CLOSE-IN: Cricket is on a tricky wicket

The very essence of the game of cricket is undergoing a phenomenal change. The royal leisurely sport that it stood for is turning into a commercial hub of activities as never imagined before.

Cricket as a game in the very early days was seen as one that characterised the values of life, played in the spirit that embodied teamwork, healthy competition, respect for the opponent and players.

The game of cricket gradually became a sport that brought about a sort of national pride and, therefore, winning became an important ingredient in the final outcome. Emotions of the fans and followers made cricketers into warriors fighting a battle for supremacy.

However, the very ingredient of the rules and regulations and the culture and character that cricket stood for, overcame the savagery and crude behaviour that had ingrained itself into many of the other sports.

The two major changes that have engulfed the cricket world is the T20 format of the game and women’s cricket. Both are seen as glamorous and ones that can be easily followed. They have that amateur tinge to it that makes the sport more uncertain and human.

The Indian women’s cricket team’s performance in the recently-concluded Commonwealth Games was a good example of a team on the verge of victory but overwhelmed by the pressures of achieving success.

A silver medal was a creditable achievement. However, the way the women played the sport was what was most admirable. Every team that participated played hard but the harmony amongst the cricketers was what was so wonderful to watch.

India’s women cricketers, unfortunately, have fallen at the final hurdle on three of the big world cricket tournaments in recent years. It is only time and one victory in the future that could catapult them into being the best in the world. One was amazed at the catches that were taken by India and the improvement in their fitness and fielding. The Indian women’s side lacked only the mental belief of a winner, a trait that used to be also evident in the men’s side up until they won the 1983 World Cup.

One wonders as to why men’s cricket was not a part of the Commonwealth Games. Especially as the games were being played in Birmingham in England. Cricket as a sport is popular amongst the Commonwealth countries. This would have been just the precursor to the T20 World Cup being played later on in the year. Matches between countries on a major platform would have been far more interesting than the plethora of cricket encounters taking place around the world.

The only reason that one can give for men’s cricket to be excluded from CWG was because of the packed cricket itinerary and the finances that revolve around it.

The T20 format has now taken the cricket world by storm. The mushrooming of cricket leagues in most of the cricket-playing countries is the change that will revolutionise cricket in a major way. The franchise model that each one will put into place will change the topography of cricket. Cricketers are the backbone and the core ingredients of its operation. Participation and financial receivables will become an essential part of it.

The top International performers will be lured into contracts of multi-million dollars. The game on and off the field will be like a roulette table. Cricket will become a gamblers’ den that will be very hard to control as regards illegal betting and activities.

This is the tricky wicket that cricket will face and that the Boards of all the cricket-playing nations, spearheaded by the International Cricket Council (ICC), need to address very seriously.

Presently, the smell of money and the ring of the cashbox is making one excited at the prospect of franchise-based T20 leagues. One can already see the competition rising between the Big Bash in Australia and the league to be played in the UAE. Cricketers naturally will bless the one that is most fruitful for them.

The challenge that may arise would be to get International players to adorn their national colours. Even if they do so, will they be mentally and physically in a state to perform at their best?

The famous American Management guru, Clayton Christensen’s theory of ‘Disruptive Innovation’ seems to be the way in which the administrators, marketers and organisers will have to think as regards their respective cricket leagues.

The Indian Premier League at present is one that has established itself as the leader. Innovative thinking will require it to hold its own.

‘Money as one says makes the world go round’, well cricket is in that phase when one is not sure as to where it is going. The swerves, swings and turns that one can see it heading towards may see the game being disruptive forever.

It could lead to franchise-owned teams from around the world playing against each other. One wonders as to whether Test cricket and cricket encounters between countries will have the same importance as now.

If the international stars of the game from their respective countries are absent, the very essence of playing against the best is missing. Matches then become a farce.

Presently, world cricket is going through this phase. India versus the West Indies in the recently-concluded limited-overs series is a good example of cricket viewership dwindling. To watch them play in Florida is even worse.

Cricket is surely on a very tricky wicket.

(Yajurvindra Singh is a former India cricketer)

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