"Minimise sixes" - Two words sum up farcical contest
One of India's greatest Test bowlers ever takes four wickets in two overs and then says all he was doing was counting down the number of deliveries that MS Dhoni could potentially dispatch for six each. "Minimise sixes," was what Zaheer Khan told fellow fast bowler Ravi Rampaul. So Twenty20, or Eight8, as was the case tonight, has brought us to this. Minimise sixes is the strategy for bowlers, as opposed to hit sixes for batsmen.
This is as close as cricket played on the field can get to cricket played on smartphone apps. Zaheer's two words sum up the kind of mutated farce cricket has degenerated into in the name of catering to what the fan wants. Where avoiding the maximum punishment possible is an achievement for a bowler. Where failing to inflict the maximum punishment possible is a failure for a batsman. Hyperbole or nothing. Repeated 96 times in the same loop.
On the face of it, this seems to be cricket. A bowler charges in and bowls. A batsman takes guard and bats. A fielder runs and fields. Runs are scored, wickets fall, catches are taken. But it reduces a fine bowler like Ravi Rampaul into spraying a big wide down the leg side the ball after getting hit for six by MS Dhoni. Never mind that the asking-rate is six runs per ball at that stage and Chennai Super Kings have next to no chance of winning.
It also reduces five out of eleven men on each side into hoping they are not hit for six off every delivery they bowl. Which could be theoretically twelve sixes in case of the bowlers who are allowed a "spell" of two overs each, and six in the case of those allowed only one.
One over? One? Jason Holder, Mohit Sharma, RP Singh and Vinay Kumar bowled four overs between them, and went for 63. As Zaheer said, you are up against as many as ten wickets over eight overs. It is the very definition of lop-sided. Will bowlers of the future grow up aspiring to bowl just six deliveries a game for a living? Will anyone want to be a bowler any longer? Will it even remain a specialised skill? Anyone might roll his arm over six times and hope and pray strongly enough to avoid conceding 36 runs. And that might be enough to win his side the game. Super Kings scored at 10.25 runs an over and still lost by 24 runs. Or four sixes.
Not that the Chinnaswamy crowd disliked what they saw. They cheered with all their might for every six, four, double, single, dot ball, and wicket the Royal Challengers Bangalore batsmen and bowlers came up with. If you go by stadium experiences during the IPL, what the Indian fan wants is to shout himself hoarse. His standard response to any action on the field is to scream, egged on by the DJs.
Inside-edged boundary by home batsmen. Scream. Straight six by home batsman. Scream. Leave by opposition batsman. Scream. Dot ball played by opposition batsman. Scream. Every delivery in the IPL is an event and an opportunity to scream, which makes for 120 such events in each innings, and 240 in every game. It is far easier for the vocal chords to keep going for that duration than for say, 540 or 600 times in a day. That is one of the reasons for the popularity of T20, or E8, for that matter.
Cricket has consistently kept crunching itself into shorter and shorter formats to be able to draw more and more people towards it. T20 might be the reigning star of the moment but how soon before people - especially the younger generation in India that is increasingly attracted towards European league football - start comparing it with an EPL game and point out it is twice as long, and maybe half as thrilling?
Will cricket then tag T20 as the dying format along with the ODI and move on to E8 in desperation? Why is cricket so insecure and desperate to hack at its own body to lure new fans? With so much hacking, what is it that they are being lured towards? So much chopping has robbed cricket of its character and soul. What is left is a hollow shell making and encouraging shrill noises and masquerading as cricket. T20, E8, F5, O1, call it what you want.
Abhishek Purohit is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo