Saturday, September 22, 2012

Short pitch: World T20 offers more than entertainment

I make it a practice never to feel that sorry for professional athletes: they earn spectacular coin for doing what they love.  There are attendant sacrifices, but that's inherent in any achievement.  Perhaps the most obvious of these is a limited career length: even the best only sustain elite standards for ten, fifteen years at best.

Twenty/20 cricket is one of those sports which doesn't seem to demand as much sacrifice as others.  The time taken, preparation required, energy expended or in learning a perfect technique.  In many ways, this might be part of why it's yet to really draw me in.  I'll watch it quite happily, and one of my favourite MCG moments was seeing Shaun Tait hit AB de Vililers - but of cricket's three formats it doesn't have the slow burn, the pacing that makes a sporting event most compelling for me.  There's very little sensation for the viewer of teams necessarily building something of value.  T20 is to cricket what tittie-bars are to meaningful relationships: on the outside their methods can appear similar, but it takes time to build something of real value.

However, watching Brad Hogg in the T20 World Cup has made me consider the role of T20 in the cricket landscape a little differently.  Hogg bowled well this morning, claiming 1/30 from his four overs.  He fielded as energetically as a forty-one year old could, and has been doing so at the highest level - well, Australia's highest level, anyway - for nine months since his unretirement in February.

For Brad Hogg, playing in the World T20 isn't about money but the chance to represent Australia again and compete at a high level at an age where most cricketers who aren't Eddie Hemmings are relegated to the park.  While his appearances for Cape Cobras, Rajasthan Royals and even the Perth Scorchers were/are presumably all about extending his earning capacity, the World T20s are about love of the game and country.

Many sports value the new and untested.  Commentators, coaches and other players get excited about where rookies and younger players can take teams and the game - Australian cricket has decided to plunge headlong down the path of youth, expunging effective players like Simon Katich in order to blood relatively unproven youngsters.  But not T20: shortest format leagues around the world rely on ageing heavy hitters who can still contribute to wins.  Rather than T20's bimodal age distribution being a negative, it should be celebrated as the opposite: it allows players like Brad Hogg to extend their Australian careers in a sport when retirement is so ... definite.

So well done Brad Hogg for choosing to play for Australia again.  And well done Australia for selecting him.

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