Cricket, it is the greatest game in the world. It can be unfair, just like life. It can be such a leveller. one day you are the star and the other day you are the villain, just like life. It is a near perfect combination of mental and physical test and I think that is what sport is. The way you play cricket speaks a lot about you. Any one who sees a Sachin play will not only understand his respect for the game but also his underlying humility. Any one who sees Steve Waugh play, will easily realise what a gritty and self-opinionated individual he will be. I can give you more examples and it will be true, more often than not. But that is if you see the game as deeply as I do. And when I say deeply, I mean "deeply" and not "closely". One of the things that separates cricket from other games is the number of instances the spirit of the game can be expressed. Yeah, really. Sit back and name any game and think about this.
Now as I say the spirit of the game (cricket), sadly the administrators and the players have really brought it down. The current commodisation of cricket is very unfortunate but speaks about the times we live in. Unfortunately, cricket is like that. It will always reflect the time it is being played. For instance, when you had socialist India in the 70' and 80's, Sunil Gavaskar's batting reflected it. Then as India became an emerging country, you had Sachin. And then India is all around in the news with a blooming economy, you have Sehwag. Think about it and you will see the difference. That is the wonder of cricket, the most wonderful game in the world. But what we see now is not exactly a reflection of what cricket stands for. There are many things which needs to be changed to bring back cricket to its original and maybe purest form of competition and that is to play the game within the confines of the spirit of the game.
Lets take a look at how the of cricket has been cut and choped to make it more attractive (not interesting) for the spectators. As per the nature of the game, batting will always be the most visible and attractive part. Then as commercialisation and commodisation of cricket happend, it ensured that this is where all the advantage should shift to. At times, it was just philosophy and fear as well.
Starting with Bodyline, somehow it has been perceived that batsman needs to be protected. Douglas Jardine and his tactic is the most misunderstood phenomenon in the world of cricket. He has been demonised for ageas but until only recently people have been more open about this tactic. I will refer to the tactic with it's original and more worthy name- Leg Side theory. So you have 6-7 fielders on the onn-side, the fast bowlers pitch it short and the batsmen need to decide to leave it or play it and risk getting out and even worse getting hurt. The way I see it, it was played under the spirit of cricket. The batsman need to be good and talented to read the length of the ball and decide to leave it or play at it. That is the batsmans job. And it was not unplayable. Jardine himself showed that you can score of this tactic when he cracked a century in India later (with the theory employed against him). Accusations flew that this was not cricket and for some reason Jardine, Larwood and his bowlers were made to look like evil men out there to only hurt the Australian batsmen. The fact that Don Bradman averaged only 50+ in this entire series and England won the Ashes prove that this was a very attacking and tactical move. But somewhere, it was projected as evil and Jardine and Larwood never played another game for England. That was the first instance I can think of when the balance was tilted towards batting and it has continued ever since.
Short delivery is an important part of the fast bowlers armoury. But now it's potency is further negated with the new Leg side rules and the invention which made ordinary batsmen look great - the helmet. With the helmet, you have ordinary batsmen trying to pull or hook the ball which otherwise they would have had to struggle to leave or practise for months and years to master a hook or a pull. Ever seen Suresh Raina, Michael Bevan or Pollard and how uncomfortable many modern batsmen look against the shot ball. The batsmen in their late 20's and before, belong to a generation who would undergo their entire cricketing career without never playing without a helmet. Fast bowlers' most important armoury is so neutralised. It is so unfortunate. Nowadays, you have coaches who tell the youngsters to practise "Dilscoops". Ever wondered, if Dilshan or any modern batsmen would have the guts to play that shot without a helmet. Again, the bowler looses another fight. You have worried parents who would need their children to put on helmets while practising. How I feel if they could understand that without the helmet, their children might get hurt now but will emerge as better and stronger players later.
Just like all these gears which has evolved over the years, there is 1 more (if not the most) important gear which has evolved to "unacceptable" levels. Thicker bats, hick on the lower side of the bat, lots of wood on the middle, Mongoose bat, etc. These bats are so good that even outside edges fly to the boundary for a 4 or a 6. So unfortunate, when all the great players and the youngsters use this without ever giving a single thought.The ball has remained the same for centuries but the bat has undergone such a technical revolution. So many batsmen are revered as hitters and commentators lament on how the batsmen of previous era were so "scared" to loft the ball. Of course, the bat they were using never gave them an extra advantage. It was not made to make "hitting" or "increasing the power" easier. They had to rely on timing (something more deeply rooted to cricket than hitting). If that wasn't enough, you have the boundaries being shortened to "assist" the batsmen. That is cheating in my eyes. I don't care if it is approved but my heart goes out to the bowlers. They are really getting the wrong end of the stick as of now.
