August 27, 2010

Cricket can't afford meaningless games

The game cannot risk alienating audiences with irrelevant matches

A topsy-turvy, irrelevant and largely unnecessary tournament lurches towards a final. It has been characterised not by outstanding cricket but by wildly fluctuating performances. If a team vanquishes its opponent by 200 runs one day and loses by 105 a week later, which is the better team? One-sided games are not good contests and there hasn't been a good contest so far in Sri Lanka.

It makes you wonder if teams might have played differently if this were a World Cup, where every match counted towards something, where a defeat strengthened resolve for it meant a greater peak had been installed in the way. I have long argued that increasingly audiences are only concerned with whether or not the home team is playing. It now seems that we are progressing towards a stage where audiences ask whether or not a game is relevant. Sri Lanka could not produce crowds for a home game against India. It is an alarming, and peculiarly welcome, sign.

Cricket cannot afford to throw up meaningless games before its benefactors, which is what spectators and television audiences are. If you want their money you must offer them a spectacle, and while sometimes the promise may not be fulfilled (even the football World Cup threw up many duds, including the final), the intent has to come shining through.

Players cannot afford to treat a contest as just another game. They are living a dream that few see realised. And the opposition is quick to spot laziness and arrogance anyway. Like an author, a cricketer signs his name on every innings he bats or bowls in; indeed for every cricket ball that challenges him on the field. It is a mandate he must feel privileged to uphold. Over the last couple of weeks I am not sure I got that impression every time.

India must also be concerned by the inconsistency of the younger players. Across professions, consistency is a direct product of work ethic. The greats were defined by their consistency because they were wedded to work ethic. No oddball gambler ever achieved greatness. Some, like Shane Warne, suggest occasionally that they might be mavericks, but when Warne's legbreak didn't obey his command, he worked harder than anybody else on it. Sometimes I feel the lessons from the legends are misplaced in satiated youthfulness.

And so, in the four games played at Dambulla, India's batting seemed to revert to the old movie formula: one hero, one supporting actor, and no one else of any consequence really. This was the opportunity for challengers to Tendulkar, Gambhir, Harbhajan and Zaheer to make a statement. They haven't yet. If anything has been gained it is that Sehwag is doing his one-day career some justice. With every innings he seems to rise above his generation and earn for himself a more exalted place.

Meanwhile the IPL and the BCCI lurch from one controversy to another. Clearly no organisation is run by monks, and who knows there might be political undercurrents in monasteries as well, but the quality of governance must remain non-negotiable. With disciplinary issues smothering cricketing ones, the IPL must wake up to the blow its image is taking. Whether or not media allegations are true, the damage in the eyes of the public has to be addressed. An outstanding brand cannot lapse into somnolence; cannot be defined by committees and a bureaucracy.

Outside of India's private sector, which has many islands of excellence amidst other less agreeable ones, Brand India has rarely been characterised by outstanding governance. For every success story in software, telecom and manufacturing, we have the Commonwealth Games to portray us as pathetic, bumbling organisers. The IPL promised to be different, to be a genuine global sports brand born and nurtured in India. It can still be but its mind seems to be elsewhere, caught up in committees and personal conflict. Like India's young middle order, it needs some refurbishing.

Harsha Bhogle is a commentator, television presenter and writer. His Twitter feed is here

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  • Dummy4 on August 29, 2010, 22:06 GMT

    I don't understand why people are complaining about this tournament. After the SSC test ppl kept complaining how the pitch favoured batsmen, now they're complaning about the Dambulla pitch, probably the only pitch in the entire subcontinent that is known to favour bowlers!! Complaints about this pitch being too one-sided is just stupid. Look at Shewag's 99 when he was batting under lights!

    You would think Harsha would be happy given the fact that seam bowlers have done well on this tournament but he's still complaining cus India did not win.

    People are being overly critical just because India did not win this tournament. Harsha called this tournament 'topsy-turvy' which is an unjustifable thing to say. I personally think that the unpredictable nature of the tournament made it interesting because there was no obvious winner from the start. Had this tournament taken place in England or Australia, Harsha would not be calling it irrevlant.

