A column about Twenty20

Last Monday’s 20-over international between Australia and South Africa, the first to be held in this country, was nothing short of magnificent. The largest-ever cricket crowd at the Gabba was thrilled by the batting pyrotechnics, and so were the punters in the pub I watched it in. The excitement level was so high that, for the first time ever, the bar staff actually turned down the crappy dance music so we could hear the commentary.

As far as I’m concerned, we can abandon 50-over cricket, because Twenty20 matches deliver on its promise better. They’re like VB Series highlights packages – all sixes and wickets, and minimal dour blocking.

Best of all, they only go for 3 hours, which is the perfect length for a television audience – when was the last time anyone actually got to see all seven-odd hours of a one-dayer from the sofa at home, without the inconvenient intrusion of work, family and the rest of everyday life?

The only problem is the nickname situation. It’s not a bad idea, but someone desperately needs to supply some wittier options. Especially for Damian ‘Marto’ Martyn, Simon ‘Kat’ Katich and Nathan ‘Bracks’ Bracken, who deserves to be kept on the sidelines by the selectors until they can come up with better nicknames. They should look to the captain – Ricky ‘Punter’ Ponting’s moniker references not only his surname but also his gambling problems as a younger man. It’s brilliantly embarrassing.

And if we’re going to put cricketers’ humiliating personal problems on the back of their shirts, it’s a real pity Shane Warne’s retired from that form of the game. Although they might not have been able to get him a big enough shirt.

You can take the nickname thing too far, though. Michael ‘Mr Cricket’ Hussey’s nickname is not only far too flamboyant for a player who’s not even really a regular yet, but dares to usurp Richie Benaud’s rightful title. Perhaps it was meant ironically?

If Twenty20 has cut out all the boring bits of one-day limited overs cricket, perhaps other dull sports should to adopt the same approach? Most of us who endured all 200-plus minutes of the Socceroos’ World Cup qualifier would probably agree that we could have skipped straight to the ten minutes each way of extra time, and then the penalty shootout.

Similarly, basketball matches could be decided entirely by a slam dunk competition followed by one of those competitions they hold at half-time where you have to shoot from halfway.

Other sports may need to introduce physical changes to increase the excitement level. Aussie Rules is brilliant on a smaller ground, as we see when Essendon play the Swans at North Sydney Oval in the pre-season each year – it’s only about two kicks from one goal square to another. And how exciting would if it was only one?

But the sport that would really benefit from a smaller ground is rugby league, which is only really interesting when one team’s pressing against another’s tryline, so perhaps the ground should be reduced to in length? That way one team would always be about to score a try. And if we made the try-lines much wider, they’d cross far more often.

Come to think of it, all you’d need to do to improve league would be to play across the width of the field instead of its length. The crowds would flood in.

And imagine how much more exciting one of those 15-minute long 1500 metre swimming races would be if they started at the 1400 metre mark? Or the marathon started just outside the stadium?

There are some who may argue that these changes would ruin tradition. But if those people had to endure days and days of dour South African batting varied only by rain delays, as those who attended the recent Sydney Test did, they’d be entirely convinced.

I say that the future of sport is here, and its name is Twenty20. Or, as the Aussie team have probably nicknamed it with their usual level of wit, Twentoes.

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