Enough is enough. They’ve done it—ruined the world’s greatest game.
Okay, I’ll keep it simple. I have lost all interest in cricket. All. I have been trying to figure out why for the last few days, and there are no clear answers. One, of course, is that there’s too much bloody cricket. On any given day, some country is playing some other country somewhere in the world. Former England captain Alec Stewart once said that when cricketers play so much, the importance of victory and defeat diminishes in their mind. You lost a match today, but you can have another go at it next week.
It’s the same with the audience, at least with me. Who cares when there’s a series or a tournament every month? Another issue is sheer memory. How can one remember who won what against whom? How can one remember any great innings or marvellous bowling spell? Centuries by a batsman merge into one another; even hat-tricks are forgotten. It also has to do with the format of the one-day international (ODI). There are no surprises left anymore. All matches fundamentally follow the same pattern. The team batting first scores 320, and you might as well switch off the TV. The team batting first scores 217, and you switch off the TV. One cannot distinguish one match from another, so what’s the point watching?
I vividly remember knocks by Vivian Richards in the 1980s and Sachin Tendulkar in the 1990s, but seriously, I cannot recall a single innings played by Sachin in the 2000s. I am even willing to admit that that may be because there have been too many fabulous ones by him in these years, but I can’t help it if I can’t recall them visually.
Things haven’t been helped by the fact that the ICC has gone out of its way to curb the bowler’s freedom in ODIs. No bouncers above the batsman’s shoulder, fielding restrictions, power plays, free hits… it’s a wonder that people still want to be full-time bowlers. Except in the Test format, there is no way one can observe one of the most delightful sights in cricket, that of a great batsman facing up to a ball that could take his head off if he makes the slightest error. I may sound bloodthirsty, but that is one of the greatest sights in sports. Gavaskar swaying and moving his head just that much while still watching the ball as it goes past his nose: what a joy that was. Today, with so much one-day cricket and T20s, the art of the really mean bouncer is forgotten. When was the last time you saw a batsman felled by a fast bowler? Where are the great fast bowlers anymore, someone who could match a Marshall or an Akram?
T20s. Would you replace a 90-minute football game with a tie-breaker with five penalty kicks for each team? Well, it would be short, sweet, tension-packed and exciting, wouldn’t it? But would you do that? What next? T10? Why not five-a-side international matches on smaller grounds with ten overs each, with bowlers allowed no run-ups? I am not too sure that someone with ambition matching Lalit Modi’s (or Modi himself maybe) won’t come up with this format, and film stars and businessmen won’t jump in to sponsor teams. The only reason this has not happened yet is that the format would be so short that there won’t be enough advertising time to sell for the channel. But then, you can have four games a day, and there would be enough advertising inventory to peddle.
To many, I may be sounding like a Luddite. Yes, I am, to a large extent. I hate cricketers playing in jerseys that have no collars, I loathe cheerleaders dancing at cricket matches. Cricket is one game with which honour, fairplay and grace have always been associated. No other game has been so linked to living life and dealing with anything that comes your way with honesty and dignity.
In a Graham Greene novel, one character asks another: ‘Do you know what it feels like when you are the last man in, there are four balls left, and you have to score four to win? Then you believe in God.’ I am through with cricket.
Sandipan Deb is an IIT-IIM graduate who wandered into journalism after reading a quote from filmmaker George Lucas — “Everyone cage door is open” — and has stayed there (in journalism, not a cage) for the past 19 years. He has written a book on the IITs.