Posts Tagged test cricket

Test Cricket should have seprate exclusive operations

As I write this piece, we have witnessed two recent test matches, that prove that when the contest between bat and ball is balanced; test cricket is the most pure form of cricketainment. So the big question, what has the apex body of world cricket ICC and its constituent national bodies, done to promote and propagate the oldest and purest form of cricket forward on the path of growth?. The answer sadly is nothing! All you find is wise administrators making the politically correct statement – test cricket is priority (sic). If test cricket was priority then why is the world championship of tests, postponed for another era!

My assumption is that the czars of cricket administration have never had the confidence that test cricket on its own steam can be a commercially successful product. Their inference is that test cricket is something that is important emotionally , but needs to be compensated by limited overs cricket to survive. The above scenario may not be true for countries like Australia and England, where test cricket still is big. However the financial fulcrum of world cricket , India and its constituent apex body BCCI, operate the test format on low priority. This is what ails test cricket’s growth and needs to be addressed with immediate effect.

I believe that the recent two tests , one featuring australia and south africa and other involving West Indies and India, have been eye openers. If wickets are sporting, the balance of the battle between bat and ball is maintained, we will get entertaining close encounters resulting in high spectator turnout and coinciding higher TV audiences.

If test cricket has to prosper then it should be a stand alone entity, commercially and more importantly in terms of operations. What this would do is remove the complacency from the present set up of cricket administrators , especially from India. There is no doubt in my mind that the present day revenues of Indian cricket establishment comes from IPL and ODIs; the BCCI mandarins treat tests as a honorary format that they need to compensate. There is no sense of initiative or focus as they generate revenue for the tests from the broadcaster, who too treat tests as a necessary evil they need to broadcast, while the bread and butter lies in the shorter formats. The same results in no initiative or mandate to produce sporting wickets, which is imperative to produce a good test cricket product. The present mentality involving test cricket in India, is to produce batting strips that would convert into spinning wonders, day 3 onward – resulting in a win for Indian expected to leave all satisfied. This is far from the truth and certainly not what the average fan wants- he wants a great competitive contest, with of course the emotive rider of India doing well! The proof of the same lies in the significantly higher interest generated in the 3rd test that India drew as compared to the first two tests of the series that India won!

Test cricket fans have to be more vocal in their demands for competitive test match cricket. For the format to take precedence over every other format, it is important for the connoisseur of test cricket to express the need to see competitive test matches. Their voice has to be heard by the top cricket administrators of the world, especially those in India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. And this is only possible when test cricket lovers are not apologetic anymore of their preference and show their strength in terms of numbers . The basis of my write up lies in my belief that the base of test cricket supporters in especially the top 8 test cricket nations of the world, is large enough to play a significant voice in world cricket.

For test cricket to survive and exhibit itself at its best; is to be played on sporting wickets and run pro-actively as an independent operating body. It definitely does not deserve to operate as a subsidized product of the shorter format of the game,. Test cricket connoisseurs have to believe that the format has a big enough fan base to economically survive and prosper on its own. The same can be achieved only when. a separate body is made accountable for test cricket,its growth and success; much like how you have a separate IPL governing council.

What a separate body to govern the longer format of the game also will do is , it will prioritize domestic cricket structures in top nations like India. Look at the interest level amongst the general public for our Ranji trophy structure. Rather than a first class competition, it has languished as a upcoming cricketers development league. That is unfortunate if one considers its glorious past and stories of epic battles fought in its rich history. A separate body would imperatively allocate resources and focus in the promotion of the tournament, as it would the base of the longer format( international test cricket). Similar to what IPL governing council does for T20. More importantly it would be free from distraction of. Having to organize the shorter formats of cricket!

As always my views are based on personal assumptions and gut feelings. I would as always, love to get your feedback along with contrary views, to comprehend the topic better.

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Test cricket just not suited for India & sub continent conditions.

There is something prudish and snobish  in glorifying test cricket. Especially in the Indian context, since ages I have witnessed test cricket in the subcontinent heavily favored to the batsmen. A lot has been said about the climatic conditions and soil texture prevalent in India; not sure  if it is the only reason for us producing slow turning wickets.

 I have been following India cricket since the early 1980s. the one day world cup was what caught my imagination and propelled me from a ordinary follower to a passionate fan. One-day following soon shadowed into test cricket appraisals. After all they kept preaching that a true cricket fan always follows test cricket. One thing about test cricket is that it is the best test of endurance of a player. How can I forget the Dean Jones innings in the tied test in 87, followed by Gavaskar’s unsucessful marathon to save the test and series against Imran’s Pakistan in Bangalore! However such moments were far and wide between. At the same time, we could not follow the Indian team overseas except for the One day international matches . So a magnificent win by kapil’s devils over England in the mid 80s was followed only througha half an hour  highlights capsules. Even the great 1989 series between India and Pakistan; that debuted greats such as Tendulkar and Waqar Younnis was given the miss by the only state broadcaster present in India. Again what we saw live of that series was the one day format, between the two fierce rivals.

