December 24, 2009

Change is not cricket's enemy

It hasn't been a decade of doom, merely one of change

Doomsday scripts are deluging us, as if churned out by a Hollywood production line. But as we know, while scripts can be scary, they need not necessarily be true. And so it must be stated up front: cricket is not in peril, it is merely undergoing change. Some people equate the two, but that happens every time a comfortable world order is disturbed.

Cricket as we knew it might change, but that has also happened with the way we communicate, with the way our families are structured and with the kind of medicines we take. Change doesn't always mean progress but the status quo isn't always the best result either. It is merely the most convenient.

The decade started with one of the greatest Test series of all time, when Australia came to India in 2001. At its mid-point we had one of the most riveting Ashes series ever. And the decade ended with some quality cricket between Australia and South Africa, Pakistan and New Zealand, another fine Ashes series, and a contentious Indian tour of Australia, where controversy shrouded the fact that it was still an excellent contest. Notice Australia is the common factor, and even if some of their cricketers believe that laws concerning behaviour should be a bit different for them, the fact is, they produce the best cricket on the planet.

Elsewhere, in the middle of the decade, cricket caught politicians napping and brought Indians and Pakistanis closer than ever before. But politics had the last laugh and that wonderful period between Kargil and Mumbai's 26/11 may never return. Cricket's greater enemy, certainly in the subcontinent, is not change but the hatred that evil minds spread and feed on. Don't forget, too, that cricket gave South Africa one of its most loved icons and allowed Makhaya Ntini to script one of sport's nicest feel-good stories.

Even if some of their cricketers believe that laws concerning behaviour should be a bit different for them, the fact is, Australia produce the best cricket on the planet

And so in spite of having been on death row for a while, Test cricket gave us many happy moments this decade. And given its resilience it would be fair to expect a few more in the decade ahead. The key question, though, will be whether or not youngsters either want to play it or look upon it as the highest form of the game. Those that lit up this decade, the Warnes and McGraths and Pontings and Tendulkars and Dravids and Muralis, grew up dreaming of playing Test matches. Teenagers today may not feel the same way, and by 2015 the Twenty20 generation will be playing international cricket. That will present an interesting challenge.

Already we are seeing fewer and fewer cricketers wanting to bowl quick. It is the best way to sneak into a world XI of Test cricketers at the moment. Shane Bond has quit, Shoaib Akhtar is a memory, Dale Steyn turns up far too infrequently, Brett Lee looks like he is done, Fidel Edwards is occasionally sighted, Kemar Roach is too young for an assessment, and Ishant Sharma is as confused as young men his age tend to be. That explains the number of 50-plus batting averages in recent times and why it has been a batting decade.

The good old one-day international has been knocked around a bit too, but viewership figures and attendances seem to tell a story that's a bit different to that which some columnists have been propagating. My suspicion is, as I argued some time back, that it is not the ODI that is in danger but the world contest played in front of neutral audiences. There is so much cricket that viewers must prioritise, and so home games are doing well while others are being ignored. If that is what market research is telling us, then we need to tailor our products accordingly. The 2011 World Cup is consequently going to be a key event in shaping the future of cricket contests and one that the ICC must watch very closely, since it will be impacted the most.

The end of the decade was lit up by the IPL and Twenty20, by the arrival of the brash young kid. To be honest, I am not worried by that since most non-conformists are labelled brash anyway. And it is the non-conformists who challenge the world, not those who seek satisfaction in the status quo. It has given the consumer what he or she likes and has given many more players the opportunity to earn a living from the game. We'll wait and see if it becomes a monster or a saviour.

And so it has not been a decade of doom, merely one of change.

Harsha Bhogle is a commentator, television presenter and writer

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • jamshed on December 27, 2009, 18:41 GMT

    Harsha,change may not be Cricket's enemy but Lalit Modi and the BCCI seem to have taken it upon themselves to become international Cricket's enemies.All this talk of "windows" in the international calender,talking about still more seasons of IPL and tempting cricketers with so much money that representing their country becomes a secondary consideration for them.

  • Michael on December 27, 2009, 13:34 GMT

    There are two ways of disliking cricket. One is to not watch it or follow it, the other is to like 20/20.

