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Slow Sports Are Fast Going Out Of Fashion

If cricket was invented today, a version lasting five days would not even be considered.

17/01/2017 12:27 PM AEDT | Updated 17/01/2017 12:50 PM AEDT
Punit Paranjpe / Reuters
"Great leave," said no one for quite a while now.

If cricket was invented today, a version of the game lasting five days would not even be considered. No one would think it could work. In a world of instant gratification, short attention spans and impatience, Test cricket seems well out of place.

Sports today are developed, or re-branded from the top down. You need to be able to convince the sporting public that your game is worth investing time and effort into. You also need to reassure them that you won't hold them up for too long either.

Fans want the very best, most exciting parts of a game as often as possible. There was a time when a four was considered an exceptional shot. A six was a rare treat. You had to sit and watch for quite a while to see a ball hit over the boundary in any form of the game. Watching cricket, like the game itself, was a game of patience.

Today the crash and bash of the Big Bash League (BBL) gives us sixes and fours almost every over. To an extent, there's nothing remarkable, exceptional and special about it.

Some bemoan that this is a shame. Others say it's exciting. Whatever the case, it gives many fans what they crave -- immediate gratification and excitement.

The BBL has hit the nail on the head both in its design and its marketing. It's cricket on speed. It's the Stars, Thunder, Scorchers, Hurricanes and Heat... The players wear purple, magenta, lime green and orange. There's fours and sixes and fireworks.

And the kids love it.

Which makes you wonder, where is it all headed? Is the 20-over format the game of the kids, amusing them before they turn to the more nuanced, tactical, longer, more sophisticated form of the game? Or is it the way of the future, the format they will always prefer?

There was a time when a four was considered an exceptional shot. A six was a rare treat.

An old and, it must be said, tired economics lecturer once mused to a class I sat in that everything except the working week seemed to be getting smaller or shorter. I wondered if everything was getting shorter and smaller precisely because we're working longer. Our minds are often searching for quick relief. Our time is often precious.

And so it is that games are always evolving and being tinkered with to meet our needs and demands.

Tennis brought in the tie-break in the early 1970s to keep things moving along and to ensure each set built quickly with momentum to a point of climax and excitement. Basketball, in the NBA, brought in the three-point line in 1979 to generate higher scores and long-range goals.

The AFL is constantly making rule changes to ensure the game is as exciting as possible. Players have often called for shorter seasons and, in 2015, Mick Malthouse lobbied for the game's playing time to be reduced from about 120 minutes to no more than 90 minutes.

Imagine a world of Twenty20 cricket on Boxing Day, of the Australian Open Fast4 Tennis Grand Slam in January, or an AFL Grand Final played on a soccer field with seven players a side.

Many of the world's biggest sports are looking to the future with an eye on shorter versions of their game. Tennis Australia continues to trial the fast paced Fast4, a format of shorter games and sets. And, only last September, details emerged that the AFL was trialling a new format, AFL X -- a quick, shorter version of the current game, played on a soccer pitch with seven players a side.

This was met with bemusement by many football fans, while others were simply horrified. The AFL sheepishly stated they had no plans to implement the game in the near future. But one day they just might. And, pending the attitude of the public at the time, it might take off, just like the BBL has.

Imagine a world of Twenty20 cricket on Boxing Day, of the Australian Open Fast4 Tennis Grand Slam in January, or an AFL Grand Final played on a soccer field with seven players a side. These musings might seem fanciful. After all, for many Australians, Test Cricket, Grand Slam tennis and AFL football are in our blood.

But these things have a habit of sneaking up on us. They are often introduced as gimmicks. Trialled as a bit of a laugh and met with amused cynicism or downright contempt by those who prefer the more traditional models of the sports we love. They are scorned and, initially at least, not taken seriously. But then, after the outrage, they are often accepted and embraced.

This is not too dissimilar to how 20-over cricket was treated when it was first trialled. And now look at it, with its packed stadiums, millions of TV viewers and legions of young fans across the country. Five years ago it was a gimmick. Now it appears to be the real deal. In another five years it may well be the number one form of the sport in the country.

The question is, is that a bad thing?



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