The stark difference between the Indian and an English or Australian fan lies in the fact that he/she has witnessed test cricket which is fast, result oriented and aggressive. This is in stark contrast to the games dished out in the Indian subcontinent. Even former Indian and Pakistani captains have admitted that the fear of loss saw them play out for draws. Slow batting featherbeds also helped their cause.

There is a ironical debate as to which is a greater rivalry the ashes or the Indo- Pak encounters. My take is that in terms of test cricket it is the ashes ; while the one day format honors goes to the Indo- Pak contest.

 Experts may disagree with my inference, but my whole analysis is based on a spectator’s inference. I would divide Indian cricket into two eras;” pre 1983 world cup” and the post 1983 world cup era. I know I am being grossly unjust to magnificent cricketers like Wadekar, Solkar, Vishwant and the magnificent four spinners ( Bedi, Prassana, Venkat & Chandreshekar); to name a few. But my problem lies in the fact that my generation (following cricket over 25 years) has just not witnessed enough good quality test cricket at home.

For us the great Indo- Pak rivalry for us evolved at Sharjah in the one day format. It had all the modern greats; Gavaskar, Imran, Kapil , Miandad to  Akram & Sachin play hard and fiercely  to define the other of all cricket battles. In the same corresponding period India and Pakistan did not play each other in test cricket for over a decade and that is where the lack of interest in test cricket amongst subcontinent fans originates. The tragedy of test cricket in the Indian subcontinent lies in the fact that Waqar Younnis and Wasim Akram never faced Sachin Tendulkar or Rahul Dravid in their prime.

 The situation looks even grimmer today. One major factor for rapidly diminishing popularity of India test cricket lies in the retirement of Anil Kumble. Kumble was the champion cricketer for India in every home series in the past two decades. The Indian batsmen would pile up the runs and Kumble would pick up a fifer in the second innings to give India victory in most home series.

Today as we celebrate centuries and milestones of our batsmen; our bowling without Kumble just cannot pick up 20 wickets( a mandatory requirement for a test win). As I write this piece Tendulkar is inching his way to another century, inconsequential and completely devoid of any chances of an Indian win. I was told cricket is ateam sport, defined as a  battle between bat and ball, however 1500 runs scored with neither side picking 20 wickets seems just not the prescribed great game of cricket.

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Champions’ league “Blue”

Two entertainment products found a similarity amongst themselves last weekend; one in the field of cricket and another in form of a Bollywood flick. The similarity starts in the way both products announced their “sales pitch”. The product never said anything about the script/teams or the actors/players proficiency. According to  the promoters of both, their USP was the mullah spent in creating the product. Money took precedence over everything else. The product was almost in your face saying” its god damn expensive, so you better indulge in it”.

 

Alas both products did not realize that consumers don’t take to a product just because it is expensive. The operative word for success is “value for money” and that is where both products fail. The metaphor of the failure in both products was two towering figures; unfortunately standing in the dusk of their careers; Sanjay Dutt & Glen McGrath. Unfortunately for them the promoters tried to milk their humongous brand equity without reading their present status. Both are in professions where fitness and form is of paramount importance; their expanding bellies puffed up cheeks read a completely different picture. Another towering figure that did a great damage for himself who coincidently played his part in both products was the Mozart of Madras- A.R. Rehman. What on earth was the brief given to the maestro by the promoters of both products- god alone knows! But both the Airtel Champions League Anthem and Chigi Wigi did not work with the audiences. Somehow it was just not something expected from a genius of the caliber of Mr. Rehman. I would however rest the case in favor of the Music maestro by saying that the main culprit was somewhere in the promoters brief to him, for  both products

 

As Bollywood is not my cup of tea let me just concentrate on the Champions League. There are a few fundamental errors in the league and unless they solve these; they can never reach the status of the UEFA; they want to emulate. T20 cricket today has a few fundamental errors. A T20 format player is caught between loyalties to club or country. This is something Soccer players never face. It is high time players choose the format they want to represent. The way forward is to have a separate T20, One Day and Test side across all major cricket nations’ right from the grassroots level. This is aka Rugby structure of the world. IF you play Rugby league you stick to it and don’t switch to Rugby union. However if a T20 player can represent his country in a test format he would need to give up his T20 code to take on test cricket. This is something Rugby league players do as the world cup of Rugby is played in the Rugby Union format.  This will take away all discrepancies and statements like “T20 is like dessert”. Every format needs to be respected equally. This would also take away the hypocrisy practiced by many players and cricket experts who enjoy the financial benefits of T20 format while praising test cricket. I would seriously like to see how many players would take up Test cricket and forgo T20 league cricket. I am sure after a certain age it is best to not indulge in too much of desserts!

