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Has T20 Changed Cricket?

Cricket, more than any other sport, is changing. Those changes are at every level and are both fundamental and tactical and/or strategic. Despite an image that is occasionally backwards-looking, set in its ways, and parochial, cricket is a sport that has embraced change perhaps more often and more readily than any other. Look at the noise, the fanfare and the ensuing controversy around football’s introduction of technology in the form of VAR. Cricket has used technology for years. Test umpires were referring decisions to the third umpire as long ago as 1992, while the all-singing, all-dancing DRS system came on board in 2008.

That is only the tip of the iceberg. The limited overs game has had its number of overs reduced, before the spawning of a whole new format, in the shape of T20 and then The Hundred. Those changes have been needed. Doing nothing is not an option in a world with increasing pressures and competition from other sports, other leisure activities. What is happening with club rugby in the UK should be a lesson to everyone who questions cricket’s attempts to ensure it not just survives but thrives. 

The white ball version of the game, particularly the T20 has seen the sport break into new markets. Now betting sites such as Unibet cricket are seeing huge amounts of traffic, something aided and abetted by the nature of cricket and the vast array of individual markets in each match, especially in-play. For anyone struggling to see the relevance or potential this provides, just look at horse racing, a sport that almost entirely exists because of betting.

No one is claiming that T20 or The Hundred have saved cricket single-handedly, and the domestic scene is still not as healthy as it could be by any stretch of the imagination, but the two new formats have undoubtedly brought more people into the grounds and got more people to fall in love with the game. If that is the base of the pyramid, with test match cricket at the top, then it can only be a good thing.

Has T20 changed the sport in any other way? The new ultra-aggressive approach adopted by Stokes and the new heads at the ECB is reminiscent of the approach taken at the recent successful T20 World Cup in Australia, but that is too simplistic a way of looking at the issue. Let’s look at the run rates for test cricket, all test cricket, not just England for a twenty-year period to see if we can spot anything.

PeriodAverage Run rate
1986 – 19892.75
1989 – 19922.94
1992 – 19952.82
1995 – 19982.89
1998 – 20012.81
2001 – 20043.21
2004 – 20073.33
2007 – 20103.33
2010 – 20133.17
2013 – 20163.26

Those statistics definitely tell a story. That story is that over time, run rate tends to be fairly static, allowing for occasional divergences down to different players coming onto the scene and departing, weather conditions, certain test series, etc. There is one glaring anomaly. Between 2001 and 2004 the average run rate at test level underwent a sea change. T20 was introduced in 2003. Coincidence? Perhaps, but it is unlikely that the introduction of a format of the sport where suddenly double figure overs were not just a possibility but essential, didn’t have some impact on the mentality and ability at all levels of the sport.

Of course, the sport has always had players who have looked to hit the ball over the boundary rope at every opportunity, but never before has that mentality become the ethos of the whole team. Finally, another way T20 has changed cricket, and perhaps this is the most surprising, is that it has once again brought spin bowling to the forefront of a side’s attack.

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