‘I started enjoying ODI cricket when I understood first that I wasn’t supposed to enjoy it’ – A Traditional Chauvinist from the T20 era.
Cricket’s pastoral serenity has taken a beating with corporate intervention, political demeanor and hoards of other factors that, in a traditional chauvinist’s mind, have no right to co-exist with the game.
The precocious development of the game has often raised questions and remarks about the future of the oldest, and by no doubt, the most challenging form of the game.
Will cricket, as a sport, deracinate itself and succumb to what every scrupulous traditionalist fears, mere entertainment? I don’t know, or care.
That is not what I am here to talk about anyway, for that will lead to a clash between viewpoints of Agrarianism and the Ionian schools of thought.
Sidere mens eadem mutato
The Latin phrase roughly translates to ‘The stars change, the mind remains the same’. Cricket, as it advances over the ages, will give rise to new formats of the game.
These new formats, in turn, will give rise to radical ideas regarding rules and regulations, equipment used, or in not-so-rare cases, even franchises for XPLs, where X can be substituted with any alphabet between A and Z, depending on the first alphabet of the country to which the Premier League tournament is outsourced.
However, what I am sure of, is that cricket will still be played with a bat (hopefully made out of wood), a ball (no guesses on possible color changes), three stumps on either side (anything more would make Steve Harmison’s first delivery in Ashes 2007 look legal), two on-field umpires (provided robotics doesn’t advance to stake a claim in cricket), and one match referee (without sound amplifiers) on a wicket which, hopefully, wouldn’t exceed 22 yards.
Why is it that traditionalists, like myself, go raving on and on over this issue? Why is it that even though this topic has become some sort of a cliché within the cricketing community, I’ve still decided to raise this issue?
The answer is simple: I’ve often observed in life that some good will come of an issue if it is done for the right reasons, just like how the final day of the Melbourne Test of 1970-71 sparked the idea of One-Day Cricket. I’m attempting to do something along these lines here: extract a thought from a belief.
The Power of a brand is inversely proportional to its scope
A brand becomes stronger when you narrow its focus. In business terminology, a young company (for which a brand is being built) will have lesser constrains, more focused business and stronger business vision, hence making a brand identity is no herculean task.
However, larger corporations that tend to reach out to wider audiences can promise to be leaders in niche markets that are distinctive, yet broad enough to fall under the umbrella of multiple categories.
Cricket had developed three main formats over the years of its existence:Test Match cricket, the longest existing and most challenging format of the sport that spanned over five days, One Day International Cricket (ODI) and Twenty-Twenty cricket, a truncated version of ODI.
Market Research indicated that the shorter the format of the game, wider was the audiences reach out. One ‘n One cricket, possibly, isn’t too far away: with 12 balls in total and a very low time span, I’m sure it will promise overcrowded stadiums.
But what does all this mean to a layman? Research shows that cricket, according to many, is a mysterious game.
It had to be endured before one could gain a fair enough idea to unlock the treasure trove inside cricket’s inner chamber, which was spell-bound by charms that were so profound unless someone cared to explain it to you...which they didn’t, as one could quite easily lose his patience by the time he makes you understand the rules of the game.
To ensure rapid expansion globally, there will be a need to simplify and amend rules, but can cricket afford to undergo so many changes within such a short span of time?
The sport had already undergone changes, as it had when the One Day International format came into the picture and made life more difficult for bowlers, by being preposterously biased towards batting.
Curators who prepared pitches with life in it for the bowlers were often reprimanded, for teams believed that flashy stroke play won over intelligent swing bowling.
However, it did have its positives by bringing out a greater emphasis on fitness levels and fielding standards. The short nature of the game also saw minnows overcoming teams that carried cricket’s Tour de Force pride with them.
What should the ICC do in order to achieve what it wants? Can it work towards an agenda that is both idealistic and realistically pragmatic bearing in mind that ODI Cricket, the existence of which is being drawn parallel to issues like concerns over pandemics and climate change, should still be priority one?
Is it possible to ignite the importance and challenge of ODI cricket to a layman and tame the forces of entertainment that brought it to the brink of ‘the not-so-important format’?
