Indifference towards the World Twenty20 is almost inevitable

John Inverdale
THE Ryder Cup may have been the biggest show in town in Chicago over the past week but it certainly hasn’t been the only one.

The White Sox have been playing baseball. Endlessly. Night after night in front of swathes of empty seats as the sport drifts aimlessly into becoming a kind of athletic Muzak offering succour to those poor souls who ‘make love to their tonic and gins’ in the bars of the US. It is reassuring and comforting because it’s always there, but aside from the aficionados is anyone really watching? It’s like the county cricket championship – a sporting river that meanders through the summer. Too many matches breeds ambivalence, and for the non-believer, a sense that it doesn’t matter, because how can so much ‘product’ be relevant or interesting.

The balance of power in the USA between baseball and American Football has swung alarmingly in the past 30 years, and it’s not hard to see why. Every NFL game is sold out, every college football game is sold out, every match anywhere seems to be a real ‘event’. And one of the reasons for that is there is one game a week, and everyone wants to be there. If the Chicago Bears played six times a week , they’d soon be playing to swathes of empty seats, but they don’t. It’s a clearly structured season that reaches a resounding climax with the Superbowl. QED. Everyone has a team. Everyone understands.

You’ve probably guessed where this is heading. Go compare with football and cricket in this country. The World T20 cricket championship is going on at the moment in Sri Lanka to considerable indifference from the British sporting public, and part of the reason for that is the way the domestic and international calendar has been allowed to become one of the most incomprehensible jigsaws devised by any sporting governing body. Test matches remain the jewel in the crown but their integrity is compromised by random 50 and 20 over games that spring up out of nowhere, punctuated in England by an even more indecipherable county programme which is now struggling to find any relevant place in the general sporting consciousness.

A lot of the American journalists who have been covering the Ryder Cup in Chicago are concerned about the future of baseball, as American Football has become an all-conquering behemoth. We have one of those in this country. So as you read about Fergie’s rant against the referee at Old Trafford and the blatant handball that gained Newcastle a point at Reading on Saturday, consider the World T20 and where it sits alongside all that. A footnote at the bottom of the Premier League table, that you’ll read about over your tonic and gin later today.