Alive and Kicking

Traditionalists have had the last laugh, for once. Doomsday predictors predicting the demise of Test cricket, the oldest and, according to many, purest form of cricket, have been forced to eat humble pie. Test cricket is alive and kicking.

And all credit to the Indian cricket team for this swift turnaround, all in a matter of two weeks. Pretty much in keeping with its position as the leader in world cricket. Generating over 80% of global revenues from cricket and, well, generating some x share of cricketing capability where, in mathematical terms, x currently is tending to zero.

The Indian cricket team has made a rousing statement for Test cricket in the ongoing series in England. It has often been felt that in the modern world, Test cricket, which is played over a period of 5 days, has no future, as nobody has either the time or patience to spend 5 days on one game. After threatening to compete in the first game, they have pulled out all stops and shown that a Test match can be completed in a period of just two days without ending in a tame draw. Overcoming rain and inclement weather as well.

Imagine the amount of time they have given back to the nation; 3 billion days, assuming a billion follow the game.

Imagine the amount of time they have given back to themselves for shooting commercials.

Great teams do not follow established rules and standards. They set their own. This team has set a new standard for speed. At which a team ranked number one can plummet to the bottom of the pile. Top ranked teams don’t just lose. They capitulate. As they have so ably shown in the past as well. To ensure the last two weeks’ performance does not turn out to be a flash in the pan and to constantly remind themselves of the uphill task at hand, they even have coined a new motivational slogan that they break into each time they go out to play:

Come rain, come bright shine

Defeat, thou shalt forever be mine

Selflessly, risking their own legacy and rankings, they have ensured that future teams, irrespective of their performance, look like they have fared better than earlier ones. And, like great politicians and great corporate leaders have done so successfully earlier, kept us salivating at the prospect of a bright future without trying to worry about events past.

They have also been able to give us a hero that we so desperately yearn for. Not good performance, not winning teams, but individuals as heroes. How many other teams can make this claim? By collapsing in a heap around one player, the legend of that single player, in a game of eleven, has been fed and strengthened.

The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), the richest sporting body in the country by far, and always ahead of its times, has constituted a committee to look into the performance in the first Test, which took almost four days to finish. Could we not have lost that match as well in two days?

Another committee has been formed to address the issue of talent in cricket. Why are we still allowing talent to thrive in Test cricket? Why have we not killed it, as we have so effectively done in ODI and T20 cricket? Why are bowlers still allowed to bowl fast and swing the ball and be accurate? All at the same time. Difficult questions will need to be answered.

The BCCI President has also called for a revamp of the ranking structure in Test cricket. It has to be kept independent of performance, he has apparently stated. You cannot mix two unrelated things together.

I am looking forward to the next Test starting later this week. I have already made plans for the three days the team will give back to me. Have you?

O Captain! My Captain!

On the eve of the away Test series against South Africa, the captain of the national cricket team got into a freewheeling discussion with a leading daily. He was in a relaxed and expansive mood. He had every reason to be relaxed, as the team had just successfully suffered another rout in an away series in ODIs (One day internationals).

Produced below are extracts from this conversation.

Interviewer: You have achieved a lot at a very young age. What do you now look forward to when you play?

The captain broke into a half-smile. He said: When you play for the country, the job is never done. Each day brings a new challenge. I am looking forward to leaving behind a legacy that people will remember.

Interviewer: Does that mean you are looking at retirement soon?

Captain: One has to face retirement sooner or later. I have made contributions on the field. Now, I have come to that stage of my career where I will be selected to play without making any contribution, purely because of my past performances and the love people have for me, so that they can debate in offices and coffee-shops about my retirement and offer their advice. Such is the price one has to pay for fame and success in our country.

Interviewer: That will be quite a change. The paying public has got so used to seeing you in the middle, not having a clue about what to do, especially when playing on fast and bouncy pitches overseas, as in the ongoing series.

Captain: Well, things change.

Interviewer: Back to the question of legacy. Do you have any short-term goals for the team?

Captain: I would like to restore cricket in our country to its rightful position. We have made a start in the right direction by losing the last two away series’. And we did not leave things to chance. We lost both series by convincing margins of 0 – 4 so as to leave no room for doubt. After all, we claim to be the best team in the world. If we don’t lose in style, who will? The upcoming Test series against South Africa provides us with a golden opportunity to build on this success and make it three away series losses in a row. And, in between, we even managed to lose a series at home. Which team can beat that?

Interviewer, nodding his head: I can empathise with that. As you know very well, there was a period, a few years back, when there was a threat that the team will buck the trend and become a world-beating team. In fact, the influence was so strong that even when you became captain they continued to win matches.

The captain, with a deep sigh: You have seen the terrible times we have been through. There was a time when things were so bad that some of our teams had even started winning overseas. Such things will happen from time to time.

Interviewer: But how did things become so bad? Who do you think is responsible?

The Captain: Though different people will have different views, I think that we have to blame two batsmen who happened to play together in the same team. We could have handled one but with two of them together, backed by a bold captain, some victories could not be avoided. But that is providence. It is rare that two batsmen of this calibre happen to play for the same team at the same time. You can only try to minimise the impact. With both of them now retired, we are back in contention, as the ODI matches in the current series have shown.

Interviewer: Any advice to young cricketers?

Captain: What can one say? Youngsters these days have their own mind. They will not listen to advice. There is a young cricketer from UP who has hired a former player as personal trainer. Such dedication is uncalled for and unheard of. ‘This is not tennis’ I have told him, ‘where you need to keep running hard and hitting for hours at a stretch. This is cricket’. If he continues to practice and hone his skills even in the off season, when will he have time to do the ad shoots which all of us cricketers owe to our adoring fans. He says the sport pays him well enough to engage a personal trainer. Such dedication could shake the foundation of the sport in our country. It needs to be nipped in the bud. And if he gets paid well enough, he should open a restaurant like some of our illustrious predecessors have done. Or buy motorcycles without really needing them, as some others have done.

Interviewer: Do you have a message for your fans?

Captain: Our countrymen have made us proud and have contributed their mite towards our achievements. The more we lose, the more they love us.

We (cricketers) love you too. Please turn up in large numbers for my last match which will be held in Ranchi. I guarantee we will bring the weakest team to play that match against.

Interviewer: Any suggestions for the future of cricket in this country?

Captain: We are lucky to have an engaged and proactive Cricket Board guiding the fortunes of the game. They have been quite busy looking for countries to teach cricket to so that we can beat them. Being financially strong, they might even start their own countries. I understand the country’s maiden Mars mission has been partially funded by the Cricket Board. In case any organisms are found to exist on Mars, we will teach them cricket and organise a series. I don’t think the paying public will notice.

Interviewer: Finally, back to the question of legacy. Is this how you would like to be known as? The guy who managed to lose three away series in a row and restored cricket to its rightful position in our country?

The captain looks up at the ceiling, then in the distance. You could see a smile coming to his lips. He knew what he had to work towards. He finally spoke: I think more can be done. We lost the last two by 0 – 4 margins. Unfortunately the present series only has two matches. But, perhaps, we can try to lose a two match series by a 0 – 3 margin. That will surely be difficult to beat.

With that, he got up, shook hands, and went away.