  • aaditya on August 29, 2010, 14:46 GMT

    what is meaningful cricket??CL-20??did anyone watch the first edition??over long run 20-20 will definitely effect the game in a bad way..signs r already there!!

  • John on August 29, 2010, 6:54 GMT

    chokkshokka, Apart from that one India victory NZ has a better record than India in recent World Cups. Pretty much a regular semi-finalist. And no, I'm not a Kiwi either!!!

  • Nithin on August 29, 2010, 3:04 GMT

    Guys, Harsha has written this article before the final. This doesn't include it. The final should have been closer given the state of the pitch. I personally don't think we need to be hyper critical of the way the team played. However, all the other matches were one sided enough to make it boring. I hope that Dambulla is not one of the grounds for the world cup. We don't want a repeat of the Eden gardens semifinals where Jayasurya was turning it 90 degrees around the legs. The pitch has to be more consistent to maintain the interest of the spectators or the game will lose its charm.

  • Ranga on August 29, 2010, 0:45 GMT

    Meaningless? According to Lankadeepa online newspaper police was called to Dambulla stadium to disperse a crowd of about 1,000 spectators who couldn't get in because it was full.

  • dhanu on August 28, 2010, 17:38 GMT

    Harsha dont u have common sense ???? sri lanka is not a high population country like any other cricket nation .in the same way dambulla is a not a city like colombo. so it is unfair to accpet large crowd from here.we saw how indian batsman struggle in the seaming conditions in dambulla . so how can they paly in AUS SA or ENG.

  • Geeva on August 28, 2010, 17:35 GMT

    I think all teams should play ODI series on an Home and Away basis with a max 5 odi's per series within a four year period at the end we can have the world cup!No more triangulars!It was fun in the nineties but that was before statelite tv in SA!!And Harsha the entire IPL is meaningless!!!!!!!!!!

  • Poojan on August 28, 2010, 9:08 GMT

    i totally agree with harsha ..... this tournament apparently has no meaning!!! NZ are suppose to tour india in return to india touring NZ and NZ had already played their odi series last yr wen they played d test series in SL.. BCCI should understn n plan d schedule of series n nt arrange ny vague series!! i think youngsters should get confidence dat if they perform they surely b a part of team... rite nw its nt d case as more or less india's battin order 4 WC ia already in place wid sachin,sehwag,gambhir,yuvi,dhoni n raina!! neither rohit nor virat can b india's no. 7... so its imp v bring in irfan n give him a real go!!! he is d match-winning material!!

  • Dummy4 on August 28, 2010, 8:43 GMT

    I cannot help but fully agree to Harsha. Irrespective of what happens in today's finals, these types of triseries are pretty meaningless. Just think how well the Indians bowled that they had NZ 52/7 and all but sealed the game. But was it all really Indian attack doing the trick. For people who are arguing that we are defending India wrongly, this is a mighty slap to their logic. The SL wickets are bat first and win the game. Both India and SL lost a game to each other after playing first, when they batted poorly. But when NZ carved out 288 against India they won comfortably. This does not do anything to the game in general. Going by the way SL performs in such tournaments, SL should have won many more tests and ODI series, WCs outside SL. But have they done it. No. Jaywardane scored 374 in a Test innings against SA. How many times has he scored 374 in a complete series outside SL. India has won 4 tests in SL against their none in India. Answer these questions, you will agree with him.

  • Dummy4 on August 28, 2010, 8:29 GMT

    I am sure its unfair to go so harsh on the long time new comers except for RJ.. The pitch is seeming endlessly.. Even the likes of Taylor and Jayavardhane who have seen it all are failing.. But I agree these guys should have shown a little of application and character.. Pressure can make you come stronger or it can make you fail.. Sad that our players only chose to fail.. Tiwary deserved a spot.. But I am afraid this chance would have given a scar on his confidence.. RJ?? I feel pity for him.. All the best Dhoni..

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