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Cricket needs to rediscover its evangelical spirit

Posted May 12th, 2021, 10:49 AM IST

Cricket needs to rediscover its evangelical spirit

Not for the first time, India will have two teams touring simultaneously for international matches.

The first eleven will be in England for the World Test Championship final against New Zealand and the five-Test England series, and the second in Sri Lanka for white ball cricket.

Perhaps that is the route international cricket needs to take, thus ensuring that while one country eats the cake, another will have it too. In 1998, India played the Sahara Cup in Canada and in the Commonwealth Games in Kuala Lumpur simultaneously.

Financially, an Indian tour is the most sought-after in world cricket today, and being in two places at the same time is a nifty way of keeping more people happy. But there’s more to it than that.


Enough talent
It helps, of course, that India has enough players to field two full international teams, each capable of winning their respective series ahead.

The triumph in Australia where India put together a replacement team after injuries (and a childbirth) had deprived them of some top players clearly sent out a message. It also created an opening for bowlers in particular which they might not otherwise have had.

In any case, with the coronavirus squeezing the schedule, the Future Tours Programme will need to be planned differently. Overlapping series in different countries or even the same one will help get through the calendar with greater ease.

It will also mean that international teams which are not television favourites will get a chance to meet the popular ones more often. Anything will be an improvement from the current situation where they are treated like second class citizens.

Few other teams have the luxury of being able to field two teams simultaneously. England, yes. And perhaps Australia too.

But increasingly, as teams field different players depending on the colour of the ball, it is possible that Test cricket and one-day internationals (also T20I) will move on different tracks.

And that’s not such a bad thing. Perhaps formats can be played simultaneously during the same tour. It would have been worthwhile experimenting during India’s tour of England later this year where they play five Tests but no other internationals.

Keep the best for Tests
Top players, however, tend to be crucial to more than one format. Virat Kohli, Jasprit Bumrah, Ben Stokes, Kane Williamson, Babar Azam, Rashid Khan and others are invaluable members of their teams in all formats. But the idea would be to keep the best for the Tests while the best of the rest play the second rung white ball teams. This will mean a great deal to such countries which seldom, if ever, get to play the top Test teams.

Cricket needs to rediscover its evangelical spirit. In 1929-30, England fielded two international teams, one led by Freddie Calthorpe which was the first to visit the West Indies, and the other by Harold Gilligan which travelled to New Zealand. Both hosts were recent entrants into the Test fold, and England felt it was necessary to promote the game in these new regions.

The more experienced team went to the West Indies, where the four-Test series was drawn 1-1 while the team to New Zealand won 1-0. England played Tests in Georgetown and Auckland simultaneously. But all that is incidental. What matters is the missionary zeal behind the tours. The spread of the game was important, and the established teams felt a responsibility towards the newbies.

Some of that thinking — so necessary to the game’s spread, and so forgotten in the era of television money — ought to see India play Nepal or Oman while Australia play Papua New Guinea in ODI.

I am not sure that contemporary teams see this as part of their responsibility. The tension between what the cricket bodies believe is their duty and what television sees as its birthright does not exist.

Governing bodies have the dual responsibility of strengthening the sport in different parts of the world as well as generating funds for themselves.

Television has mainly the latter obligation. The result is that the governing bodies easily fall into line, and don’t make enough of their bargaining power — the marquee matches.

Simultaneous tours or competitions will free up time for the marquee teams away from the somewhat rigid Future Tours Programme, enabling them to engage with the less powerful teams.

The India versus Sri Lanka series is a competition of equals and does not fit into this category. But the idea of a fielding two teams — even if it is just by three or four of the top sides — is a sound one, and can help raise the overall standard of the sport.

All that is needed is intent. And common-sense planning.

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