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Cricket: Which Era Was The Toughest?

Tim Holt
720   //    19 Jul 2011, 23:15 IST

By Shiv P Pandey

As expected, the ICC’s poll of the All Time Greatest XI has led to the debatable comparison between the modern day greats and the greats of the past. As several people have pointed out, all the players are the ones who have featured after 70’s and people have seen them playing, except Sir Bradman that too because if he were missing from the list then probably the poll would have been scrapped. Otherwise it’s very clear that people believed what they saw. The consequences are not a surprise either and as expected it has led to a debate once again, a debate which is never ending since there is no proper basis of comparison.

One of my respected friends Tim Holt has drawn a conclusion that Hammond is better than Sachin because he had played in tougher conditions. This is one of the very common criteria to compare the cricketers of two generations. Now I have few questions to ask from the seniors. What do we mean by the tougher conditions? Does it always depend on the physical and tangible conditions like uncovered pitches and less guards on the body? Can we ignore the mental pressure which is there and that increases as the game evolves?

I would like to quote an example. Ten years back in India when I thought of graduating from a Premier Business School, the percentile cut-off for Common Admission Test (CAT- The most difficult and prestigious examination for MBA in India, conducted by Indian Institute of Management) was close to 95, and now that has gone up to 99 in 10 years, apart from that the number of applicants have increased by 100% and the difficulty level of the exam has gone up by at least 200 percent. There was a time when 75% in 12th grade was enough to get admission in the top universities for graduation and today best colleges of Delhi University are asking for 97%. Can we say that the competition in cricket is constant? Surely not, then can we simply ignore the competition that has increased? If you had to be one among the thousands to become a national cricketer in those days then today you have to be one among the millions to be the same. Can we ignore that?

I can notice a huge change from the time I started watching cricket. The catch of VIV taken by Kapil Dev in the finals was considered a great one in those days and today that’s just a regulation catch and a heinous crime if dropped. The improved fielding, the technology to help the players prepare better before the series, do they not increase the toughness of cricket? Why do we not consider the professionalism that has come in? Why do we always forget that everything tends to evolve and cricket is not an exception? But we always take this game differently and think that it has become easier. Why do we not consider the biggest factor and that is the ability to switch from tests to ODIs and vice versa and then perform equally well in both the formats? Does it not increase the toughness? Now the next question would be, Why to feature in these meaningless ODIs? Pardon me, but the need is there because the game is evolving. People like to see  ODIs and 20-20 because that is the need of the hour. Change is the only way to survive. I am not a particular a fan of Test, ODIs or 20-20. I am fan of cricket and love watching every format of it. Nobody in today’s era would like to watch only Tests. I accept that the introduction of ODIs and 20-20 has gradually started a form of cannibalisation by eating up the Tests but that does not mean the ODIs are meaningless. We fans want the players to play everything. So the bottom line is that ODIs cannot be ignored because the fans like it and hence the performance in ODIs can’t be ignored and which means a successful switchover between 177 Tests and 440+ ODIs can never be ignored. Does that not increase the toughness of cricket in modern era?

I don’t seek answers for the questions I have put forth because I want to say that the Sachin and other modern players are great. I always believe that an All Time XI can never be formed and forming them leads to an unnecessary comparison. Anyone who has not just survived but has also ruled the game, the fans, the stats and last but surely not the least, ‘CRICKET’ of his era is a great for me. When people like Sir Don, Hammond, Hobbs used to play, cricket was only about tests and without any doubt they ruled the cricket of their times and pleased the people who loved Tests.  But today cricket consists of Tests and ODIs both and the players have to satisfy the fans of different clusters.  . So whenever we are discussing the performance of  modern players in Tests, we have to consider the influence of the other formats also, it’s never easy to switch over which means every era of cricket throws its challenges and not just challenges, you will find the relaxations also in every era. Despite being the uncovered pitches you will find enough number of drawn matches in the past that too when each match used to last for 6-7 days (rest day included).  In a few cases you will find more than 110 overs bowled in one day. The LBW rules were a little relaxed and the batsmen used to be given out only if the ball was pitching in line and hitting whether he is offering a shot or not. A very interesting state, in Hammond’s career 45% of the matches (38 out of 85) were draws and Sachin has played only 39.5 % (70 out of 177) draws. These kinds of stats create a doubt in my mind as to whether it was suffocatingly tough to survive on those pitches.

Yet I believe the comparison between two eras by any means will be unfair. I don’t think that there could be an all time 11 because that 11 will always be imaginary and debatable. I have already given my definition of the greats or shall I say all time greats and that is
My Sincere Thanks to Mr Shiv P Pandey for this excellent article

Tim Holt
Cricket through the eyes of an Irishman. Do check out more on my blog <a href="">atouchofirishintheglobalvillage</a>
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