Delhi : Imran Khan would have been the ultimate Twenty20 hero, the embodiment of all that the briefest form of cricket stands for - allround cricketing abilities and a dash of glamour. Ironically, Imran doesn't look with favour at T20 cricket. He says it can destroy the skills that are essential to become a good cricketer.
Excerpts from an interview:
What sort of impact will the proliferation of T20 cricket would have on the game?
Imran: If it's restricted to just a month in a year, the effect would be very limited. But if it's overdone, it will definitely impact the standards of Test cricket, which are already declining.
Not enough T20 cricket has been played, but One-day cricket has already taken a toll on fast bowlers because of the stress it puts on them, and due to the frequency of One-day competitions. The playing spans of fast bowlers have shortened. You just look at the number of fast bowlers who regularly break down. That's the stress One-day cricket puts on the bowlers.
Then the travelling it involves, and there's not enough rest like there used to be in my time You end up playing with niggles, which get accentuated when you're playing if semi-fit. Now, if you increase T20, the quality will go down further.
And it will affect batting techniques too
Imran: Well, one impact is that the batsmen have greater number of strokes - the sort of shots they play, we never saw in my playing days. On the other hand, the defensive techniques have been (adversely) affected.
T20 cricket was invented just to make money, and with big businesses getting into it, can it have a negative effect?
Imran: Money is important in cricket, but unless there is a balance, the game is going to be affected and it already has been affected by One-day cricket, especially fast bowling. Their careers have been cut short. And on top of it, if you have T20 cricket, it won't help.
Basically, it's not much of a test of a player's skill and temperament. It's basically about talent with a big element of chance in it. While it's a spectacle, people enjoy it, it's not a great test of cricketing abilities.
Put it this way - if a team wins a T20 competition, I won't necessarily consider it as a quality team, because any team can win such a short competition. Test cricket remains the true test of a cricketer.
Unless a balance is struck, and if Test cricket gets affected, then standards of the sport all over are going to get affected.
What could be the role of T20 cricket, then?
Imran: In 1989, I had recommended that T20 cricket be taken to America, because I'd played a few exhibition matches there. I suggested to Kerry Packer that we should have T20 matches in the US, and on TV, to introduce cricket to American audiences.
I still think that this is the best way to introduce people to cricket in, say, China and the US. But if you play it too much in Test countries, Test cricket will be devalued.
Would you have enjoyed playing T20 cricket?
Imran: I think I would have enjoyed it in the middle; players are entertainers as well, and when you have huge crowds watching you, of course you get into it. But I really value only Test cricket. Players I value are the ones who perform in Test cricket.
If you want to make a list of great cricketers, you don't do that on the basis of their One-day performances, you do it on the basis of their Test performances.
But people do want to watch T20 cricket, how can it be denied to them?
Imran: You can't put more value on what people want than on the quality of cricket being played. If you do that, people won't watch even 50-over cricket, they'll watch only T20 matches!