By Avinash Iyer
In 2007, a relative newcomer captained a young team in the T20 World Cup. The team went on to win the championship, and the rest, as they say, is history. This one event revolutionized the game of cricket beyond imagination. If Kerry Packer's World Series Cricket (WSC) ushered in the world of coloured clothing and day-night games, the T20 world brought in slam-bang cricket, cheerleaders and Bollywood.
Four years hence, after a lot of money has been thrown around, lot of money earned, lot of viewership gained, the question to be asked: Is the game flourishing?
Today, the number of games per year is almost double of what it used to be in the 90s, and this is just international cricket. Throw in the IPL, SLPL, County Cricket, Big Bash, Champion's league, Timbuktu league and so on and you end up wondering if 365 days in a year is sufficient. So, that naturally raises the question, what happens of the players? How will they be able to:
a. Sustain themselves, physically and mentally.
b. Motivate themselves.
Sadly, no one seems to be taking this issue seriously at all, and the results are there for all to see. Players in countries like New Zealand, are simply walking away to give their tired limbs a chance. People prefer to retire from some of the game to be able continue in another, but the net loss is to the game, and its fans.
The other problem with all this cricket is the amount of money associated with them. This has led to the mercenary syndrome, where players are content playing wherever the money is. The way the whole pay structure is flawed because there is no requirement to perform to earn. A Chris Gayle will earn his $800,000 irrespective of whether he contributes or not. In that kind of win-win situation, why would a player want to put any effort at all? This will lead to a decline in overall skill level, and in the long term that will affect the very foundation of the game.
When the game is going through a crisis, it needs a strong support structure, a strong management team to keep it afloat. The board has the responsibility of the overall development of the game, not merely its players. Unfortunately, almost every board today is bothered about development of its bank balance. The ICC is a bunch of puppets who dance to the tune of the BCCI. The BCCI is an organization that is making hay during this major period of sunshine in Indian cricket, with no concern on how to handle a sunset. The PCB is plunging from one crisis to another, and has no time to deal with development issues.
The less said about West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) the better. In about 10 years, they have reduced West Indies cricket to a joke. The New Zealand cricket board has always had to deal with attrition of good players. However, the most worrisome aspect is that Cricket Australia seems to be heading towards this direction. The Simon Katich fracas has probably confirmed our worst fears and suddenly we are now in a situation where the custodians of the game are slowly eating away the game. The English Cricket Board (ECB) and United Cricket Board of South Africa (UCBSA) are the only boards that seem to have some amount of interest in the game, but all the other boards are doing nothing to develop the game, ensure it carries on into the distant future.
Coming back to the question: Is cricket flourishing? Mostly no, but the good news is that we are still at the very initial stages of a slow death. Initial enough to have enough time to set things right. First things, ICC needs to assert its power. It needs to have absolute say in all matters relating to cricket. If DRS is the way to go, it should be implemented completely and ICC should make sure that happens. ICC should ensure a comprehensive and fair Futures Program is drawn up and adhered to. Impose a limit on number of playing days, so players don't burn out. It should stop licking BCCI’s boots and assert its own position as the international apex body for cricket. ICC is the highest authority. It’s important that it should function like one and, equally importantly, seem like an authority in the eyes of the public.
Similarly, individual boards need to realise that the product drives the revenue and not the other way round. Develop the game, and the money shall follow. Ensure there are sufficient players for the present and the future, ensure there are good facilities for the players to make use of, good coaches, good grounds and good players will follow.
This beautiful game has survived against all odds against more global games like tennis and soccer. For the sake of fans like us, I hope the custodians of the game are listening, and act before it is too late.
(Avinash Iyer is a Director in a software company in Canada and an avid cricket fan, a legacy he inherited from his dad. In between indulging in software-giri and braving the awful cold weather here, he soaks in cricket. Cricket statistics stick in his memory more easily than the menu at last night’s dinner. Loves the traditional game of Test cricket)