October 26, 2009

The problem with burnout

It's not just players who are affected - fans and the media too are, apparently

"Burnout" is back. Until a few years ago, it seemed to be all that players and their union representatives used to talk about, cricket's version of sick building syndrome and yuppie flu. Then, with the rise of the Indian Premier League, players suddenly couldn't play enough, and burst with renewed energy that was in some cases remarkable. When Andrew Symonds had a kick of the footy the day after his sale to the Deccan Chargers 18 months ago, his Australian team-mates pulled his leg: it was amazing that a man could jump so high with so much gold in his pockets.

Now Australian coach Tim Nielsen is worried about burnout ahead of Australia's one-day series against India in the context of those New South Wales players who have just enjoyed a massive Champions League collect. Sounds like the kind of burning out you could get used to, doesn't it? In a two-week period, Simon Katich's team fielded for 114.2 overs, batted for 111.5, and won $US2.6 million. They might have the aforementioned Andrew Symonds problem, but surely not much else.

Nielsen does have a point, of course, insofar as it is not so much the playing that grinds players down these days as the relentless travelling and the protracted absences from home. He has watched it wear the keen edge from the likes of Michael Hussey and Stuart Clark; he has seen it finally get the better of Adam Gilchrist and Matthew Hayden, relatively young men with good cricket still in them. But hold the violins: these are supremely well-paid professionals, and the modern have-iPhone-and-Blackberry-will-travel professional is mobile, motivated and global in perspective. Twenty20, moreover, can be a high-pressure game, but it is hardly a physically extenuating one. At Oxford University earlier this year, Sourav Ganguly remarked dryly that he sometimes finishes Twenty20 games feeling as though he's hardly played. That was the warm-up, wasn't it? Say, when does the cricket start?

Yet is burnout an affliction troubling only to players? Leni Riefenstahl's camerawork could not have disguised the gaps in the crowds at the venues outside Delhi during the recent Champions League. The organisers were fortunate that the spirit and élan of Trinidad & Tobago gave locals something to cheer for; Indian cricket without its matinee idols, the Tendulkars, Dhonis and Yuvrajs, felt a bit like Carnegie Hall with buskers being given the run of it.

It's not a year since Australia played six of the most enthralling Tests of the modern era, against South Africa; they are just about to begin a best-of-seven 50-over head-to-head in India. Yet between times have been squeezed, inter alia, the Indian Premier League, the Wisden Trophy, the World Twenty20, the Ashes, two Natwest Series, the Champions Trophy and the Champions League, most if not all with the capacity to be marquee events, but slotted together instead as tightly as Meccano. Actually, I'm being unkind to Meccano: Meccano is satisfyingly logical and coherent; the cricket year has been like trying to make the Lego Stars Wars collection integrate with adobe brick, to slot K'Nex Railroad Pals into Carrara marble.

Crowds, to be sure, are not always a reliable index of interest for cricket. There will have been numberless millions keeping track of the Champions League on their alternate screens at work and fast-forwarding through games taped overnight. But the sheer disorganisation of cricket's calendar is now itself fatiguing, and cannot but bring cynicism and contempt in its train. One half expects Lalit Modi to decree an extra month of the year, modestly named Modember, for a Champion of Champions Championship.

The sheer disorganisation of cricket's calendar is now itself fatiguing, and cannot but bring cynicism and contempt in its train. One half expects Lalit Modi to decree an extra month of the year, modestly named Modember, for a Champion of Champions Championship

Speaking of cynics, the other potential victim of burnout, not that many will be able to summon so much as a glycerin tear, is the media itself. Of course, journalists are terminal malcontents, popular really with neither players nor public. Sit in an airconditioned press box watching cricket, do you? What a life! Well, yes it is, quite, and one would sometimes wish to do more of it. For it's not so much the journalists feeling the strain of the calendar today so much as media proprietors. With the decline of newspapers, even big media organisations like News Corporation are becoming picky about tours and tournaments, especially long ones. Online media is not a like-for-like substitute, idly prone to the cheap shortcuts of seating a junior journalist in front of a television in the office, and/or soliciting dashed-off tripe from wannabe pundits and try-hard humourists.

As their own game grows rich beyond the dreams of Mammon, the game's governors will not spare too much time worrying about the straits into which daily print media is slipping, with advertising migrating to the web and circulations continuing their long-term downward trend line. On the contrary, the recent catfights over intellectual property between boards of control and news agencies have the former's position abundantly clear: they like the money on their side of the table. The print media, too, can be a little irreverent for some tastes, inclined to making a nuisance of itself by being critical, by being tasteless and tactless, by pointing out problems, by holding administrators and players to account.

For all its faults, and these are many, the print media has a credibility that a handsome Bollywood star and a popular model walking towards a camera and holding microphones while reading a script cannot quite attain. And a game so prone to making a horse's arse of itself needs its gadflies. Journalists, for example, did much to reveal cricket's dark match-fixing heart a decade ago; one wonders whether they would now be sufficiently vigilant, curious and numerous to do the same. Players are not alone, then, in suffering from a surfeit of cricket. What they are alone in is benefiting from it.

Gideon Haigh is a cricket historian and writer

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • vinit on October 27, 2009, 14:31 GMT

    Those who complain about players like brett lee and dwayne bravo playing for different club sides, there is a simple solution. Very simple indeed. Just dont watch these domestic series. If you feel that the only way the sanity of cricket will remain intact is by watching nation vs nation, watch only those. I am sure Bravo will turn up for Windies(if selected) everytime they play.

    I think all these people just begrudge the great flexibility the modern professional cricketer has. No offence.

  • Aditya on October 27, 2009, 13:07 GMT

    I for one, cannot have enough of international cricket featuring India. Perhaps, test playing nations will develop a very big bench strength, for international matches. I see no other solution for the amount of cricket being played. However much cricket is being played, I would love to watch India, play the major test playing nations in a cricket match.

  • Martin on October 27, 2009, 12:16 GMT

    Burnout? Harden up! On the player side, what is amounts to is saying: "I want there to be less cricket so that I can play all formats + the IPL". Ridiculous. Pick your preferred format and become a specialist buddy. On the spectator side, well if you don't want to watch it... then don't.

    NBA basketball has 30 teams playing 82 games(!!!) each over 5 months in the regular season. After that the playoffs consists of 4 tiers of best of 7 series' which extends for almost 2 months... longer than our cricket world cup. Welcome to professional sport - it generates money and entertainment and the hope of glory for an ever increasing number of young athletes.

  • Henry on October 27, 2009, 10:05 GMT

    Very perceptive article. I especially liked the point that

    <em>"Online media is not a like-for-like substitute, idly prone to the cheap shortcuts of seating a junior journalist in front of a television in the office, and/or soliciting dashed-off tripe from wannabe pundits and try-hard humourists" </em>

    Reminds one just a little of Andrew "Cardus" Miller and Andy "Milligan" Saltzman!

  • chris on October 27, 2009, 2:15 GMT

    I am always up for watching cricket, but i have to say that this 7 ODI series in india is completely meaningless. Aus should have put a team mix of NSW and VIC without the regular international players. Warner Hughes katich hodge d hussy mcdonald bolinger nannes ect and let the lees and pontings go home and rest before the test series (which is more important) Aus would have probably won anyway with the second team. There is no way we should play these token ODI series, international series should be 5 tests 5 one day and 1 t20. a big build up and a proper series against fully fit teams. Clarke braken lee hopes johnson all injured. what if these guys cant play the summer, that would be disappointing.

  • Peter on October 27, 2009, 1:13 GMT

    I'm crying crocodile tears for these players complaining of burnout. If they want to know burnout I suggest they play minor league baseball in the US for example. As the article suggests throw a bunch of money at them and suddenly they're excitied and as fit as fiddles. And ultimately if it is all too tough they can retire. There are plenty of talented youngsters who will take their positions.

  • sumit on October 27, 2009, 0:32 GMT

    What the hell is wrong with u guys?'Burnout'its nothing in sportmans carrer.Enjoy and play with pride for ur nation.Who is saying journalists,audience,players etc to cover all matches,if u feel burning out dont strech urself...If audience feels dont tune in,dont write much others vl come to write,vacant places will be filled by new talented stars...And it goes on.But its money in every one mind.Better think like normal guys.Apologies who feel bad wd my comment!

  • lucy on October 26, 2009, 22:09 GMT

    "One half expects Lalit Modi to decree an extra month of the year, modestly named Modember, for a Champion of Champions Championship" ... what do you mean, HALF? ;-) I've already received my 2010 Indian Cricket Cabal 400-day calendar in the mail, haven't you?

  • Steve on October 26, 2009, 20:58 GMT

    Agree with popcorn, in theory, on the number of matches per tour as it keeps a lid on the overall number of matches played without over-representing one form. There are too many meaningless ODI series played - why Aus played 7 matches against Eng and then another 7 against Ind (apart from $$$) is beyond me as you get bored watching past game 3.

    Gilly suggested a few months back that the number of test matches should be reduced such that playing 50 tests for your country was a significant achievement (not 100+ as it seems to be now). I think he is on to something.

  • Chris on October 26, 2009, 20:43 GMT

    There is way too much cricket now that im getting tired of watching it. I barely paid any attention to the champions trophy at all. A few years ago it would have been a big thing for me. Teams need to stop playing 7 match series and people need to stop coming up with new 2020 tournaments just to make more money. What there is now is the most the can be allowed else itl become overkill. A good balance for a tour is 3 tests, 3 - 5 ODIs and 2 t20s i think

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