Fortunately, the T20 World Cup was played last Sunday in Melbourne without interruption, much to the relief of the organizers. At the start of the tournament, Australia were favorites to win, narrowly followed by India and England. Pakistan and South Africa were the next-favored teams. Given the outcome, performance reviews are already underway.
In Cricket South Africa’s case, this is being undertaken with intensity. Its team has an unfortunate history of losing winning positions in World Cups. This year, victory over the Netherlands in the final group match would have carried a semifinal place. The subsequent shock loss meant elimination. Mindful of its history, the CSA is placing an emphasis on looking forward and not dwelling on the past, which may be just as well.
Between 2017 and August 2020, the CSA has had three CEOs, all of whom left in acrimonious circumstances. The middle appointee put in place an overhauled coaching system, with a team director. He was quickly replaced with a coach. Over the same time, there were four Test captains and four national men’s coaches, plus a failure to launch a T20 franchise competition. When one was launched in 2018, it had neither television rights nor sponsorship deals in place.
There has also been a shuffling of the pack in terms of the CSA’s director of cricket. The last change was in June 2022 and was followed by the decision of the coach to resign after the World Cup. Under such chaotic governance it is testament to the team and coaches that they have been able to focus on playing, achieving some notable victories along the way. Understandably, several senior players have opted out of some tournaments and it should not be so surprising that shock defeats happen on occasion. A period of stability is badly needed, along with a successful and profitable T20 franchise in January 2023.
In contrast, the changes effected in England’s on- and off-field leadership in the wake of disastrous performances in late 2021 and early 2022 have proved to be a revelation. A bold, ambitious playing philosophy, coupled with latent potential, a willingness to take risks, aided by some luck, has brought six test wins in seven matches and the T20 World Cup. No need for an inquest, then? Wait a minute, the High-Performance Review set up in April is still in process — has it been overtaken by events? It does serve to show how fortunes can change so quickly in cricket’s modern frenetic schedules of play.
Australia will be well aware of this, failing to become the first team to be successive winners of the T20 trophy. The country’s press has been brutal in assessing the team’s performance, expecting immediate and wholesale changes to a fatigued squad.
Inquests and its ramifications have started to occur in India, where there are, literally, millions of opinions and suggested solutions. Some straws in the wind have emerged from the Board of Control for Cricket in India. In the aftermath of elimination, coach Rahul Dravid and his coaching team were excused from duties on the forthcoming tour of New Zealand. Dravid has said that one of the problems may be the BCCI’s ban on Indian players entering overseas T20 tournaments, which is possibly hindering their development. However, he recognizes that these occur in the middle of the Indian season and the release of players would seriously denigrate domestic cricket.
Another straw is that the former, highly successful Indian captain, M.S. Dhoni, is rumored to be in the BCCI’s thoughts for a future role. The men’s team has not won a trophy since the ICC Champions Trophy in 2013, when Dhoni was the captain. Since then, it lost in the semifinals of both the 2015 and 2019 ODI World Cups, was beaten in the final of the 2014 T20 World by Sri Lanka, lost in the semifinals of the 2016 T20 World Cup and failed to reach the semifinals of the 2021 T20 World Cup. In the World Test Championship final in 2021, it lost to New Zealand. Although it is the most successful team in the Asia Cup, with seven titles, India failed to reach the final of the 2022 edition.
This is a below-par return for a country with the depth of playing talent and financial resources available to it. Whilst not on the same level as South Africa’s governance turmoil, the administration in India has been subject to change and controversy. Most recently, the BCCI’s president of three years stood down amidst rumors of political intrigue. The current captain, in his post for less than one year, is already under pressure and the style of play in the recent T20 World Cup has been criticized for being too conservative.
Approaches to how T20 cricket is best played to achieve success are constantly evolving. The tendency in most countries has been to select the best players to play across all formats. Now, some players are choosing to specialize, usually in limited-overs formats. This is either because they can, given the financial rewards on offer, or have the decision taken for them by those who select teams, sometimes a result of injury. Most of India’s team in the recent World Cup also play Test cricket. Only one of England’s team has been a regular member of the Test team in the last year.
The reasons for success and failure at the T20 World Cup are complex and, to some extent, intangible. Apart from the need to have the right caliber of player, it is reasonable to assume that good governance, harmony between coach and players, wedded to clarity of purpose, will be key elements. Examples of these — good and not so good — have been on show in Australia. A new element may now be emerging, partially driven by overlapping schedules, in which players and coaches deliberately choose to specialize by format. In addition to T20 cricket offering greater opportunities for lower ranked teams to cause upsets, it could be on the brink of upsetting cricket’s structure yet again.