TELFORD VICE, Cape Town
IN the 11 years T20 cricket has been played at international level teams have contested 516 matches of the stuff.
How many one-day internationals were played in the first 11 years of that format’s existence? Just 131.
Tests? A piddling 27.
But, in the same 11 years that national teams have been playing T20s, they have also played 1512 ODIs.
And 465 tests.
So, who can be surprised that innovation in the modern game comes from its shorter, fresher, faster formats, which are less hung up on tradition and conservatism?
The only bright idea test cricket has had in recent years is David Warner donning a helmet and standing three metres closer to the bat to field at third slip in Australia’s series in New Zealand last month.
Test cricket is pure and visceral. It is also trapped in the amber of sensibilities that will, one of these fine decades, disappear.
T20s and ODIs are at the sharp end, the place where ideas become reality – often because the same market forces that dictate that more of them and less tests should be played also demand that boundaries be pushed to breaking point in T20s and ODIs.
Enough with the theory. Here’s Kyle Abbott on putting all that into practice: “Batting has progressed from the guy just standing still to trying to hit you down the ground to trying to hit you for six over the ’keeper.
“They’ve taken the game forward and over the last couple of years I’ve had to do the same. It’s taken hard work and hours in the nets getting a few of those balls working.
“To keep up with the game is vital. To have a guy like AB (de Villiers) who hits those 360-degree shots is always good – to get advice. But a lot of the time it’s just gut feeling at the top of your run-up with the captain next to you.
“Faf (du Plessis) is excellent with that and AB in the longer format with feeling the game and understanding what a batsman’s perhaps going to do.
“We can narrow options down to one or two balls and then commit. But it’s all about execution. If you bowl it right you’re going to get away with it. If you don’t … you’ve seen what happens.”
By “longer format” Abbott means the 50-over game and he fondly remembers T20 batsmen “giving themselves two overs to have a look”.
Ah, weren’t those the days …
“Now you feel like the guy could run at you with the second or third ball. They’re making us think, these batsmen.”
We will see the product of all that thinking in the three T20s SA will play against Australia starting at Kingsmead on Friday.
Which are, of course, a dress rehearsal for the World T20 in India this month. Not so fast.
“We haven’t looked too much at the World Cup,” Abbott said. “Our focus is on this series; it’s a series to win.
“Yes, it is good prep but we’re going to take it as seriously as any other series. It’s just a bonus that’s it’s in the lead-up to the World Cup.
“When we get to India we’ve got eight or nine days before our first game so we’ll start focusing more on that when we get there.”
Indeed. What’s three T20s among frienemies who have collectively played 516? But 38 more games in the format later we will know something worth knowing – who the best thinkers and doers are.
They will be the WT20 champions.