Do we want cricket to return to being a fair contest between bat and ball?
Cricket, much like a lot of other things in this world, has recognized a searing urgency to grow and evolve with the fluctuating variance in viewer interest. While I may not yet be a veteran fan of the gentlemen’s game, having not piously watched Sunil Gavaskar bat like a maestro hitherto unforeseen, or Dennis Lillee menacingly charge in to knock some jittery heads off - I am still a cricket fan at heart.
It’s cinch to be swirled by the debate around ‘entertaining cricket’ and ‘real cricket’ – for you have a crowd of casual viewers who only consider T20 cricket as watchable and everything else a bit too long for a sport, much to the heated defiance of purists who claim within Test cricket lies the inherent beauty of an art form cricket embodies. There is no right and no wrong. There are just differing interests and opinions that need to be entertained. In our small community of ardent fans, it’s easy to blur the biting reality that cricket as a sport isn’t as popular as it should be beyond 10 enamoured nations.
A bat vs bat game
In order to rope in more viewers into our small family, there needs to be a spark in interest. For that, cricket needs to be marketed as an exhilarating sport you should be watching. In this day and age, you need to firmly grasp the viewer and keep him glued before he actually starts paying attention. In this day and age, you need to convince someone that they would love something until they do because no one has time to sit through the actual journey.
That is what the ICC has done, and this commercialization of cricket to spice up the game has led to the growth of the T20 format and progressively batsmen-friendly rules. While big bats, small grounds and flat pitches are becoming staple ingredients for a cricket match, the introduction of batting and bowling powerplays, the influx of free hits on no balls and the shackling of fielders within the inner circle clearly suggests that we’re rooting for a game that involves big hits and bigger scores.
We want a sport that is, in essence, a bat vs bat game over the conventional bat vs ball.
The big picture
It’s imperative now to sit back and see the bigger picture. Objectively, there is an element of truth to any cricket naysayer who claims Test cricket is too slow or too long to be enjoyed. He doesn’t know, and probably will never be able to see the beauty of it, and we shouldn’t expect him to. That doesn’t mean we should relinquish a casual fan of T20/ODI cricket in him, the perpetual quest for the establishment of cricket as a global phenomenon being our ultimate fantasy.
However, do we want him to love cricket for being this high-hitting run-fest or for it being a true test of equals with batsmen toiling to combat bowlers and bowlers doing everything they can to get on top of them? Do we want cricket to head more towards the historic 400+ run chase match between Australia and South Africa, or do we want it to be the back and forth skirmish that was the recent Australia-New Zealand or India-West Indies World Cup match?
Should bowlers be active, influential forces in the game of cricket or just defensive bots wishing to survive onslaughts by foreboding godly batsmen?
As I mentioned above, there is no right and there is no wrong. There is just the cricket we want to project, and we will end up inevitably whittling down its future.