Cricket Reviews

Cricket, a fine piece of art – Is it a batsman’s game? Is the true essence of the game getting lost?

Cricket as a mode of entertainment has evolved with time. There are new rules and regulations, plenty of changes within the game and around it, all made to make the game more exciting as per the ever-increasing fast-paced hectic world. Now is that a good thing? The answer is a ‘Yes’ and a ‘No’ but tilted more towards a ‘No’ is what I feel.

Let me start by mentioning why I chose to write about this, especially at a time when the IPL is not so far and there are plenty of hot topics to discuss for a Cricket fanatic like me.

Ever since the time I started following Cricket, the intensity of the game was something that I loved. Batsmen and Bowlers trying their level best to outclass each other, the competitiveness, passion, the crowds, fans cheering them up, all made for a riveting contest.

My childhood was all about the swashbuckling One-day format and the entertainment it provided. So much was the passion and love which resulted in me playing cricket, book cricket, emulating my favourite cricketers, replicating imaginary scorecards in my text and note books etc.

With time, watching and analysing the game more and more, my interest slowly shifted more towards the true form of Cricket – Test cricket. Test cricket like the name indicates tests your character, attitude, skills, stamina, and the level of preparedness in terms of fighting a strategic mental and physical battle. This is not a ‘Hit out or Get out’ format, you have to fight it out session by session, survive if needed, counter-attack and the game is never over. The true essence of every facets of the game is explored like a batsmen’s defence and attack, a bowler’s relentless pressure of line and length, the plan A-B-C and strategies of the team captain, the fielders and keeper all hunting as a pack providing for an edge of the seat thrilling experience especially when equally strong teams collide.

People are trying to find the perfect work-life balance and self-comforting words like “quality time” is used frequently. The perception of wanting everything and not really having the time for the same has had an impact in most things around us including Cricket. Let’s admit that Cricket has always been a batsman’s game, or you could say the balance was more towards them. We as fans, spectators admire the fours, sixes, the different flamboyant strokes, more than the yorkers, seam, swing, slower bowls and spin variations. Even the wicket-keeping and fielding artistry is under-rated.

Of course, everything new hasn’t been bad for cricket, like the fearless batting approach more because of the T20 version, the technology aid in analysing players, team strategies, reducing umpiring errors etc.

There was a time when the game had a good balance between bat and ball and both had an equal say, but now the case is different. Some of the reasons I feel are: (Even though most of these are concerning the white ball game, the impact is there in Tests as well)

