December 2, 2022: The sports lovers around the world have their eyeballs glued to the football World Cup in Qatar. In the midst of it, a surfeit of cricket is being played amongst countries and at the domestic level.
The worry that creeps into ones’ mind is the famous Aesop story of ‘The Goose that laid the Golden Egg’. Is the game of cricket being flogged excessively? If so, the interest for it may dwindle and the famous economist, John Keynes’ theory of receding demand due to the increase in supply may come forth prominently.
Indian cricket, at present, is a good example of what may be termed as ‘Too much of Cricket’. After the T20 World Cup campaign, the senior side, sans some of their top cricketers, has just finished a T20 and an ODI series in New Zealand.
The India-A side, consisting of prospective replacements, is playing an unofficial Test series against the Bangladesh-A side. The Indian side shortly thereafter will play an ODI and Test series against Bangladesh followed by a series against Sri Lanka and New Zealand at home.
In the meanwhile, the domestic cricket is in full swing with the Vijay Hazare 50-overs tournament followed by the Ranji Trophy. Keeping track of the performance of the Indian players is an impossible task.
Individual centuries, which earlier were a rare occurrence, seem to be in abundance at all the levels of the game. One wonders whether the standard of cricket has dropped or the batters have become so much better.
This is the dilemma that Indian cricket is facing, one that every other country would be glad to have. A plethora of players, all match winners on their day. The growth of talented Indian cricketers has been on such a phenomenal rise, that the multiple choices have made selection a very difficult task.
This is why Indian cricket needs to take a step back to consolidate and come out with a well-planned and thought-out strategy. One can feel the confusion that has crept into the minds of the selectors when selecting the numerous Indian sides recently. Young players are being chosen and discarded without much ado and on most occasions on the return of senior colleagues after their rest and recuperation.
One does understand that international cricket matches, especially after the Covid-19 restrictions, have increased by leaps and bounds. However, with the situation now more under control, a systematic approach in balancing the amount of cricket played needs to be given a serious thought. Cricket cannot be played as a tick box, as one wants to see the best players playing on the park.
Unfortunately, the importance of playing cricket for ones’ country seems to have diminished. The value and importance of the cap that one revered has now become less valuable, as it has become a regular occurrence.
One fought tooth and nail to become a part not only of ones’ country side but also ones’ state side. I remember the proud moment when I was given the Maharashtra Ranji Cap, which to me then was in itself as satisfying and significant a moment as when I was given the India one.
This brings one to the latest research report conducted and released by the Federation of International Cricketers’ Association (FICA). Indian cricket was not a part of it. However, when 82 per cent of the world’s cricketers do not want to be shackled solely to a national contract, it shows how playing for the country is not a cricketer’s priority these days.
Forty per cent of them are happy to be playing franchise cricket as freelancers, naturally as it is more lucrative and less taxing. The other 42 per cent are operating on a hybrid model between doing national and franchise-based cricket duties.
BCCI will also have to gradually accept that their cricketers, ones who are not contracted to them, will gradually worm their way into the T20 leagues being played outside India. Presently, no Indian cricketer is allowed to participate in overseas leagues. The IPL has been a good revenue earner for several of the Indian cricketers and the increase in the domestic match fees is a satisfying initiative for them to stay put for the time being.
This takes one back to two Indian cricketers who missed going on the famous 1971 tour to the West Indies, Rusi Surti, the useful Indian all-rounder and Farokh Engineer the flamboyant Indian wicket-keeper. They fell victim to the regulation put forth by the BCCI and that was of any player playing overseas was not to be considered for selection. The former was playing cricket for Queensland in Australia and the latter for Lancashire in England.
Fortunately, better sense prevailed and the rule was put to rest soon after. Farokh Engineer, thereafter, played an important part in India’s first series win against England, whereas, Surti never played for India again.
‘The world is flat’, is what Thomas Friedman stated in his book that analysed globalisation, primarily in the early 21st century. The speed at which information flows, the ease of doing business was what drew him to this conclusion.
The ICC along with their members needs to seriously look into the change that is coming about rapidly amongst the cricketers as well as in the cricketing world. They need to charter an important template that finds acceptance with the top cricketers.
One, after all, wants to see matches that showcase quality and not quantity. A challenging task but it needs immediate attention.
(Yajurvindra Singh is a former Test cricketer. Views expressed are personal.)