T20 can create Test cricket interest as BBL popularity grows in Australia
The BBL has the potential to create greater interest in the longer forms of the game. (AAP: Glenn Hunt, file photo)
Those of us who believe a ramp should only ever be used to launch a boat once feared T20 would be the death of proper red-ball cricket, or at least the cause of a chronic illness.
But as I have argued here previously, it has not been proven T20 has destroyed traditional batting techniques — although the jury is yet to return.
Instead, demonstrably, the bash and crash version has become in at least one way a valuable asset to its ancient antecedent Test cricket.
At my local club this season there are more than 120 entry-level Woollies Blast players, seven under-10 and seven under-12 boys’ teams, and four mixed-age girls’ teams.
This is a staggering number for a club that started 40 years ago with just one senior team and fairly recently had only six junior teams, particularly in a season when those who were spooked by the sandpaper scandal proclaimed cricket was “on the nose”.
There are some unique demographic reasons for the growth of my club, chiefly the inner-city gentrification that has seen families buy and renovate terraces once occupied by musicians, artists and students, who created the vibe we coveted and effectively price them out of the neighbourhood.
Otherwise as much as we traditionalists would like to think kids are pouring into our nets after watching the full five days in Adelaide or Perth desperate to learn the art of front-foot defence, the next biggest reason for growth is the popularity of the BBL.
While the extra players — and subscriptions — are very welcome, this in itself is creating a challenge for local clubs in the provision of facilities and coaching.
The popularity of the BBL and WBBL has attracted many children to cricket. (AAP: David Moir, file photo)
The BBL generation consists largely of kids from non-traditional cricket backgrounds. These wannabe cricketers have not spent countless hours in the nets or the backyard with their siblings and parents but have been attracted to the game by the buzz of the T20 carnival.
This means clubs must dedicate more time and resources to skill acquisition if they are to convert virtual cricketing tourists into lifelong players.
But the rewards are significant for those clubs who challenge themselves to put as much time into creating their next thirds or fourths team players, as they do their next First XI skipper.
The BBL generation represent a rich source of potential players who could fill the gaping hole in club playing lists (typically, a lack of players between 19 and 30-year-olds), future-proof clubs and, by extension, the game itself — and not just the short-form versions.
At our club players from non-traditional cricket households have often by their third or fourth year formed a much greater appreciation for long-form cricket — yes, even T20s’ supposedly daggy “Great Uncle Test”.
The appreciation comes not from watching Test cricket which, admittedly can be as arduous for someone from a non-cricket background as taking in the full five hours and 15 minutes of Wagner’s Die Meistersinger von Nurberg might be for someone raised on a diet of Kanye and Tay-Tay.
But, anecdotally, children tempted to the nets by BBL and who attempt to master the game’s challenges — surviving against pace bowling, pitching the ball up to a big-hitting batsmen — are gaining a greater empathy and appreciation for all forms of cricket.
In this way the BBL might be considered Test cricket’s entry-level drug. The brief buzz that keeps them hooked until they experience — in this traditionalist’s view — the real high that comes from the full five-day experience.
BBL to find out if there’s a T20 saturation point
It is worth keeping this mutually beneficial connection between T20 and Test cricket in mind this summer when it is inevitably suggested that the BBL is the merciless predator that will lead to long-form cricket’s extinction.
This proposition will most likely be raised in the context of a BBL season that has been stretched from 43 games to 59 and well beyond its previous school holiday confines to a February 17 conclusion.
The BBL has expanded its schedule to take advantage of its popularity. (AAP: Rob Blakers, file photo)
There will be BBL on Boxing Day and BBL during the fourth night of the Brisbane Test (also in competition with the Australian Open men’s final) — enough BBL to fill 1,000 fried chicken buckets.
Most pertinently, the expanded BBL schedule means the Sheffield Shield does not resume until February 23, so there will be no first-class form upon which to base Australian selection before the two Tests against Sri Lanka starting on January 24 and February 1.
This imposition on the first-class game, and the sheer volume of BBL games, poses an obvious question even to those whose cricket diet consists entirely of the shortest version: Is this too much of a notionally good thing?
For Cricket Australia the test will be whether the audiences for new broadcasters Seven and Fox Sports, who are (quite literally in some cases) screaming the BBL’s virtues every night, remain robust.
Even if they do, some of us will continue to lament the inability of Matthew Renshaw, Glenn Maxwell and others to make a case for national selection with the Sheffield Shield in recess, and also the way the BBL has elbowed its way into days once exclusively occupied by Test cricket.
But these concerns should be tempered by an at least grudging acceptance that rather than killing Test cricket, T20 is providing an opportunity for Australian cricket to bolster its ranks with participants who will inevitably play and watch all forms of the game.