 

Most importantly what the bifurcation of players into three different codes –aka rugby; will create a   proper window for t20 cricket. The present format of the IPL – One month 60 odd matches is too much burden on the players and fans consuming the game as a sport product. It makes the IPL more of an event rather than a league. A league should ideally be played over 3-4 months with no more than 4 days/week itinerary, very much like the English Premier league.

I am sure most of you would see this as a deathblow for test cricket- but let us bestow some trust on the spectators and beauty of test cricket. I am sure it can survive on its own without any protectionism and embargos on other formats of cricket

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The new genetically modified opening batsman!

Cricket metamorphosis is in its top gear at the moment. A lot of discussions are taking place as to what shape modern day cricket will take. Can the 50 over format survive? Will t20 work as an overkill for cricket? What will be the fate of test cricket? Et al! One major question that has been pondering my mind, since over a year, is the vanishing role of a specialist opener. When I first started following cricket religiously; some of the big stalwarts where opening batsmen. Indian fans worshipped openers, because our first cricketing superstar was an opener in the form of the little master- Sunil Gavaskar. The names Gavaskar, Boycott, Greenidge, Haynes, Rameez Raja & Graham Gooch were revered specialists; epitome of technique and concentration. However the last decade has thrown in openers who were not originally bestowed that position. Look at the names. Players like Jaysuriya, Shewag, Gilchrist and Tendulkar (50 over format)  to present day tormentors like Dilshan and Shane Watson prove that openers are not born they are made.

 

I guess the easiest inference for this new breed of lower middle order batsmen transforming into successful openers will be blamed on shorter formats of the game! However I think there is a bigger reason for this phenomenon- covered pitches and an attacking approach to all formats of the game including Test cricket. When the likes of Gavaskar and Boycott started off in their careers pitches were green and uncovered. Gavaskar is famously quoted with approaching the opener’s role with the idea that “give the bowler the first 30 minutes and the rest of the day is yours”. I guess today covered and protected tracks have become batting havens. Additionally with bouncer restrictions; the game has heavily tilted in favor of the batsmen in the modern context.

 

An opener today does not need to play the role of wearing off a fast bowler and seeing off the shine on the leather cherry. He no longer needs to protect his teams’ best batsman- ideally batting at the no-4 position. This throws the inference that in modern day cricket and especially the T20 format you need your best three batsmen playing at the top three batting positions.  The new genetically modified batsman first took the role of a pinch hitter. First seen in the case of New Zealand’s mark Greatbatch in the 1992 world cup, and further perfected by Jaisuriya and Romesh Kaluwurthana in the famed Sri Lankan 1996 world cup campaign. The biggest genetically modified opener is modern day great Sachin Tendulkar. A classical No-4 middle order batsman; Sachin opened in the shorter format of the game to take advantage of playing a full 50 overs. This phenomenon is most relevant today in the T20 format where you would want your best batsmen to play as many overs as possible. I believe that T20 will result in batting positions depending on form and talent rather than an orthodox approach of specialist openers, middle order and lower middle order batsmen.

 

It has already been well documented that every new format of the game has a positive effect on test cricket. If one analyses the best test team of the last decade you will realize that the Australians have scored their runs at nearly 4 runs per over in the longest format of the game. 20 years back such a phenomenon would have read as the opposition bowlers displaying poor form and eventually losing their positions in the test side. Today a bowler returning with an economy rate of 3, (even in the longer format) would read as a good day in the field for that bowler.

A classical opening batsman in the mold of a Gavaskar or Boycott is an extinct species in today’s’ game. That is quite a misfortune because blocking and seeing off a hostile spell of fast bowling is one of the toughest arts of batsmenship. It almost feels nostalgic to remember a Gavaskar or Boycott seeing off the new ball from the great West Indian pace quartet. I wonder if we will ever see a new young batsman in the mould of a Gavaskar or Boycott. If the answer is “NO”, then the coming generations of crickeut fans will surely miss one of the best contests between bat and ball in the game of cricket.

