Many years ago, way back when I was a gawky but not unhandsome boy of seven or eight, my younger brother and I used to spend our school summer vacations at my ancestral home in a tiny village in the southern Indian state of Kerala. (Kerala is also, incidentally, the home of Sreesanth, the cricketer popularly known as the Louis Vuitton of Indian pace bowling. This is because even though he is very expensive, he is very attractive and there is always very high demand for him. Especially in China.)
During these vacations I was normally watched over by my paternal uncle. My uncle, a kind and caring man, is of the persuasion that children should be involved in rigorous physical activity and should spend as little time as possible indoors. Doubly so in the case of me and my brother because our favourite indoor activities included gently electrocuting pets, liquidising small items of furniture in the blender, and going to the toilet in the VCR.
Therefore he devised a unique variant of cricket that would keep us occupied for the entire day. My uncle would bowl comfortable medium pace at one of us while the other one fielded. The batsman could only be dismissed if he was caught by the fielder. There were no stumps, no lbw, no run-outs, no stumpings or any other means of getting out. And of course there was no limit on the number of overs bowled.
Which means you either scored a four or a six. And nothing else.
Often one batsman could bat an entire day without being dismissed. My brother and I routinely batted for two or three days at a time before losing our wicket. And we used to score double- and triple-centuries with consummate ease.
Once in a while, during drinks breaks, I used to ask my uncle if I was now good enough to grow up and play for India. (Because deep inside every Indian child there is a dream to achieve great acclaim for his country's cricket team by appearing on huge billboards in body paint.)
"Oh no, no Sidin," my uncle used to say apologetically, "these days countries are scoring sometimes even 250 runs in one 50-over innings. You need to be able to score many thousands of runs in school and college before you are good enough, boy."
"But that is impossible, uncle!"
"Of course not. Look at Sachin and Kambli. They scored 664 runs in just one innings for their school team in 1988. Surely Tendulkar and Kambli will become great players for India, even though Kambli will eventually burn out and be dropped for good in 2000."
"But we are still in 1991, uncle!"
"Yes, but you're writing your column in 2011."
Dejected at my lack of merit, I would then go and puree a small cushion.
"The future of the sport depends on creating an environment less hostile to young cricketers whose abilities are less than genius, well above average, above average, average, just below average, well below average, Boycott's Grandmother, and Associate Nation"
I believe that the recent spurt in ODI scoring will exacerbate this problem for young upcoming cricketers everywhere. They are going to watch teams score 350 and 400 runs in just 50 overs, on a regular basis, and wonder if they are ever good enough to make that cut.
Tiny little cricketing prodigies will jubilantly run back home from school, having scored a technically perfect 115 off 89 balls. Only to see that a part-timer from Ireland, who can't even comb his hair properly, has scored a century off 43 balls, including 67 dot-balls. Demoralised, they will decide to give up cricket and instead become doctors, engineers, bookies or columnists.
Cricket cannot afford to be a silent spectator to this tragedy. The future of the sport depends on creating an environment less hostile to young cricketers whose abilities are less than genius, well above average, above average, average, just below average, well below average, Boycott's Grandmother, and Associate Nation.
Perhaps we could implement a handicap system, as in golf, where weaker or younger batsmen start their innings with their scores already at 20 or 30. While mediocre bowlers have figures of three overs for 18 runs and two wickets (five extras) before they bowl their first ball.
The ICC could also place an upper limit on scores possible in an ODI or Twenty20. Or, if that appears too restrictive, implement a conversion factor. So an innings of 125 for Pakistan against Sri Lanka in the World Cup is equal to 50 runs for a 13-year-old, and 85 runs for 19-year-old. (Unless the innings was itself played by a 15- or 16-year-old Pakistani youngster.)
We have to figure out a way of making the current fearsome scenario more accessible for the common man.
It is simply unreasonable to expect only players of the quality of Tendulkar and Kallis and Siddhartha Mallya to come up through the system. Let us also give a chance to the less talented amongst us. Please, Deepika.