Saturday, October 11, 2008

Twenty 20 cricket inventor concerned about sport

The marketing man credited with inventing Twenty20 cricket has some concerns about the super-shortened format's effect on the sport.

Stuart Robertson was marketing manager of the England and Wales Cricket Board in 2000 when he devised the format for the 20-overs-a-side game, trying to overcome dwindling crowds at county matches.

Now star players having come out of retirement to sign lucrative contracts with the cashed-up Indian Premier League and the game, packaged perfectly for three hours of television or an afternoon or night away at a stadium, could spread to the United States and even China.

Robertson said on Thursday that he's not sure whether the sport and its stars can be stretched so many ways in a schedule full of international commitments.

"That's going to be a really tricky and interesting one going forward," Robertson, now the commercial director of English country Hampshire, said at a Cricket Victoria lunch.

"If the model is to replicate the IPL, the IPL is so powerful because it has all of the world's stars playing in it, I guess you're going to come to a point where it gets saturated."

England will next year host the second world championship and England, Australia and South Africa are also planning to improve their domestic competitions by attracting foreign players.

India will also host the inaugural Champions League competition later this year, featuring eight domestic Twenty20 teams representing five countries.

Robertson urged the International Cricket Council to monitor the amount of Twenty20 tournaments played, to prevent the risks of too much cricket and players getting burned out. "I kind of wonder if the ICC should be playing a stronger role perhaps in managing it," he said.

Robertson admitted the priorities of elite cricketers could change if Twenty20 continued its popularity. "If you ask a current player, they've been brought up since they were 5, 6, 11, 12 knowing test cricket is the pinnacle of their sport," said Robertson, who remains a supporter of test and 50-over matches.

"It would be interesting to ask a young Indian player who's now 16 or 17 who is breaking into a Twenty20 environment, and ask them in five years what the most important part of their sport is."

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