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T20 cricket: sport’s greasy two-piece pack

The Tuesday Morning Quarterback falls in and out of love with T20 cricket in the space of a mis-timed slog to cow corner.

It’s not cricket – and we’re not supposed to care. Every ‘true’ cricket lover implicitly knows that about Twenty-20 or T20 or IT20 or the Big Bash, Smash, Crash Super Duper Premier League or whatever the hell the latest iteration is called.

It’s nonsense. Patience and boredom are two of the central planks of the great game of cricket. Without them, it’s just men in pyjamas having a lark in the park on a summer’s day.

There’s nothing wrong with that. We all have days where we can’t be bothered dressing properly – ie in full length creams. But we shouldn’t care. And we don’t care. Because T20 is a nonsense.

Except. Shheeeet.

“Why the hell would Martin Guptil play a crazy slog sweep against a leg spinner he can’t pick when the dude has one ball left in his spell?

“And why I am not laughing at the usually brilliant opener’s brain fart? Why am I angry with him?”

“Shit!”

Thirteen years after it first infiltrated the sport in a blaze of brown and beige and teased hair, T20 has finally cut through to the point where we (hard-line cricket purists) do actually give a toss.

The sneaking suspicion on this column’s part after it leaped out of its laziboy to scream abuse at the unfortunate Guptil that people are starting to care about the meaningless was shockingly confirmed by the ravings of a fellow sporting misanthrope.

Say it ain’t so, Marty?

“I know. Hush my mouth. I know. It goes against every honourable principle I did once so vehemently rage... But tonight. I actually care about this T20. Care about winning I mean. Is it bcos it’s Oz? Or worse, bcos I’ve actually grown to care?” tweeted sports talk jock Martin Devlin ahead of Saturday night’s showdown with Australia.

It is so. And it was always going to be so.

T20 is the unwanted mega-mall that sprung up in your once semi-rural, gentrified back yard. Once the fight at the environment court is lost and the darn thing is built, you’re going to shop there, like it or not.

You can’t fight progress. Or kids.

And T20 is custom-made for an ADHD generation being raised by time-poor parents. T20 is the family game, not least because you can take the young whippersnappers along and, no matter how annoyingly they behave, it is always going to be over in three hours.

So even we hardliners pack the stands, gritting our teeth as another thick edge flies over the tiny third man boundary for six. We resist the urge to tell our beaming kids that, “Son, that right there is god-damn terrible shot and you should avert your eyes”.

First, they came for the leave outside off stump – and we said nothing. Then they came for the forward defensive shot – and still we said nothing. Then Glenn bloody Maxwell reverse-hooked a fast bowler for six – and it was too bloody late.

The curtain had gone up. The Big Show was in town. And he wasn’t going anywhere. And now we care.

But what do we care about? For all its razzle dazzle, T20 seldom lives up to its billing. Matches are rarely close, even less often genuinely enthralling.

The Black Caps have played seven IT20s this summer and not one of them has been remotely thrilling.

On Saturday night the Black Caps got to play a coveted, long-awaited match against Australia. It was over as contest inside four overs. That’s so often the harsh reality of T20. The game is simply too abbreviated to accommodate gritty, meritorious comebacks.

On Tuesday night the Black Caps play another much-anticipated date, with England. Win or lose, it’s unlikely to be a thriller.

England will smash the Blacks Caps. Or the Black Caps will smash England. They might even smash each other in something resembling a decent contest. But even that best-case scenario will reveal precisely nothing about the two nations’ respective cricketing prowess.

The match won’t tell us which nation possesses more players of true substance. There will be no bragging rights, because there isn’t really anything on the line.

Sure, there will be a result. And we might now even care what it is. But we don’t seriously expect to be fulfilled in any meaningful way

T20 cricket might now have a place at the table, but it is still fast food. Like most fast foods, when the initial surge of guilty pleasure fades, the consumer is left feeling hollow, unsated and wondering why they pulled up to the drive-through in the first place.

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