Twenty20 Vision

17 February 2005 was a dark day for cricket purists.  Until then there was this new thing going around where teams were playing limited overs matches against each other featuring 20 overs per side.  We already had 50-over One Day Internationals (ODI) and the Hong Kong Sixes so why the need to find some sort of hybrid?

However on this precise day while lovers were still recovering from Valentine’s Day, there would be no love lost between the traditionalists and the modernisers.  Australia beat New Zealand by 44 runs in the first ever Twenty20 International (T20I) in Auckland.  The old guard hoped that this was merely a fad and it would soon disappear.  I labelled it “street cricket” as it was akin to a bunch of kids dragging their bat and ball into the street and trying to hammer the ball as far away as possible.  Why have bowlers?  You could just as well use a bowling machine.

Nearly a decade later and we are edging towards the semi-finals of the fourth T20 world cup and this initial irritation is now a constant companion.  An annual hit-about in India has become the most lucrative cricket competition and the only real negative, exempting the die-hard protests from the Members Club, is fixture congestion.  Tests and One Day Internationals have had to shift aside to make way for the Indian Premier League and Champions League.

At first lovers of “street cricket” predicted it would be the death of Tests.  Instead, the shortest (and I maintain silliest) form of the game has rendered ODI’s surplus.  Every supporter loves watching their team crush the opposition but what any fan adores most is a nail-biting finish.

In the short history of T20I’s there have been 393 matches.  Eight have been won by one run (2.03%) and 12 by three runs or less (3.05%).  In 3 486 ODI’s 28 have been won by the odd run (0.80%) with 69 by three or fewer (1.98%).  By that one deducts T20’s provide more thrills at the end.  However the problem with that statistic is that a one, two or three run victory does not necessarily mean the match was close, as evidenced by South Africa’s three-run triumph over England in the ICC World Twenty20 in Bangladesh on Saturday.  The English needed 20 runs from the last three balls and had already lost the match.

Perhaps a better gauge is that in the 393-match history of T20I’s only two have been won by 1 wicket (0.51%) and just seven by two wickets or less (1.78%).  Compare this to the 3 486 ODI’s and the record reads 55 one-wicket wins (1.58%) and 136 victories by two wickets or less (3.90%).  If the fun is in the chase, ODI’s win the day.

Since 17 February 2005 the statistic is even better.  In 1 260 ODI’s 30 (2.38%) have been won by just one wicket while 71 (5.63%) have produced two-wicket wins.  Before we claim this as the proof required, one can turn around and point out that this is in fact evidence that T20 has changed the way cricket is played in its lengthier formats.

My favourite difference is this one:  If ever there was a winning formula for a nail-biting finish, a last-ball victory is it.  In 393 T20I’s 13 have been won with the final delivery (3.31%) while in 3 486 ODI’s there have been 35 eleventh-hour triumphs (1%).  The statistic for ODI’s since 17 February 2005 reads similarly with 14 wins (1.11%) in 1 260 fixtures.

Of course the chances of a last-ball victory in a 300-ball innings are considerably less than in a 120-ball innings.  It is also important to note that these figures are for all matches in all conditions all over the world.

In conclusion, the numbers suggest much of a muchness and if both formats are going to give you a similar thrill, and the purists still believe both are a waste of time, then I say scrap ODI cricket altogether and just play T20I’s and Tests.  Tours these days consists of two or three Tests, three or five ODI’s and two or three T20I’s.  Scrap the five 50-over outings and add another Test and if you must you can have five T20I’s, as long as I can have a minimum of three Tests.