Sunday, June 28, 2009

Metamorphosis of Cricket (Sport, not insect!)

Cricket sport which originally started as a five day affair, has been changing with time over the years and in today's fast paced world with everything being fast and instant, Cricket too has a new face in the form of Twenty-twenty game, so much so that the previous formats seem no longer relevant.

It is a tough time for Cricket, for the people associated with the game over the years, for the audiences who have been watching and loving the game and its various aspects. It is a clash between the old and the new. For Cricket game as it started, some are advocates of "that's how it's meant to be". It is like the Bible or religion, the first word..the way it's meant to be. They cannot accept it to be changed or even to bring modifications to it. Some on the other hand believe that the time of the original Cricket formats is up and they should be scrapped and a few in the middle suggest bringing in some modifications and changes to make the game more up-to-date and in tune with today's time while avoiding both the extreme options.

Is Test Match the problem or is One day Internationals the problem? And the meaning of 'problem' here is........
 less audiences and less interest meaning less money. And the biggest factor behind this is the IPL. It is only after the tremendous success of IPL format and the way it is presented and the glamour factor, that people have started thinking about the game this way. Bollywood and Cricket have always been the 2 major things in an average Indian family and now IPL is the product of Cricket like movies are the product of Bollywood. IPL and movies are counterparts in that respect. When so much effort and money, colour and glamour has been put in to make it so interesting for the audiences for 3 1/2 hours, it is natural that hardly few of these audiences would like to watch the 'boring' Test Matches played in whites over a period of 5 long days which is in total contrast. But since there is so much of a difference between T-20s and Test Matches, they are considered almost different games, targeted to different audiences, they aren't really being compared and thus One day internationals being more closer and similar to T-20s have been caught. So the popular opinion as of now is to keep Test Matches, and obviously have more T-20s but to scrap off ODIs.

In the analysis of the weakness of the ODIs, one of the main things talked about is the lull in the game after the first Power Play till the last 10 overs. To combat it they have brought in batting and bowling power-plays but it hasn't really made so much of a difference. Matthew Hayden has said that this is the time that is actually tougher for batsmen because it tests their skills. But of course he is talking from a player's point of view and now the most important factor is the audience. If there is no one to watch, there isn't really a player's worth then.

Another suggestion that has come and which cannot be ignored, simply because it has come from Sachin Tendulkar himself. He might be a man of few words, but when he talks, the world listens. He has suggested to convert 50 over matches into 2 innings of 25 overs each and he thought of this years ago in 2002, after the final match with Sri Lanka in the Champions trophy.

This is what he has to say about it- "Today, we can tell the result of close to 75% of [ODI] matches after the toss. But [splitting the game] is not too dependent on the toss." And regarding that match in the rain-hit final in Champions trophy in Colombo, where India and Sri Lanka were declared joint winners, " First, they played 50 overs and we played two before the rain interruption, The next day [a reserve day], Sri Lanka again played 50 overs and we played eight. In the end, we were declared joint winners. I thought, 110 overs and still no result. That's when I thought we should have 25 overs each for both sides and then 25 overs each again. If, for example, it's a day-night match, then both the teams will have to bat under lights. In those 25 overs you can use your 10 wickets the way you want. Suppose if it rains, then also you can plan. The conditions change very dramatically, but this would ensure that it's the same for everyone."

A few of the things which have made the Cricket administrators really sit up and think and take some actions include the England and Wales Cricket Board announcement about the decision to drop domestic 50-over cricket in favour of a 40-over competition and instances like Andrew Flintoff turning down the offer of an incremental central contract with England and remaining a freelance cricketer which many say is because he wants to play in the lucrative IPL. The contract would have been worth around £30,000 but in rejecting the offer Flintoff is free to commit to his Indian Premier League employers, Chennai Superkings, who would pay him a full annual fee of $1.55m (£935,000).
So what should really be done? Should changes be made to the ODIs? Should Test Matches be removed? Or is it just too much of T20s?
Before we search for solutions, we need to first see if the problem really exists. Before you start treating a patient and administering him medicines, you need to ascertain whether he is really ill. And perhaps the only means of that is the audience. The people watching at their home on their television sets and the people that come to the stadium to watch the match. People want entertainment and they have many ways to have it. It is for the people in charge and the Cricket lovers to ensure that it remains one of the most sought after means of entertainment and that is possible by scheduling it correctly, not having too many unnecessary tournaments and matches.
I have come up with some points which I think can help Cricket get through this turbulent times.
1) Better stadium facilities - If you want audiences, you need to provide them comfortable and pleasing environment and not just make them sit under the hot sun!
2) Reducing days/overs, variations of Power plays - One of the things suggested is reducing Test Matches to 4 days and ODIs to 40 overs or bringing in some variations of Power Plays.
3) Hitting Zones for batsmen - I feel Cricket can actually become better if it takes up some of the laws and practices of informal Cricket played all over the world which can include marking zones on the ground where, if hit, the batsman might get 2 bonus runs. It might tempt many batsmen to hit predetermined shots to those areas no matter where the ball is bowled. It will increase the mind games between the batsmen and bowlers and make it risky and entertaining. Also adopting from informal games- the single-handed one bounce catch can make it interesting.
4) Bringing more colour and glamour - This is of course from the success of IPL in it.
5) Proper scheduling of tournaments and preparation of pitches - Many times we have seen that matches are held during the rainy season with frequent rain interruptions or extremely hot climates. Scheduling should be done considering all these factors, weather and local conditions and pitches should be prepared such that matches shouldn't be one-sided. There should be an even contest between bat and ball.
6) Day-night Matches - Even Test Matches can be held day-night as can be ODIs and T-20s so that people can come after their office work and enjoy matches in the coolness specially in Summer
7) Free tickets for school children - For any sport to go on, the interest of the children and the youth in the game is essential. They need to look up to players to be like them. That is how the greats in the game are born like Sachin Tendulkar grew up watching and wanting to be like Sunil gavaskar and Viv Richards while the youngsters and even current Indian team players grew up idolising Sachin Tendulkar. Thus providing free tickets will encourage them to come and generate interest in the game and encourage them to take it up as a career as well.
8) Discount for families - This is also among similar lines to attract more people and appeal to other target audience- women and children. It can be made a fun and enjoyable experience with facilities.
9) Promotion - Of course, everything needs promotion and Cricket needs to be promoted properly. In Test Matches, it is the Ashes that generates the most interest and is of some significance. Similarly they can develop matches and rivalries along similar lines as they have tried with Pakraman for India vs Pakistan matches.
10) Test World Cup - This might seem to be a crazy idea but perhaps 4 day Test Matches with a knock out kind of World Cup might just work. But they need to keep track and not bring in too many tournaments though, as it reduces interest -with World Cups, and IPLs and Champions trophy and Champions League etc. Audiences should not be over-burdened and tournaments should be evenly spaced.

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