Is cricket the fastest-growing sport in the world? This question came up for discussion during a conversation with Cricket South Africa president Dr Mtutuzeli Nyoka during the Shyam Bhatia awards function on Wednesday.
Soccer is undoubtedly the most popular, but cricket is now making its way into nations where this game was earlier unknown. Interestingly, some players from these nations play the game like professionals and even challenge established teams.
According to Nyoka, who is a surgeon, historian and author of many books, Twenty20 will entice more people into the game and the clash between the super powers of cricket will lift the standard of the game to greater heights. While it may be true that many nations did not play cricket because of its long duration, with Twenty20 being played in just three hours that complaint, too, has faded away.
The performance of the United States in the ICC Twenty20 World Cup qualifier reveals that the game can win American hearts too. The Chinese women's cricket team showed their potential during a recent Asian Cricket Council tournament. And if cricket gains in popularity in these two countries, it is only a matter of time before it entices many more nations into the game.
Critics have pointed out that Twenty20 could destroy all other forms of the game, especially Test cricket. Chatting with Andrew Flintoff about this last Wednesday, the English all-rounder feels that Twenty20 may actually rectify the dip in Test cricket's popularity. "Twenty20 can make Test cricket more exciting with bigger scores. We may also get to see batsmen like Tilkaratne Dilshan flicking over the wicketkeeper's head even in a Test match and Kevin Pietersen going left-handed," he said.
The other good thing that has happened is the International Cricket Council's readiness to be innovative and not hold on to traditions and refuse to change. With everything in this world moving at a fast pace, cricket, too, must be faster if it has to spread to every nook and corner of the world.
The strange thing about cricket is that a person unfamiliar with the game will find it a strange sport, but once he gets attracted to it, the game can be addictive. They will be willing to play the game at all costs like the war-torn Afghanistan players, who are making waves in international cricket.