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With the second Big Bash semi on tonight, we spoke to former Test spinner Greg Matthews on his adoration, and fear of the short form game.
Former Australian off spinner, Greg Matthews (33 tests), who commentates on the KFC Big Bash with Macquarie Radio Sport, says Twenty20 has changed the game at all levels, and compares it to NFL Football where every ball is a calculated equation.
“Between balls, the whole field can change. Fielders are running 60 metres to new positions depending on who is batting and who is bowling, which is crazy but good.”
No longer is cricket rolling the arm over; Twenty20 has brought with it ball-by-ball planning, where the excitement in the stands responds to every manoeuvre and, of course, to every whack of the willow.
“It’s a revolution in sports entertainment and it will just get bigger and bigger. The crowd really get into it and I can see why kids get a buzz because they become part of the show.”
And the stats follow Matthews’ assertions. Literally the KFC Big Bash has been jumping out of the ground since its inception in 2011. For example, the largest crowd this season has been 71,000 at the MCG for the Stars v Renegades local derby, and with an average attendance of 30,000 it makes the Big Bash the 5th largest sports league in world sport.
Indeed, 16 matches have been sold out; close to a million fans have attended Big Bash matches this season, with over 1 million watching each game on TV and women making up to 40% of these viewers.
The Big Bash has been marketed as family fun and entertainment and, like ages ago, it is once again the kids who are bringing their parents to the game, where the atmosphere is electric and not unlike a concert.
As far as the kids are concerned it is an experience worth having again and again.
Ironically, the poms invented Twenty20 but failed to capitalise on their innovation and, just as Kerry Packer snatched the game from them in the 1970’s with World Series Cricket, India has done the same in recent years with Twenty20 cricket.
Matthews says Twenty20 is also prolonging the careers of retired test players, while unearthing new talent from grade cricket. “The Big Bash is providing a pathway, an opportunity for undiscovered young talent, and that exposure will mean a lot more heat on test selections in the future. Cricket is going one way: up.”
There is no doubt Twenty20 cricket has transformed the game of cricket at all levels, including attraction, entertainment, popularity, performance, ratings, revenue and growth. Greg remembers the game’s origins in Australia: a Twenty20 match at Hurstville Oval between two NSW rep teams, on his arrival at which he noticed a queue down the street. “I thought they were handing out money but no, cricket fans knew what was about to explode here in Australia.” Greg also cites the Sydney Thunder who had no fans in year one (2011) but became champions last year and now play to packed houses.
On television, the Big Bash has virtually filled a gaping hole in the summer schedules leaving no doubt that it has become cricket’s most valuable product. Internationally, India is gaining control of the world game via their IPL (Twenty20) competition as it attracts ridiculous amounts of money and sponsorship – and with it, the world’s best players.
Indeed Twenty20 has caused a seismic shift, relocating from the stale hallowed halls of the MCC in England to the furious stadiums of Calcutta. Ironically it was the English who invented Twenty20, but failed to capitalise on their innovation and, just as Kerry Packer snatched the game from them back in the 1970’s with World Series Cricket, India has done the same in recent years with Twenty20 cricket.
The influence of Twenty20 has is also felt in the more traditional forms of the game, as One-day Internationals and Test cricket are dancing along to the Twenty20 quickstep. Back at the turn of the century, 250 was a high ODI score but today 350 is respectable and test matches are being decided in three to four days, as batsmen pile on 400 plus runs in a single days’ play and declare, a mindset enabled by the same players schwacking the ball beyond fence and rope with the necessary regularity of the Twenty20 world.
For KFC, it must rank as one of their greatest advertising success stories ever, sponsoring the most popular sport, played over Christmas and new year when families are on holidays and eating takeaway.
Now, there has been some engineering done in order to create this new smash and bash game. The wickets prepared for Twenty20 matches are invariably flat, thereby making the bowler’s job harder and the batsman’s task of lifting balls into the stands easier, and the pitches are reliable with no surprises so the batsmen enjoy an advantage – but that factor runs deep into the marketing strategy of Twenty20 – Come see the ball hit for six, six, six.
Commercially the ACB, Network Ten and KFC are like the smug dog who has just buried his bone: it does not get better than this. For the ACB, the last two consecutive years of relatively dismal home test series have been smudged out by all the hoopla surrounding the KFC Big Bash and it has also been a recruitment dream for youngsters who want to make cricket their game.
On the network front, Channel 9 has indicated it will sign a blank cheque for the rights next time and you can bet the winning network will pay the ACB a king’s ransom compared to what Ten shelled out.
For KFC, it must rank as one of their greatest advertising success stories ever, sponsoring the most popular sport on the summer calendar (at the ground and on TV) that is played over Christmas and new year when families are on holidays and eating takeaway. Again, they will be digging deeper into their pockets next time to once again win naming rights.
For 2UE Twenty20 game commentator Greg Matthews, while he loves where the Big Bash is going but his only fear is, if, down the track, Twenty20 players command so much money and receive so much publicity, they usurp the standing of our Test Match players: “Hopefully the ACB will always control all forms of the game, so wearing the baggy green is forever the ultimate prize and reward for budding Australian cricketers,” he says.
“While Twenty20 is fun and exciting the challenge, integrity and satisfaction of winning a test match or series is second to none. You cannot beat that feeling.”