 

I am not sure of many other cricketing nations, but in the Indian context two such cricketers who faced the axe despite being classical openers are Wasim Jaffer and Akash Chopra. I remember watching a test match between India and West Indies in the Caribbean in 2007. The slippery and sharp Fidel Edwards was peppering the Indian openers ( Jaffer and Shewag) with some serious leg line short bowling. The marveling observation was the ease with which Jaffer was fending off the deliveries as compared to his more illustrious opening partner. But unfortunately such situations are far and between in modern day test cricket. Therefore an opener in the Shewag mould is any day more effective as compared to an aka Jaffer mould batter, even in the longest format of the game.

 

All I can say is a big goodbye to the classical test opener. It is sad that today’s game does not need your high-level skills of batsmanship. Batsmen like you encountered the fiercest contest between the bat and ball. Unfortunately modern cricket with covered and batting friendly pitches, military medium pacers on the opposing ends & rules tilted heavily in favor of batsmen- need just a stroke maker and not a classical opening batsman an epitome of defense, technique and concentration.

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Cricket undergoing a period of metamorphosis

The phenomenon of globalization has affected national economies, industry sectors & people all across the globe. It was only a matter of time before it affected the cricket fraternity & today we are seeing cricket under the influence of that transformation.

A bit of trivia indulgence takes us back to the Packer phenomenon, which dealt with rights, social & financial uplift-men of players  In terms of a metaphor we can describe the Packer era as the” INDUSTRIAL REVOLUTION” in the world of cricket.

On the other hand the T20 phenomenon and the launch of the ICL & Stanford league is a metaphor of globalization & privatization of the sport and it is for public sector units (read BCCI & ICC) of the sport to acclimatize to the new change or perish.

The BCCI stance to leagues like the ICL has been like the iconic stance take by Ford motors which once shoved products with the approach of “you can have a car in any color as long as it is black”; how relevant that iconic positioning holds today for Ford is anybody’s guess. Similarly the BCCI needs to look at the change in order the sports consumption pattern is undergoing & change its approach towards two areas; first private entrepreneurship in the world of cricket & the basic product dynamics of all three forms of the game.

ICL which started the city league format has seen its innovative format being replicated around the world. With it’s first off the blocks advantage today the ICL has built a formidable resource base in terms of player pool, facilities and support staff and it is for the BCCI to take a stance of either a synergistic approach or antagonistic position. The BCCI needs to understand that with a tight international calendar and large player pool it needs to outsource some portions of its domestic cricket to a private body so that majority of  Indian domestic players receive the best of financial & social benefits.

It is a logical business solution of outsourcing & as a sports organization which prides itself on its financial success; it baffles me as to how the messiahs of modern sports management (Lalit Modi & CO) do not see the benefit of doing the same.

The rich representation of the ICL players in what is probably the oldest cricket league in the world (English County), was as an eye opener for cricket pundits who so far took the bait that ICL was a league of second rung and retired players.

The ICL is in the growth mode & with every tournament has thrown up a stronger player base (look at the progression in its foreign player signing since its inception) & therefore it is logical for the BCCI to bring the ICL under its fold to capitalize on the ICL resources.

Some may say that with IPL the BCCI has proved its might, but on the other hand the IPL has opened a Pandora’s Box which has seen countering polices adopted by old guards (ECB& PCB) against the shift in power. The result is initiatives like Stanford-ECB tie up or a proposed Pakistan Cricket League.

It would be a catastrophic mistake to rest on the inaugural IPL laurels.  New leagues and initiatives will mean new challenges for the IPL in forthcoming editions. Also one needs to understand that the IPL has monetized its product financially to its full potential. This is at least for the next couple of years till they add new teams & increase the IPL calendar. On other hand, Stanford & ICL are in the growth mode; two years is a long time and things may just take a U-turn if the BCCI stance remains static.

The second point that ICC needs to address is the product format of especially its two longer formats of the game, One day internationals & Test cricket.

If they still rest on artificial assumptions that test cricket is the supreme format of the game (based on ex- players opinion) then they will be in for a rude shock. The arrival of T20 format is like the introduction of private news channels in the world of single state broadcaster or private telecom operators in the ruling times of BSNL & MTNL.

This area has been identified by astute readers of the game like Jaideep Ghosh (Cricketnext.com) & Harsha Bhogle (ESPN Star). Jaideep has thrown light of having a 125 over format in tests,(Ref:  www.cricketnext.com).  Harsha has dwelled on the introduction of two innings format for the one- dayers.

It is time for the ICC to consider these opinions with utmost seriousness; after all it survives  in the modern competitive sporting scenario with mass sporting disciplines like soccer , Formula-1 & rugby to name a few.

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