Cricket, a tryst with destiny

Ian Botham attempts to avoid a Curtly Ambrose bouncer but only succeeds in hitting his own wicket (West Indies touring England in 1991)
Ian Botham attempts to avoid a Curtly Ambrose bouncer but only succeeds in hitting his own wicket (West Indies touring England in 1991) image courtesy:  the guardian

Call me a biased  classicist. I always believed that the 20-20 format was a cricket killer.  Those of us who watch test match cricket (E.g., England vs. Australia, India vs. South Africa) would know that the standards of cricket in any 20-20 match is not the greatest in the world.  Yes, we do see an occasional great catch, a run out, a stolen single, and a big six, but they do not add up to form cricket.

To attract more people, to generate income, and to sustain domestic cricket, English county cricket clubs started playing the mini-format of the game.   They were competing with another sport (football) that had and still has an unmatched mad-following in that part of the world.  Other cricket playing countries picked up the 20-20 format at various junctures mostly because of business reasons.  In India, 20-20 did become a super hit once India won the inaugural edition of 20-20 world cup in South Africa.  Looking back, I just feel how unlucky we were to have won that.  There is no doubt that IPL has generated an unprecedented fan following for cricket in India and to an extent abroad.  I don’t know how good it is to generate an artificial fan following when those fans don’t even know what they are cheering for.  To be honest, those fans who started following cricket because of 20-20 should ask themselves why they did so.

I shouldn’t be kicking a person when he is down.  However, I would take an exception today.  Perhaps, I might even ask all of you to participate in a “DharmadEtu” event performed on IPL.  (DharmadEtu= a phenomenon where in, a person, who is perceived to be a criminal is beaten by a mob).  I hope it shows how angry I am to know the recent developments in IPL.  The muddiness had to come out someday.  It would be unfair to paint every one involved with the same brush.  There is no doubt that the IPL has had some financial irregularities.  One may try to forgive that.  But, I just hope and pray that the allegations of match fixing are untrue. A tragedy called Hansie Cronje was enough to cast a huge cloud over the world of cricket.  We are not ready to digest one more incident of such magnitude.

Some of those who played test cricket at the highest level (former and current) wholeheartedly embraced the concept of IPL when it came into being.  Some of the Indian domestic players did get a chance to rub shoulders with legendary cricketers, which they could not have done otherwise.  Some of the cricketers who had finished their international careers returned to the field.  They knew that they could easily do it.  After all, they were experienced in playing real cricket.  Many Indian batsmen who had successfully played for several years in domestic circuits (Ranji Trophy, Duleep Trophy etc) got a chance to show their talent.  They had failed to break into the national team unfortunately because of the virtuous golden Indian middle order.  As far as bowling is concerned, the playing surfaces in India made sure that we did not encourage either spin or pace bowling.  No hopes what so ever.  In came ICL and then IPL…to be fair to many Indian domestic players who went with them indeed received some sort of financial security.  I am sure it was the primary reason why they chose to play for these leagues. I don’t want to talk about either ICC or BCCI because there is nothing worthy to say.  There is no doubt that if 20-20 were to come into existence in an ODI free world (or pre-ODI era) , then it may have evolved in a different way.

Cricket is not new to foul play.  I am sensible enough not hold the 20-20 format responsible for all the wrongs in cricket.  However, there is no doubt that from the beginning, the IPL had all the recipes for a disaster.  It was not if but when.  I do have some sympathy for the players who have taken part in it.  The only thing that made me watch a certain IPL match was the fact that some retired international players were playing again.  Some unsung heroes of domestic tournaments got their much-deserved moments in limelight.   But, almost everyone knew from the beginning that IPL is not going to give us solid TEST cricketers.   I wouldn’t mind that provided it did not convert the existing potential test-talent into crap. We could see how easily Kallis and Dravid translated their games from a ‘classic true story’ (hardbound, library edition) to a ‘best seller fiction’ (paperback, economy edition).  We saw how Warne and Kumble bowled their effective short 4 over spells because they had bowled countless gruelling 10 over spells in their career. Nonetheless, I am sure we are not going see the hard-hitting (ugly), bottom handed batsmen and quick  bowling-spinners transforming their mindset to play the real format.

Those who argue in favour of 20-20 always try to draw a parallel between the emergence of 20-20 with the onset of ODI in the 1970s and point to the survival of test cricket. I just want to tell them one thing.  If you do want to support the 20-20 format, it has to be in a world cup tournament played once in four years.  I would go a step further and ask people to stop playing/ supporting bilateral ODI series as well.

