All-rounders: A bane amongst the blessed boons
The term ‘all-rounder’ is a well-known and well-understood concept in cricket. Generically, it means a cricketer who can bat, bowl and field – the last more of an implied requirement – with equal aplomb. In the past, cricketers with such all-round capabilities were a prized talent. A rarity even amongst the uber-talented, these all-rounders wore their exalted status like a badge of honour. Although in the present not much has changed with respect to the talent recognition and the lofty status quo of these cricketers, the conventional terminology has nonetheless undergone substantial transformation. And not without necessity.
The game’s evolution from the more extensive formats to the comparatively shorter versions has resulted in bringing forth a strange demand-supply equation concerning the all-rounders. Starting with the time allowed for a particular player to be called as an all-rounder or to even develop as one, the assessment of the reference itself lacks complete concreteness. Most of the current crop of all-rounders predominantly excel in one discipline – either with the bat or with the ball – and are largely mediocre in the rest. Though this mediocrity doesn’t alter the reputation of the players themselves, when the team is playing against stiffer opponents it also doesn’t make them impervious to the harshest of scrutiny. To try and prevent any such emerging negative backlashes from further damaging a cricketer’s appeal, many such ‘all-rounders’ are also prefixed with terms like ‘part-timers’ or ‘lower-order batsmen’; thus effectively limiting the expectations placed on these players, in the first place.
Innumerable cricketing names have rebounded not-so-pleasantly when placed with the mantle of being an all-rounder. Incidentally however, these names mostly fall under the ambit of Test cricket or ODIs while relatively thriving in the T20 department, as seen in the IPL for quite some years now where both national and international players – many who have been dropped because of lack of necessary form – find themselves in prominence and thereby, in greater demand money-wise. Even the ICC rankings give three different lists of players as all-rounders, trifurcated across the three different formats. This would thus essentially mean that a player’s credibility as an all-rounder is subject to each of the three formats of the game. And that a player who’s referred to as an all-rounder in one format may not be credited with the same honorary reference in the game’s other formats.
Considering that there’s such a big discrepancy in terms of the commonality of the term, it also then logically follows that many aspiring cricketers try to prove their worth not just in their area of initial interest or focus or specialisation, but also by trying their hand at what doesn’t come to them naturally. Barring the negativities of these inconclusive offshoots of cricketing developments, the advantage for these players does however come by way of the ever-increasing multitude of cricketing tournaments in a given year. Even the IPL, which for all the downsides that it has brought to the international cricketing front, in this context promises to be a curtain raiser for young hotshots waiting to explore the realm of being all-rounders.
This attention to the best amongst the lot also accounts for the sport and its various intermediaries retaining the right to choose or do with the player’s talent. Thus, though the available window of opportunity reduces per player to do well, at no point of time does there arise circumstances where the demand exceeds the supply of these all-rounders. In terms of the larger picture, this in turn also implies that a team’s selection would be subject to periodic changes, depending on who’s the most favoured pick amongst a given set of probabilities; thus throwing the whole team selection paradigm into constant disarray.