Why Cricket Needs a New Game Plan

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Why Cricket Needs a New Game Plan
Phil Walter/Getty Images

They are as sick that surfeit with too much, as they that starve with nothing.

— The Merchant of Venice

 

When Christopher Martin-Jenkins used this Shakespearean beginning to cry out for less cricket in 2003, the world was not going through as acute a food crisis or as humongous a surfeit of cricket entertainment as it is now.

Twenty20 was not even in the womb, and a private enterprise like the IPL was nowhere in the distant horizon.  

“The media have to take it on the chin: We make a lifelong living from the game and there are ways of sharing the load. But for players there is sometimes no way off the treadmill,” Martin-Jenkins wrote.

In the six years that followed we have crossed many oceans and packed double the amount of cricket in half the time, and the "whole cricket system is blinking red" and needs urgent attention and a solid road map.

What the World of Cricket needs is a convention that considers all issues and takes a comprehensive look at the state of the game; something that can be metaphorically likened to world leaders trying to grapple with global warming and the threat it poses to our planet.

Left unattended, the game would flow towards instant gratification and instant super-stardom as the pot of gold for new-generation fans and the younger players, respectively.

Just see the number of injuries on the circuit and the number of careers that could have been great but are just footnotes now, and you’ll get the point. Are the administrators in their hurry failing to take care of their golden geese?  Fast bowlers are fast becoming a dying breed, and we’ve already seen a few express ones bowing out of Test cricket.

In this milieu the discussion between Harsha Bhogle, Sanjay Manjrekar, Lalit Modi, and Gideon Haigh in Time Out for Cricinfo has been refreshing and heartening. Lalit Modi spoke about just a seven-week window for the shortest form and how Test cricket is the most important form of the game.

“Test cricket is, actually, the highest-paying entity for the board. Test cricket is actually our bread and butter, which people don’t understand," Modi said.

"We are never going to compromise on Test cricket. In fact, our viewership is high for Test cricket. When I talked about doing something for Test cricket, it’s for other countries where Test cricket is going down. In India, our ratings are going up. We are tracking that year by year, it’s going much better for us, and in fact we get paid highest for Test cricket.”

As surprising as the Modi quote may seem, it can’t beat the one given by Manjrekar: “The fact is that the IPL, at the moment, is the most popular cricket product we have. And it’s something we’ve got to respect. It has also shown Test cricket and 50-overs cricket what they are lacking.

"I think it’s important to have more and more people getting interested in sport, more and more countries getting interested in the sport. For the last 10 to 15 years, we haven’t seen too many countries seriously getting into cricket. So that tells you a bit about 50-overs cricket and Test match cricket. Maybe Twenty20 and IPL can start doing that.”

That tells me just one thing: Manjrekar has lost it.

Is cricket a trade that more and more people and countries should get interested in it?

Maybe Twenty20 can foster greater understanding between the U.S. and Afghanistan or between U.S. and Iraq. And it would be great for humanity if the Taliban and the Coalition Forces meet each other on a cricket field and leave the battlefield for good. If that happens, then I’ll be the first person to celebrate and embrace Twenty20 as the global unifier.

For the sub-continent, it may prove to be the biggest boon—the Iran-Pakistan-India (IPI) gas pipeline project can be negotiated at the toss— as Twenty20, generally, and IPL, specifically, may bring Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India together. You’ve also got the perfect advertisement ready: IPL achieves what the IPI could not.

The circle was complete when the U.S. joined the league and thus brought all stakeholders in the War on Terror together under the gospel of Twenty20. Europe is easy with England, Ireland and Holland already playing cricket, and the ECB can be given the responsibility to get new recruits. Afghanistan has already played the United States in a Twenty20 game on Feb. 11.

Maybe the IPL is the cure for the human condition. Maybe.  

"In the last 10 to 15 years we haven’t seen too many countries seriously taking on cricket," Manjrekar says without bothering to check that cricket history is over 132 years old, and we all know why eight countries are seeped in a cricketing culture.

When people who have played Test cricket start saying things like we need more countries getting interested in the sport, and when Test cricket’s premier bowler of the last two decades lavishes praise without context, then it makes me wonder just how much money the IPL is generating for everyone to say it is the greatest thing to happen to mankind since the wheel.

I haven’t mentioned the views expressed by Haigh thus far because I am using a paragraph from one of his pieces on fast-forward cricket.

“Consider for a moment just who is closer to the role model of the moment: Is it Rahul Dravid, the “Wall” with his 10,000 Test runs, or Yuvraj Singh, who once hit six sixes in an over? Who will a rising young cricketer earn more by emulating?" Haigh wrote.

"If maximising individual income is what matters—and if any cricketer feels otherwise, he is keeping such a heresy to himself—then Yuvraj might well be the cookie-cutter cricketer of the next decade. Twenty20 has rightly been called a batsman’s game, but it is a very particular kind of batsman: the type whose game is built on eye and strength. If a new Dravid were to begin emerging now, I suspect he would face a career as a second-class cricket citizen.

"Nor is it economically rational for franchise owners to rest content with enterprises that are inactive for 46 weeks of the year. You don’t have to be Einstein—hell, you don’t have to be Napoleon Einstein—to realise that if the IPL contains even a glimmer of promise, it won’t be stopping there: Pretty soon cricket’s schedule will have more windows than the Sears Tower.

"What then? What might cricket look like after 20 years of Twenty20-centricity? There will likely been a few more MS Dhonis; probably a great many more Uthappas. But can you imagine another Sachin Tendulkar, with the discipline to budget for innings by the day, with his defence as monumental as his strokes are magnificent? And what price a new Anil Kumble—brave, patient, probing, untiring—in a world measuring out bowling in four-over spells?”

Even if the shorter form is good and caters to the mass markets, it would be worth considering that Shakespeare hit the nail on the head by saying: An overflow of good converts to bad.

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