If every test playing country doesn’t play at least 10 test matches per year, then we may do just as well by settling for base-ball. Again, I just hope that  the 20-20 mania has not caused an irreversible damage to the game of cricket.  The 20-20 format has an outside chance of helping the game of cricket if and only if we started playing on fair surfaces in a groud where boundaries are at least 75 yards away.  This applies first to test cricket.  If, test cricket continues on dead surfaces, then forget the impact of 20-20…we may have to legitimize bowling machines.

PS: A great test cricket match played on a fair surface has the potential to nullify the effect of several wrongs in cricket. It is said that people tend to have short memories. Memories are neither short nor long, they are convenient.

A quote from news site (added on May 20th):  West Indies bowling great Michael Holding did not watch a single match of the Twenty20 World Cup in the Caribbean, refuses to call it cricket… A staunch critic of cricket’s slam-bang format, Holding said he did not bother to watch the T20 World Cup even though it took place in the West Indies. “Not one ball. I don’t watch Twenty20. It is dumbing-down cricket. They should find another name for it,” said the 56-year-old Jamaican, who was called ‘Whispering Death’ in his playing days for his quiet approach to the bowling crease.

6 thoughts on “Cricket, a tryst with destiny”

  1. Nice article. Suffice it to say this:
    Indians suck in managing things. On top of it, when it comes to managing affairs involving money, they are utterly ruthless and comprehensively corrupt – be it in politics, public service, movies or sport. That is ironic for a country with a rich history in traditions and morals (as in the concept of Dharma, Karma and Moksha). Only Indians can morally sin like no one else. For, they willfully partake in sins, despite being taught the principles of Dharma and Karma since their childhood. This includes some leading international players who are have become morally corrupt. They bilndly support IPL feigning ignorance that the IPL is awash with black money.

    The same IPL tournament if organized and managed by Australia, England or New Zealand (to name a few) would never be in the news for the same reasons as we are witnessing now.
    Let the IPL implode itself. I, for one, will be ecstatic.

  2. You have echoed my sentiments. I maintain T20 is just entertainment. It is as related to cricket as WWE to boxing or wrestling. The current muddle only brings into sharp focus the outcome of the deeper malaise of the spurious thesis ‘winning is everything.’ We have seen that in Tour de France (road race cycling), in world athletics, in the Olympic Games. Many of us untainted by the murky dealings in high places chose to turn a Nelson’s eye. So if we are accused of being an accomplice we feel scandalized – like some past cricketers on the governing council of IPL feel. Ironically coming from a land of Gandhi who believed end does not justify means, we go back to Kautilya’s end justifies means theory. That is a classicism we can do without! Unless the ordinary fan shows his disapproval in action more Hansie Cronjes and other unproven allegations like Azharuddins and Salim Maliks will continue.
    It is a comment on our individual double standards that when in a TV show the audience was asked who watches IPL even after the serious charges of match fixing in IPL2 have been aired, only one young boy raised his hand up; for the rest of the ‘matured’ audience it was the smug ‘the show must go on.’
    On a smaller personal canvas, i have a friend who has been finding difficult to hold a regular finance and accounts job for the past 20 years because of his refusal to bend ethics for corporate contingencies; on the other hand, a top computer services company retains another person (an erstwhile friend of mine) despite its HR knowing that the person had forged fake professional certificates and has been kicked out of jobs in the gulf for financial irregularities and had even tampered with his salary slip provided by the company.
    Surely we get the IPL we deserve.

  3. Well… not being a great fan of cricket anymore (because there is too much of it!), I still agree that T-20 is just a firecracker show, all noise and no substance and finally only pollution in the end! Nothing beats the kind of matches that are played in series like Ashes. Cricket was once gentleman’s game and I wish it had continued to be so… with the audience applauding a good piece of work by the opposition also and not shouting their heads off and jumping up and down like hooligans! It is like an art that needs to be appreciated, like someone’s classic shot playing styles or bowling action! Call me a bore, nevertheless I believe that Cricket lost its charm many years ago with all these “bending” and “twisting” the rules to make it more (inane) audience friendly!

    All said and done, even a young lad of 8 years seemed to know what a certain had done and he said looking at him on TV, “he is the one who fixes matches”!!! Now, that is the extent to which the bad publicity has happened! I think if people stopped watching cricket for the sake of cricket and watch it for the sake of sports, that would make the entire “game” straight!

    1. That is fair enough. If that 8 year old is lucky enough to watch a new generation of great test cricketers, I would certainly not worry about the influence of negative publicity. His dad should be aware of that. Sporting taste exhibits Y chromosome linked inheritance.
      A great test cricket match played on a fair surface has the potential to nullify the effect of several wrongs in cricket. It is said that people tend to have short memories. Memories are neither short nor long, they are convenient.

  4. I agree with most of the things you have tried to raise. Someone said that there will be no IPL T20 next year. If so, then I will be very happy. It affects the originality of cricket. For monetary benefits, ICC has accepted everything that sells (all those things).

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