointed series have little point apart from the obvious instantaneous gratification in the era of distraction. There is no doubting the fun fair atmosphere of a T20 game – bang, crash, wallop with a dot ball every now and then serves wonderfully to keep those prone to distraction with eyes on the ball – there isn’t much time for checking your social media between windy woofs and commentators who mistake volume for substance, but it is fun and hopefully easy to follow for cricket neophytes and vintage watchers alike.
This week’s T20 series with Sri Lanka is what it is – three nights of meteoric cricket. You probably won’t be cogitating in a month’s time over the tension of game three with a trophy on the line or the clever bowling of the leg-spinner only conceding 14 off the 20th when 18 were required. Viewed, washed over, moved on. In the short-term the relocation is still local, directly into three T20s with Pakistan.
Pakistan will bring some new young names under the experienced and sage tutelage of Misbah Ul-Haq and that in itself will fuel conversations even beyond the usual Pakistani conundrum. For many the “real” cricket then starts with the first Test against Pakistan at the Gabba (the previous nine words are delightful to type and roll off the seasonal psyche like “The first Tuesday in November” or “the last day of school” – they not only state time and place, they infer an origin of culture). Sadly Pakistan only have two Test matches and the opportunity to enjoy or dismay at their challenges in Australian conditions will be limited. The obverse of that disappointment may be the arrival of New Zealand for their three-Test series starting in mid-December. The Kiwis will be a serious opponent with genuine fast bowling and disciplined batting.
Test cricket, 20-over cricket, 50-over cricket. White balls, red balls, pink ones – a summer of variety, action and tension. A summer of challenges as candidates vie for wide open spots. Plenty to watch, listen to, speculate on and dismantle. And even some ODIs in March, sending a sand-shoe crusher the way of the winter codes.
Long live the cricket season!