  • Jay on December 26, 2009, 22:17 GMT

    Some of the comments posted here criticizing the IPL are totally uncalled for. The IPL is a true innovation of the game. Whether it's a positive or negative innovation is another matter. Secondly, I don't mind commentators talking about the IPL during international games. It's a matter of fact that players respect each other a WHOLE lot after the IPL. The IPL has brought many players together. In spite of playing for their countries, many players display signs of friendship on field which was totally non-existent previously. The Australian players for one now understand where the Indians come from and vice versa.

    The IPL is similar to the FA premier league. I remember in one world cup game where England played France, Wayne Rooney and Mikael Silvestre were mentioned as 'good mates' playing for Manchester United. In that case the commentators were not endorsing the FA premier league but simply stating a fact. The same applies to the IPL. The IPL is an international 'Indian' league.

  • celtic on December 26, 2009, 20:30 GMT

    Yes! The booming average of batsmen is the result of good fast bowlers being absent from the seen. The game looks lopsided in favor of batsmen more than ever before.And especially in sub continent high scoring dramas have lead to the gradual decline of fast bowler's enthusiasm and eventually his breed.

    The game urgently needs a balancing act of some short between the wood and the leather.

  • mahesh on December 26, 2009, 17:51 GMT

    Why everybody is making noise about test cricket future. I am fed up with this.As per me test cricket is like what it was there 5 or 10 years ago. I don't think test match number is decreasing year by year. Spectator watched the game at 2000 is equal to no.of spectator watched today test match in india. You can see from today boxing day match attended by 60K people in Australia. Don't make this kind of noise, if we continue that everybody feel test cricked is dieing even though its not

  • Shashank on December 26, 2009, 12:47 GMT

    Even though new formats have been introduced in the world of cricket and people are more attracted towards them. T-20 and other other formats of the game are just for fun and entertainment, but the real meaning of cricket is always displayed by Test format. Its a shame that most of us dont like watching test matches at al, but according to me the real meaning of cricket is Test match only because it show the character and the class of a cricketer. One can play short formats of game pretty easily, but playing a test game shows the ultimate caliber of a cricketer. Even though I am 22 yrs old and i love watching all formats of cricket, but I really enjoy watching Test cricket the most.

  • Siddhant on December 26, 2009, 4:05 GMT

    Nice article Harsha. Aussies no doubt produce some compelling cricket and seem like never believing that they are not number one. That shows their determination to be back on top. Just because BCCI rakes in a lot of money from India matches, I think this is just about the right time to market the forthcoming Border Gavaskar Trophy (just like The Ashes Series is promoted almost right after they are done with one). And also just about the right time to push for a 5 test series instead of 4. In my opinion the format that draws in a lot of hatred is none other than T20, the new kid in town. There has been sympathy for the other two formats - so that is a good sign. What are the officials waiting for? Why don't we have Lalit Modi doing to Test Cricket what he did with T20? Put on some Colors and get on with it. Its funny that as Sachin speaks of the failure of D/N ODIs, Test cricket is getting ready to embrace it. What on earth is going on with ICC? Why are they micro managing (with UDRS)?

  • Hiren on December 25, 2009, 17:32 GMT

    I believe, over time, in a matter of 1-2 years, people would have had enough of the IPL/CLT20 madness and sanity will return in the form of 10 test matches a year. I'm craving for the Boxing Day tests; doesn't matter whether India is part of these. Long live test cricket !

  • Harish on December 25, 2009, 16:26 GMT

    Test cricket in India seems to be in the decline. But innovation can revive it. T20 is a game of luck and Indian audiences will tire of it when their 'Icons' get walloped regularly by Tier 2 teams. Hey, in the end Indians get very little free entertainment. Cricket on TV will always sell, even if it is over-hyped galacticos playing.

  • rooster on December 25, 2009, 16:24 GMT

    Harsha: yes,i agree that cricket is not in danger of going the way of dodo and neither is test cricket, but thats not what the arguement is about.T20 is what it is and wether one is a purist or not the fact is that the entertainment value provided for the money spent in a T20 game or a 50 over game is much much higher(for some),and i have no problem with it.But the issue is this persistent,gradual,CHANGE( to use your term) in the favor of batsmen that is affecting the game in a very fundamental but negative way.Almost every new rule or change of a rule that has been brougt about in the recent history is driven to protect batsmen or give them a chance to score with a slight's one thing to introduce technology or employ new methods to help administer the game better. it's completely diffrent to tweak the rules for a better return on investment and in the process make it unbalanced: thats where cricket is starting to loose it's credibility.

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