Australia getting whitewashed in South Africa and Sri Lanka, New Zealand getting whitewashed in India, West Indies getting whitewashed in Pakistan’s adopted home - it has been a season of whitewashes. Since the mighty West Indies of the 70s and 80s, and the ‘invincible Australians’ of the 2000s, no team seems to be dominating the sport of cricket these days.
While the entire world has felt the positive impact of globalization, cricket seems to face a paradoxical shift. The advent of IPL and other leagues has opened the doors for foreign players to get used to alien conditions and vice versa for sub continent players.
There are more ‘A team’ tournaments where players are exposed to foreign pitches at a very young age. However, the recent decimation of visiting teams at the hands of the hosts has rendered the steps taken by ICC as well as various boards feckless.
There has been incessant hue and cry for ‘neutral venues’ from various sections of cricketing circles, but are unheeded due to various reasons. Test matches at neutral venues won’t attract much crowd. The television rights, advertisements, etc would take a jolt. There may be other tacit reasons too amd without the funds, ICC as well as the boards cannot function.
Test cricket is considered to be the pinnacle of cricket and winning overseas is the cherry on the cake. No player or team has become great by just winning on home soil. It is the performances in foreign conditions that actually define a player or a team.
So what amounts to the vulnerability of foreign teams?
Some people may opine that the standard of test batsmanship has deteriorated owing to the demands of T-20 while others highlight the mental approach of batsmen in the modern era. Nowadays a batsman playing for ‘survival’ or a draw is even criticized by the experts, media or the team itself. (Pujara’s strike rate is a classic example).
Imagine the plight of Sunil Gavaskar, playing for survival to the West Indian quartet, and getting criticized for his slow strike rate? T-20 cricket has compelled batsmen to relinquish their monochromatic approach; hence the question of batting standards deteriorating is rendered illogical.
Steps which can help in improving the dismal overseas records of teams
Justifying Darwin’s theory of evolution, cricket has evolved over a period of time. The approach, the techniques and the attitude of players have also undergone mutation. So what exactly tantamounts to the dismal overseas record of top teams like Australia, South Africa, and India?
Before the start of any series, the visiting team gets to play at least one (or two) warm-up matches to get acclimatized to the conditions. But these prophylactic measures become ineffective once the series starts. So the ICC has to look into this matter very seriously now since the results have been more recurring than episodic.
A number of changes (to be implemented independently) are recommended. First, there can a panel of pitch curators in the same model of ICC panel of Umpires, who would oversee the entire process of preparation of pitches before the start of any series.
Obviously, the panel would take decisions in consultation with the local curators and groundsmen, and taking the local factors into consideration. There may be a few hiccups, but is a plausible solution. They can prevent a match being played on an under prepared pitch and trimming of grass on the eve of a test match.
Second, toss should be abolished. The visiting team gets the discretion to choose whether to bat or bowl seeing the wicket. This will be a huge utilitarian push for the visiting team to do well in alien conditions. So much has been said and written about the toss but it is definitely one of the steps that can be considered.
Even after the 3-0 drubbing at the hands of the Indians, the only advice that the Kiwi captain had for the visiting teams, was to win the toss.
Third, the visiting team would be allowed to have twelve players in the team list during the time of toss. Depending upon the outcome of the toss, the captain will choose the final eleven. For example, the visiting captain loses the toss and has to bat fourth, then he can go for an extra batsman rather than having an extra bowler.
Fourth, the visiting captain can have the option of taking a new ball every sixty overs rather than every eighty overs.
All these improvisations, if implemented, can definitely mitigate the advantage that the home team gets and make it a mouth-watering competition. Recent series have shown that the home team gets the leverage of a freeway which results in a one-way traffic.
The biggest loss is borne by the viewers, who are devoid of witnessing a contest between bat and ball. The changes may or may not bring about the desired results, but the ICC must act and the time couldn’t have been more appropriate.