The prestige and honor of playing for your country has been hit for a six,by cash and market forces.
As the great Sri Lankan cricketer Kumara Chokshanada Sangakkara and Australian Michael Clarke hang up their boots and walk into the sunset, the question that traditional, true-blue lovers of the game are asking is: whither test cricket?
It is a valid and tricky question, one that would never have popped up a few years ago before the advent of the shorter format — what some call the seductive Packer-isation of cricket. Can we ever again hope to have a Sachin Tendulkar, Shane Warne, Ricky Ponting or Rahul Dravid? Has the shorter format, with its own editions and avtaars, struck a body-blow to the future of the traditional, much-revered 5-day game? Has the instant glamor and monster bucks powering the IPL and other similar editions, attracting huge eyeballs, media coverage and sponsors, soft-focused the larger version of the game, making it to appear in comparison a yawn-inducing bore to new-age spectators?
Respected cricket commentator Pradeep Magazine believes that it has: “With the exception of England and Australia, where there are still crowds watching Test matches no other countries seem too enthusiastic about the larger format, irrespective of stature of team or stars.
“Have you noticed that when India plays England or Australia in their home grounds, the crowds mostly are the locals — English or Australian — with very few Indians. The moment the ODIs arrive, the Indian crowds throng the stadiums with Band Baja! Lalit Modi has marketed — found a gap and filled it — the game so cleverly, striking the right chords of the right people at the right time, blending cricket with entertainment and making it both people-friendly and sexy, that Test Cricket, in comparison, is suddenly perceived as a fuddy-duddy, old-fashioned version with bat, ball and players being the only common factor!”
The prestige and honor of playing for your country has been hit for a six, Magazine believes, by cash and market forces: “Haven’t we seen many international stalwarts consciously dump their national team to play the lucrative IPL without batting an eyelid? Honor, prestige, nationalism, when the crunch comes (for many) are politically correct, requiring posturing that has no basis on real life, truth or fact.”
Respected ex-cricketer, ace-pacer and now coach Venkatesh Prasad says: “You must understand that to be considered a quality/great cricketer, one needed to be in the thick of things and perform for at least a decade. Sachin, Rahul, Saurav, Laxman, myself, Kumble, Srinath … we’ve all done time in the Test arena. Today, things have changed in terms of outlook and approach to the game, aided and abetted by the shorter version of the sport.
“Much more aggression has come in and the agenda of the batter is to score fast, the bowler to get wickets and the overall objective result-oriented games. Did you notice that all the recent Test matches — Ashes and India-Lanka — wrapped up before the 5-day duration? The competitiveness from the time I entered the scene in the mid-90s till today however is the same, with performance, the key. As for the greats being replaced by other greats, I am sure they will, but the term needs to be reinterpreted and contexted with the times these players are performing in and the circumstances and environment that drive their new-age agenda. Also, remember, each generation creates its own heroes and stars and therefore it will be unrealistic, unfair and inaccurate to compare … and that is the beauty of this glorious game.”
The legendary Indian spin king Bishen Bedi remains a vociferous critic of the IPL and shorter versions of the game: “I have never shied away from articulating my views on the IPL and the complete mockery they have made of the game along with attendant dangers introduced in distracting solid, gifted young test material to nowhere land. Young Umkut Chand is a classic example who, after a blazing start as winning captain of the Under-19 Indian cricket team, signed up with the Delhi Daredevils in the IPL and slowly moved out of focus.”
The short form, Bedi asserts puts profit before principles and cash before conscience. The very basis of IPL, he insists, is built on aspects other than cricketing skills —marketing an audience-friendly product for moolah — hence it is no surprise that corruption of every kind continues to plague its existence.
“Sure it’s a sign of the times and reflects the values of the instant-gratification-driven society we live in,” Bedi says. “But the great thing about this great sport is despite all the turbulence and chaos, it constantly rises above it to throw up new, exciting talents out of the blues. As a die-hard optimist, I am convinced that Tests will survive and replacements (of the greats) will happen in its own magical way, reaffirming the indomitable spirit of the great game – with no help from the opportunistic double-speak fence-sitters!”
Popular sports promoter and commentator, Charu Sharma demurs: “I don’t believe that Tests will either take a fatal hit or replacements will never happen because of the evil IPL distractions. It’s just that with these new developments, there will be a categorisation between the Test and T-20/ODI editions. There will be a matter of temperament and skill-sets in terms of technique and temperament for some cricketers who will be more suited to the 5-day format, while others will jell well with the shorter formats.
“That will sort itself out and address the Test replacements aspect as well Regarding the IPL as an evil, corrupting, commercialisation of the gentleman’s game, I think the critics, with due respect, are way off line. If the earlier lot of greats championed the cause of playing for the country beyond everything else it’s largely because, I believe, there was no choice.
“We live in different times where monetising skills (of any kind) is the name of the game … and what is wrong with that? It’s about financial security and ensuring a decent future for self and family divorced from the begging bowl that tragically accompanied the fate of many ex-greats. Lalit Modi has been roundly criticised for creating a monster and throwing open a whole host of avenues to poison this great game, but the fact is he only officialzed the ICL and took it forward, responding to the mood and requirements of the time. Ultimately cricket will always find a way to triumph against all odds because the game is and will always be totally spectator-friendly … and totally flop-proof!”
So what’s the final score? It seems you either move with the times, change with the needs, keep an open mind, go with the flow, be positive — or remain in a moralistic, sepia-tinted land of regret and lamentation, anger and sorrow, shock and disillusionment with once-upon-a-time writ large in the gateway, illuminated by moments and memories that will never return.