April 7, 2023: The game of Cricket is on a path to modernize. Change, as one says, is inevitable and cricket is going through this phase too. The ease of following the game being played in the far corners of the world and at home as well, has brought about a gigantic leap in its popularity.
Cricket has never had such an enormous and variable audience and therefore, quite rightly so, a plethora of ideas and innovations are cropping up to make the game even more interesting.
The famous marketing line of a “customer is always right” is the mantra that the cricketers and the marketeers are vociferously following. The cricket fans want action, glamour, heroes and trend setters and the T20 format is ideally suited to provide that.
The changes in the rules of cricket, therefore, are being gradually tested on the shorter format of the game and in tournaments that are independently run, like the Indian Premier League (IPL). The “Impact” player option has been introduced in this years’ edition of the IPL and one can already see its usefulness.
Most of the coaches in the IPL have come forth positively about it, as it does make a side’s decision making of a playing eleven that much easier. The dilemma which one faced in selecting a side, was a question as to whether to play an additional batsman or a bowler. The nature of the pitch became an important factor and several sides in the past suffered in not making the right decision.
“Impact” is a word that will now find its way into the cricket dictionary emphatically. One can see the benefit of having that extra player to choose from, especially in present-day cricket, wherein one sees injuries galore. In the past, one very rarely saw players break down so frequently. Excessive cricket and travel is what one hears as a retort to this query. However, modern facilities at the stadium to practice and play on, wonderful hotels to stay in, air travel and such luxuries were far and few between for the players of the past.
The impact player, from the looks of it, will shortly make a presence in the conventional form of the game as well, Test cricket. The concussion replacement is already in force and therefore, adding one more option to it, is just a question of time.
There is a slight uproar from the other side of the spectrum to say that the impact player rule may discourage all-rounders. Players who can bat as well as bowl. Yes, it will definitely do so, mainly for players who are bits and pieces cricketers. Unfortunately, top quality all-rounders have now become a rarity in modern day cricket. Cricketers, presently are in the mode of specialisation.
It takes one back to the days of the greatest cricketer ever to play the sport, Sir Garry Sobers. The West Indian superstar was not only a great batsman, but a fast and spin bowler and an outstanding fielder as well.
He was world class in every area of the game. In the 70’s, the all-rounder tag was a recognition given only for the outstanding ones. The likes of Imran Khan, Kapil Dev, Ian Botham, Richard Hadlee, Clive Rice and Mike Proctor wore the badge and the word impact was for their outstanding feats on the cricket ground. Their impact on a match was what tilted the balance of their team winning or losing.
The passing away of one of India’s handsome and debonair cricketers, Salim Durani recently, brings back memories of the impact that he made on Indian cricket. Salim was an eccentric cricket genius. His capacity to hit the ball into the stands for a six, at the crowd’s request, made him immensely popular. A Test match in Mumbai against England in 1973 would have been abandoned had Durani not been included in the Test side. “No Durani, no match” was the cry that one never had the distinction of hearing, then or even now. Some of his superlative feats playing International and domestic cricket for India are folklore. He was the original “Impact” player, who one never knew whether he would turn up on time for the match.
However, every side he played for included his name hoping for the best. He once turned up just in time for a Central Zone versus South Zone match in the Duleep Trophy waving from a helicopter heralding his arrival. Fortunately, he was included in the playing eleven. He made his side win against a star-studded South Zone side by doing both, scoring runs and taking wickets. Central Zone, thereafter, won the tournament on Salim’s superlative performance.
Durani played a major part in India’s 1st ever Test series win against the mighty West Indies in 1971. He got the prize wickets of Clive Lloyd and Garry Sobers to help India win the match. The ball to Sobers could easily be considered as the “ball of the century”. The ball pitched wide outside Sobers’ off stump, ripping in like a striking cobra to hit the leg stump bail of the great cricketer.
Nearly a decade earlier in the West Indies in 1962, Durani volunteered to bat at number 3 against the lethal attack of Wes Hall and Charlie Griffith. This was after India’s captain, Nari Contractor, succumbed to a Griffith bouncer in a match earlier. His only intention was to show the West Indian pacers, the true and brave spirit of an Indian. He counter attacked and challenged them by stepping out and went on to score a brilliant century.
Salim Bhai was a most lovable and fun-loving individual, one who was loved by one and all. His “Impact” on everyone who played alongside him and crossed his path will linger on forever. Rest in peace my friend and thanks for the indelible mark you left on all of us.
(Yajurvindra Singh is a former Test cricketer. Views expressed are personal.)