Forget the 82,000 that turned up to fill the stadium at Kochi and the exorbitant amounts that television channels are willing to dish out for telecast rights. Forget also the pyrotechnics of Virender Sehwag. Cricket is in a crisis and something needs to be done urgently to revive the game.
Importantly, that something needs to be done now, while the going is still good and the crowds and channels are still interested.
For some time, it has largely been accepted that Test cricket is like an aged relative. It may not bring home a pay packet or be of much use otherwise, but ought to be respected, loved, fed and clothed. The earning hand, ever since it came of age in the 1980s, has been one-day cricket.
The earning hand may now be in the need for a stint at the sanatorium. The game is supposed to be a contest between bat and ball. However, one-day cricket has of late become merely a contest between two sets of batsmen. The bowler - unless it is the odd exceptional talent like Glenn McGrath, Muthiah Muralitharan, or Shane Warne - has almost gone out of the calculations. The restrictions on hostile bowling, the fielding restrictions and pitches designed to ensure high scores are blunting the edge.
One need look no further than the two matches in this India-Pakistan one-day series so far. The only strategy the two teams have is to pray to win the toss, bat first, post a big total, make the other team sweat for 50 overs and then take it easy.
The toss has become more crucial than ever. Did you see Inzamam-ul Haq’s face when he called incorrectly this morning at Vizag? It was the face of a man resigned to fate.
Wickets did fall in a heap when Pakistan batted at Kochi. But they wouldn’t have, had the target been, say, 40 runs less than 282. As a case in point, most of the wickets fell due to bad shot selection and not great bowling. Earlier, when Sehwag and Rahul Dravid mounted a rescue operation after the loss of the first two wickets with just 7 on board, the two biggest problems they had to contend with were the heat and humidity, not movement or bounce.
At Vizag, even India’s 356 did not appear to have secured a win. The wags were on about how one blazing innings from Shahid Afridi could change the complexion of the game and how, if Inzamam got going, no target was safe. Neither scenario materialised. But Abdul Razzaq and Yousuf Youhana did make a match of it. With 61 to get from the last 42 balls, Pakistan appeared in with a chance despite having lost seven wickets. What message could that have conveyed to the bowlers about themselves or their relevance to the proceedings?
The worthies who make the laws of the game ought to do something to give the bowlers greater say in the one-day game.
This is not the best of times for cricket. It is not the first choice among the youth in the West Indies. The antics of Brian Lara, who is undermining his place in history, are not going to improve things. In England, cricket now comes third after soccer and rugby. The Australians plays a lot of other games too and more Kiwis rear sheep than play cricket.
If the game’s popularity declines in the subcontinent, it will deal a blow that may prove hard to recover from.
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