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Cricket in good health, but not its soul

Posted October 27th, 2017, 11:50 AM IST

Cricket in good health, but not its soul

Cricket is in great health if you consider the money that is flowing in, at least in India. Ten years of IPL are over and the gravy train is all set to roll on into the second decade with renewed power and a bigger bag of money. The body of cricket is in the pink of health. How about its soul? That is a good question to which the answer is the soul is perhaps not in the pink of health, but coping well enough with the challenges.

One of cricket’s sagacious onlookers, Matthew Engel, who used to edit the Wisden in the 1990s, says cricket is rotting away and everything worthwhile about it is being destroyed. “The authorities are ruining so much of the game many love as they concentrate on T20 money and power – and the ludicrous Test final is the last straw”, he writes. He is entitled to his opinion but it does appear the administrators are at least trying to give Test cricket some meaning by getting the Test championship going at last.

The rules are complicated. The fighting draw may be given the short shrift in the modern yearning for results in everything, including in the five-day or even four-day format of Tests. But at least it may give some meaning to otherwise dreary series played between ill-matched teams in an era in which travelling beyond home is becoming an onerous task for Test squads. There is a lot of Test cricket being played these days, though much of it is sadly in front of empty stands. However much of a traditionalist we old cricket lovers may be, the fact remains that no one is willing to sit through five days of a Test anymore. The world has changed.

T20 cricket may be repetitive to the point of us not being able to remember what happened in the last game we saw because cricket has been reduced to an imitation of baseball with a six-hitting contest passing off as a simulation of ‘home runs’. The ideal balance between bat and ball which made for very competitive cricket and rendered the game a real contest of skills may be disappearing thanks to T20 cricket. The way the batsmen belt the ball these days makes a mockery of all the time spent in pitch preparation, etc. New rules restricting blade thickness etc. may not be that much of a dampener as bat technology has improved out of sight.

A single Test match as eliminator in a Test championship is hardly likely to bring out the best characteristics of long format cricket. There is also a point to be made about a Test final at Lord’s which may see a couple of outsiders play for the top prize in 2021. How would India, now top of the Test charts for quite a while, fare if it gets to the Lord’s final? How are Team India rated the top side if they have never won a Test series in Australia or South Africa? There are points to ponder. However, there is solace to be drawn that Test cricket is being given its place in a 3-format calendar and it survives because there is so much lolly from T20 to keep the circuit going.

It’s difficult to imagine cricket being in such good health if the T20 had not been born 10 years ago with the first T20 Worlds in South Africa. India’s win there awoke a sleeping giant in Indian cricket. You could blame the format for later ruining the rest of cricket in the eyes of the new converts to the international sport. To convert the GenNext cricket fan into a Test-match loving will prove to be as difficult as changing the fast foodie into a gourmet. But then the idea of a composite financial health with T20 and ODIs supporting Test match cricket is the economics of new cricket. It may have begun with the ODI fans helping the Test format survive.

The mercenaries of the new cricket era like Chris Gayle and Kevin Pietersen may appear to have overwhelmed the system by turning up on every continent to slog for some T20 outfit with a rare name no one can remember for long. But they are just the lucky ones who milked the T20 riches to make a fortune of fortunes. But do remember that their base was still the Test arena, which is what gave them the skill to adapt to T20. Classical music doesn’t shut down for travelling troubadours and wandering minstrels. So too will Test cricket survive, perhaps in a lesser way without on-site spectators.