Quite naturally, this is the million dollar question isn’t it? All that we know, and can hope for, is that the solution package yields a result that is truly win-win for both the traditionalist and the blitzkrieg fan.
Sentimental Scribblings cannot curb boredom
In an effort to save the format, I’ve been reading a lot of writers, including yours truly, who have painstakingly made efforts to revisit the golden era of ODI cricket, starting from Gary Gilmour’s brilliance in the first ever World Cup, and quote anecdotes that defined this format of the game.
Journalists, however, on a number of occasions, seem to write mostly for each other, for politicians, who govern the boards, or merely for the pleasure of reading their own prose.
This doesn’t really convey what needs to be in the first place, does it? What today’s print audience wants is gossip, coupled with facts.
Writers who try to do, say a Cardus, in today’s world, can be considered naïve if they expect their scribbling joyride to last forever and paint a different picture of cricket in the reader’s heart.
What can they focus on in an era where cricket is being sullied by defamatory hoaxes such as being exploited by businesses and politics for their short term profiteering goals?
Can they focus on the stunt in cricket’s growth non-commercially? Can they question the long term viability of experiments such as the XPL, a format which seems to thrive on chaos more than anything else?
A format that has added layers of control to bolster the income of every investor that has inherently seen the development of a kind of bureaucracy surely cannot yield a benign explanation over the exponential pace at which certain formats are being considered esoteric.
In simple words, cricket’s only natural resource to the layman is emotion. What sets the heart of a TV audience ablaze is probably Tony Grieg yelling ‘They’re dancing in the aisles’ after a Tendulkar drive, or something as sublime as Richie Benaud describing Michael Holding’s run-up.
When we witness courage take precedence over pain, as seen through the likes of Tendulkar (Chennai 99 ) and Graeme Smith (Sydney 2008 ) for example, emotion wins over the desire to see success.
No amount of money can make one go through these experiences, for cricket, with its rapidly forming communities, will realize that someday, when the community centric around entertainment gets too big, it will start becoming dysfunctional, just like any other human organization that has, in the past, been victimized by its own dreadful decision-making.
By any quantifiable standard, certain aspects of the game are on life support, which, ideally, would be the issue writers must learn to exploit if their sentiments can turn into meaningful emotion.
Just when readers start to think to themselves ‘Damn, I hope this isn’t another article on how terrible things can become in cricket’, it is essential to let them know that it is – and it isn’t.
That’s because the story of cricket is not simply about how a great game is undergoing rapid changes, it’s also about the erosion of concepts that helped building the game we know today.
With external interventions playing more than a major role, what can we infer about cricket’s recent past? And if it can’t find a way to minimize the influence that these factors have, what does it say about the future?
No one would want to walk into a longer version of the game and see activity so palpably absent that you’d conclude that a neutron bomb had been detonated in the vicinity.
You wouldn’t want to see arenas bearing closer relation to a post-apocalyptic nightmare than to the vibrant, prosperous place that we once knew of. Yet, is it inevitable? Surely, ODI cricket cannot be careened off the road.
Questions pertaining to the future of certain formats, rules, regulations, laws etc of the game are the product of an unarticulated intervention by external bodies that few had acknowledged, and a self-deceiving blindness that had made it possible for even the best intentioned cricketers to ignore the straitjacket of national pride and opt for avenues that led to greener pastures.
Cricket’s uniqueness, in terms of its culture, format and the way the game defines itself, has been the envy of other sports, a key to its success over the years.
But a sharp shock, consisting of several external factors, over the past two decades, has paralyzed the sport.
Fans wouldn’t want to watch games when the prime mover is a bookie sitting in the stands with them. Developing formats that, in the near future, could potentially resemble baseball will deter the uniqueness that the game possesses.
Cricket has seen the Packer series, cricket has seen the ICL emerge and fade, cricket has seen the IPL shine in the limelight, cricket has seen XPL being outsourced, but what cricket needs to see is yet another one of those contests where the batsman bowler chance ratio is 1:1.
It is worth spelling out: one is to one. It needs to witness a game that can redefine cricket beyond any possible measure, or degree of obviousness, for once something becomes obvious, men tend to experiment and often, falter. I’ll wait for another one of those series.