Playing on uncovered pitches were really a "test" to the batsmen. Agreed that covering the pitches has somewhat made it safer but still it has also made it easier for the batsmen. Nowadays, there is not much variety in the pitches worldwide. The pitch in Perth is not as fast as it used to be, a mere 18 years ago. So much so for comparing batsmen of yore and now. There is no comparison. There has been no generation of batsmen who had it so easy.
If all that wasn't easy, then comes worst possible cheating. Any batsman can stand his ground after he has clearly nicked the ball (which close-in or wicket keeper has caught cleanly) and see if the umpire has "caught it" as well. I often wonder why they walk when they get bowled. Not sure what example we are setting up to the children. It's like telling the kid "Go lie, steal and cheat to win... As long as you are not caught, you have the right". I was extremely saddened when Sachin too did it twice (I remember 2 occassion, otherwise he is a walker). Appealing by the bowlers is fine with me as it can be only to unsettle the batsmen or create a few nerves. Just as the batsman should be morally obligated to walk, fielding side should be to call back the batsmen when given out incorrectly. Well, but we all live in a world of acceptable levels of cheating. Well, that is not cricket.
To ensure that the spirit of cricket is restored and not the current commodity which looks like a corporate running it's firm, I would seriously recommend the below measures to ICC:
- Reinstate Leg-side theory: Batsmen need to sort out their deficiencies and stop being cry-babies , crying foul every time they are intimidated. It is high time that this theory is accepted with the fielding side and bowler getting more freedom to create a more fair contest.
- Ban Helmets: OK, since everyone are now cowards, I will say ban helmets with vizor atleast. Protect the back of the head as a blow there can be lethal but still remove the vizor. Batsmen need to perfect their technique and not take undue advantage of the gear to look (or not look) at the ball and hit. It is just not cricket to remove one of the most potent weapon of the fast bowler and pave a rosy road for the batsmen. The fear of getting hit will make them willing to practise and masterise the pull/hook shot and not rely on protective gear and unfair rules to protect them. Lets see how many will then play the Douglas Marillier shot ( I refuse to call it Dilscoop as he was the not the first one to play it).
- Ban all the modern variations of the bat: Bring back the bats of yore. The current bat is not actually helping any batsmen become master of their trade. They know they have a higher percentage of clearing the boundary line or the ball flying faster of the bat as their bat is designed in such a way. There is no change in the ball but the bat is a new mean machine now. It is just pure cheating. There are no excuses for this. Modern batsmen are making mockery of the spirit of the game everytime they walk out with it.
- Uncovered pitches: Yes, back to the basics. Atleast in the Test matches please. There is a reason they are called "Test" matches. Only the best will survive and play Test matches. This will be the incentive for players. This will ensure that interest in the test matches go on. You can only be called "great" if you have succeeded in the test match format.
- Punish not-walking/incorrect decisions: There should be punishment everytime a batsman does not walk when he knows he is clearly out. In the same way, the captain and the bowler will be punished for appealing for a succesful wrong decision. A tally of incorrect decisions by umpires are maintained and used to rate them. Televise it during the match as well. The foul commited by a player should also be a statistic being maintained. That will be an incentive (sad that an incentive is required) for players to play fair and square.
- No limit on the number of bouncers that can be bowled in an over: I think it pretty much explains itself. The batsmen cannot be sure that after 2 bouncers they will not get another one. We have so many batsmen who take advantage of this rule by plodding their front foot as the bowler is over with the delivery stride.
- The last one (maybe the most controversial): In the limited overs cricket, the amount of time batsmen can play needs to be limited just as the number of overs are limited for a bowler. So many a times, the best bowler in the side can't do much after his quota of overs while the best batsman continues to pile up. In ODIs, the batsman needs to be declared out or maxed out after he scores a century and in T20's he can play till he scores 35 runs. Ok I can compromise and will add an extra stipulation. If required, we can have them bat at the end of the innings with the last wicket remaining. It would be awesome. Just imagine the complexion of the limited overs game will change. Cricket is a team game and the impact of 1 batsmen is being limited (just like how the impact of the best bowler is being limited). And every batsmen will have to pull in their weight. Ohh, did batting become much more difficult and deglamourous now.
It is very sad and unfortunate that I had to write such a blog or even think that this measures are the only way that the spirit of the game can be kept alive. But we really need it. Because what we see it not cricket. It is a contest being played in accepted levels of unfair conduct and cheating. How can you tell a bowler or a fielder that tampering is cheating when the above mentioned "legalised cheating" is accepted and exploited. For me, the above instances are equivalent to ball tampering. So the question here is, if you cannot reinstate the leg-side theory or ban helments or regulate proper bats would you legalise ball-tampering?
I hope I have been clear in what I am trying to say here. We see the spirit of cricket being breached every day by the administrators as well as the greats of the game. Unfortunately, it is all accepted. But look deeper and you will see the truth....
So that's it from me!