Is T20 cricket damaging test cricket? The topic has been debated within the cricketing fraternity for years now. Many former cricketers and fans of the game believe that the element of commercialization that T20 leagues have introduced has consequently made test cricket less attractive for the fans and players alike. It is also the general believe that players who excel in T20 cricket aren’t complete cricketers and cannot be stars in the longer format. However, despite the conflicting point of view, in the modern day, people in charge of selecting the players in the national teams are often attracted to cricketers who are T20 stars. This is mainly due to the fact that players, who prove themselves in the shorter format, are more apt at dealing with pressure situations and play with an aggressive mindset which fits perfectly in the scope of modern day cricket. Thus, selectors and fans naturally gravitate towards such players. A clear example of this can be seen in the current selection setup of Pakistan cricket where players who performed well during the PSL were immediately on the radar of the selectors. Hence, considering the traditional school of thought, is the selection committee doing the right thing by bringing in players based on their performance in a T20 league?
A lot of former cricketers have been critical of the extravagant amount of investments that the PCB is making in the Pakistan Super League instead of trying to improve the domestic structure. The common argument is that talent is produced from the first class structure of the country rather than the T20 leagues. Despite the argument, though, it is safe to say that the current system of domestic cricket in the country leaves a lot to be desired. From problems ranging from lackluster umpiring and lack of proper playing conditions (poor pitch, weather and ball conditions) to the general lack of interest of the fans in the domestic tournaments, it is easy to understand why domestic cricket isn’t producing players who can be successful at international level. Another major problem is that in its current form domestic structure is very complicated for the average fans to understand and invest time in. Add to the fact that PCB spends no time and effort for the promotion or smooth running of the domestic tournaments, makes the situation even more complicated.
In stark contrast with the domestic cricket in the country, the Pakistan super league faces none of the similar crisis and manages to garner significant attention of the fans and other stakeholders. The tournament is the closest thing to international cricket that the emerging players in the country can experience due to their interaction with foreign players and coaches, and the quality of cricket that is played. Hence, for selectors, the tournament is a compelling medium to identify talent which is ready for international cricket. It is true that through T20 cricket, it is hard to identify batsmen with technical proficiency and bowlers with the skill set to run through the opposition batting line-up. However, in its current form, it is hard to see how such cricketers can come through the domestic system within the country. Even though PSL is unlikely to produce players that are going to overnight solve the crisis faced by Pakistan cricket, the tournament can at least help in the identification of talent that can be successful in all formats of the game, provided the PCB further trains them to enhance their abilities. Moreover, the tournament can also act as the basis for selectors to judge top performers of the domestic season, something which they have done with the likes of Kamran Akmal and Ahmed Shehzad since the league is the first step for some of the players towards high pressure and demanding cricket. The PSL is also free from issues like improper playing conditions which ensure more transparent display of the abilities of individual players. Furthermore, the changes in how cricket is played, in the current era has allowed T20 thinkers to excel in the longest version of the game.
Ideally, selectors of any national squad would prefer to identify players, who can excel at all formats of the game, however, finding such players in this day and age is extremely tough. Only a few players like Virat Kohli, AB de Villiers, Kane Williamson and Hashim Amla can achieve the same level of success in all three formats. Teams today are increasingly focusing on specialist players, for each format, in order to ensure players get the necessary rest to maintain their fitness levels and the skillset of different individuals is used for each format. In such a scenario, the emphasis of the national selectors on the player’s performance in the PSL doesn’t come as a surprise.
Indeed, cricket in the modern day has transformed drastically and while the longtime fans and ex-cricketers still believe that test cricket is the real test of a player’s ability, it is a stone cold fact that T20 leagues cannot be ignored. Many people might disagree with the direction of the national selectors and might deem increased emphasis on PSL for the selection of players a mistake. Maybe the selectors aren’t making the right choice, however, for the time being, due to the changes the game has gone through and the decline of domestic structure, this might be the only option the selectors have.