The changing tide of cricket (Column: Close-in)
Cricket, as one popularly terms it, is a way of life. The British established the game in every corner that they were present and made it into an elite sport. The famous saying, “cricket is a game for a real live man, keep fit little man, keep fit”, sums it up beautifully.
The pace and harmony with which it was played was similar to a musical symphony, wherein one was relaxed to enjoy every note or stroke in cricketing terms. Cricket writers around the world have eulogised not only the masters who played the game, but also the surroundings and the people following it too. One of the renowned cricket writers C.L.K. James summed it up perfectly, “What do they know of cricket who only cricket know”.
Cricket has evolved over times from the ‘play to finish’ to a five-day Test match. The customer, in this case, the spectator, as one commonly refers to in marketing jargon, as the king, has been at the center stage of the way the game has changed over the years. The paucity of time and the pace of life has played a major part in changing the tide of the royal game.
Test cricket, fortunately, is still revered amongst the cricketers and serious cricket followers as the ultimate form of the game, but this is changing rapidly in the fast pace digital world of today. Cricket is not just a sport anymore but has become the source of entertainment in the same vein as an action packed movie or an exciting event. Test cricket is gradually receding into a test of time and resilience, patience and endurance which is respected by fans and the people playing it has now given way to flamboyance, aggression and stardom.
A cricketer is now more inclined to be known for his hitting rather than for his technique. Cricketers, as one sadly gathers, are now more focused on playing the shorter limited overs format of the game, rather than in acquiring skills to play Test cricket for their country. The only way forward, is to recognize an Indian cap, only when one plays Test cricket, maybe this would incentivise the upcoming cricketers to get serious about the conventional form of the game. An Indian cap for a T20 or an ODI player should not be given the weightage and aura of a Test cap.
Unfortunately, time and tide waits for no man. The show must go on and so cricket in any form is better than nothing at all. One can feel the cause of worry, when the modern master of cricket, Sachin Tendulkar, a quiet observer at most times, speak vehemently about the changes required for the progress of the game. The 50-overs cricket, which boasts of the aspiration of every modern day cricketer “The World Cup”, he feels, needs to be altered not only to suit the spectators but also for the benefit of the teams and the players.
A 25-overs per 2 innings is a fabulous idea as the present game of the 50 overs version has become boring between the 15th and 40th overs. The fielding side, at most times, is left to play defensive cricket, whereas, the batsmen need very little skills to accumulate runs. Breaking that monotony is a good way to keep cricketers and their support staff on their toes and gives the spectators a change of scene as well. The most important aspect is that it gives both the teams a more equal opportunity of the conditions during the match. I feel this should be tested in the Indian domestic scenario as quickly as possible.
T20 format is now easily the most popular version of the game. However, one can see that this format is also gradually losing out to the T10 and the 100 balls per side matches. The tide is changing very rapidly towards cricket becoming a home-run sport, enjoyed by one and all, for only hitting boundaries. The T20 could in the near future soon become a two innings encounter of 10 overs each.
One’s only worry is that the very characteristics and the core values of the game of cricket are being gradually disturbed to cater to the commercial advantages of all the stakeholders involved in the game. One cannot see that as unreasonable, but the very essence of why and how the game was being played is giving away to the hit and run ways of today’s world.
A cyclone is brewing to uproot the very base of pure cricket which has stood like a pinnacle of glory over a century of time. They say “a rose by any other name would smell just as sweet”, and one hopes that cricket too lingers on in the same way in its new avatar.
(Yajurvindra Singh is a former Test cricketer)