  • Grounds getting smaller and the boundary lines getting shorter – A delight to any batsmen
  • The flat, dropping wickets also contribute to the dominance of batsmen over the bowlers. There seems to be little assistance in the pitches for the bowlers these days as compared to the older times. Even pitches that traditionally favoured bowlers doesn’t seem to assist them any longer. The recent India’s tour of Australia is a good example of the same.
  • Quality of the bats are far superior now, having sweet spots all over. Even a mis-hit carries for six
  • Power play and fielding restrictions work as a disadvantage for the bowlers and enables the batsmen to score freely without taking much risks. With most of the factors heavily stacked against the bowlers, this is pulling them down further. Yes, sometimes attacking cricket gets you wickets, but most-often, it’s a headache for the fielding side.
  • The art of Reverse swing is slowly dying. The 2 new balls usage gives more advantage to the batsman as it stays hard making it easy for them to hit and bowlers can rarely generate reverse swing
  • To make the game more exciting, we have Free-Hit for a front foot no-ball, where a batsman can smash a bowler to any part of the ground without the fear of getting out except for a run-out. A bowler can’t over step the line, but a batsman at the non-striker’s end can cross the line thereby getting an unfair advantage converting ones into twos, twos in to threes. Even a millimetre makes a difference in modern day cricket. Who could forget the Ashwin – Buttler incident (Run-out at the non-striker’s end) during the IPL where people have raised Spirit of Cricket and Fair play concerns. Is that applicable only to bowlers? Both are legal, so why the bowlers have to take the hit all the time? The run out is still ridiculously referred to as ‘Mankading’, and by the way, is under-arm referred to as ‘Chappelling’?
  • Switch-hit is considered as an innovative addition to the game. It deceives the bowler as well as the fielding side as the fielder’s placement is also made according to the stance of the batsman.
  • The advent of T20 has made the audience crave hell for leather batting, top-edges, mis-hits flying to the boundary, balls flying all over the place, all at the expense of the bowlers
  • Runs given if the ball ricochets of the bat is pure luck. While an inside edge costing you a boundary rather than a wicket is an unavoidable blind luck, this is a rule which needs to be re-looked at. Who could forget the look on Kane Williamson’s face during the closing of World Cup 2019? Higher boundary count in a tied match gets you a World Cup!!!  – Thank God, the rule is scrapped now.
  • IPL – Cricket as a pure form of art is slowly going down and its more focussed on glamour. From timeless tests to five days test matches, to 60 over games and then, 50 over games, the game’s getting shorter all the time. Enter the T20 Cricket – Money is important and the million dollar leagues like IPL attracts everyone including the bowlers who fill in mostly to get bashed around the park. Make no mistake, I love watching the IPL and I always thought it’s a wonderful platform for new talents to come in, rub their shoulders with greats of the game from different countries. T20 along with IPL have given a fearless approach to the players. But the flipside is the players losing focus on test matches, international games as the money involved is too good to be true. Even the players with sound technique are forced to adapt to a style which is completely alien to them, which devalues the purity and skill present in Tests or even the ODI format – Murali Vijay is a fine example. Another issue is the dip in quality of spinners as most barring a few resort to a more negative line of bowling, not because they want to, but because they have to. Player injuries before crucial matches, captaincy style getting affected because of the switch in format, the list could go on.  IPL has turned into a showbiz entertainment involving corporates, Bollywood, cheerleaders, parties and unfortunately, the purity of the game has taken a backseat.

We loved the game because of the greats, the legends that represented it. We adored Sachin or Lara because they excelled against the greats like McGrath, Akram, Ambrose, Warne, Murali, Donald and many others in demanding conditions. Sachin and Lara would have been inspired by Gavaskar and Richards and likewise the bowlers too had many to get inspired from. Without a great bowler, how would have we known the greatness of Sachin or Lara? The quality of bowling has come down from what it used to be and while youngsters can look up to a Kohli, ABD, Smith or Kane, there aren’t that many bowlers they can get inspired from now. People who have been following Cricket for a long time clearly understands the difference between the older and newer generation of cricketers, the quality of attack, the venomous pitches, that the Richards, Sachin, Lara had to encounter.

Growing up, most would dream of becoming a Sachin or in this era, a Kohli and very few would want to emulate a Kumble, Warne or Bumrah. Everyone would remember how many centuries Sachin has, his highest score, the sand storm innings, but how many would have echoed the same excitement for a Kumble’s 10 wicket haul against Pakistan or a Vaas single-handedly decimating Zimbabwe by picking 8 wickets for just 19 runs?

For me, bowlers, especially fast bowlers are the unsung heroes of Cricket. The rigours, stresses that the fast bowlers put on their body, day in-day out to turn around and front up is special. They know what it takes to bowl a five or six over spell at full pace, 3-4 spells a day for two innings in a test match and contribute in the field.

Let’s understand that Cricket got famous because of the greats that played the game, the skills involved in all the facets making it an even and exciting contest. The Kohli’s, Smith’s, got inspired and they need to be challenged to inspire the next crop or else, the contest will continue to be more one-sided, people will hardly want to be bowlers and the game will take a beating. The T20, IPL, BBL, the glory, million dollar bucks all came from the exciting competitive game of Cricket. People are trying to cash in on the success of this game and ignoring how the game was a success in the first place. Somewhere in all these, the true essence of cricket is getting lost. We often hear ‘The benefit of the doubt should go to the batsmen – Yes, but for the game to survive, to be a timeless entertainer, the benefit of the game should be more balanced.

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