Yearning for the good ol' days of cricket
It is not often that I am reminded of the fact that I am not getting younger. I thought I was, with each passing day! But even so, I am anything but old. I am the quintessential “young lad”, as Sir Geoffrey Boycott fondly refers to people anywhere close to being as old as his kids. Or grandkids.
But lately, something has awakened me to the possibility that I might, in fact, be getting old. Or at least older. The real horror of it all, however, lies in the truth of what that something is. It is what I have grown up with, and followed with a sense of admiration, love and fidelity.
It is something that I felt would preserve the young lad in me, even when I actually grew old. I am talking about that funny little game called ‘cricket’ – a game I used to know and understand, a game of glorious uncertainties that has now become too uncertain, or too certain, for my own taste (already talking like an old lad, aren’t I?).
300 – no longer a massive score in ODIs
Before I am accused of having “lost it”, I would urge you to consider this. Of the 32 games played so far in the 2015 Cricket World Cup, 18 have seen the side batting first score more than 300, a score that used to count for something in this format till not more than a few years back. And that was even with insane hitters like Adam Gilchrist, Sanath Jayasuriya and Shahid Afridi being very much around.
6 runs per over – that dreaded asking rate that took your nail-biting to a different level if your team was chasing, and imparted a sense of calm and reassurance if you were bowling second – is now a matter of concern only if numbers 10 and jack are at the crease. Or, in certain exceptional circumstances, when the team chasing is South Africa (remember their ridiculous attempt to chase down a below-par total against Pakistan just a couple of days ago?).
It is believed by many that such a trend is good for the game. They say limited overs cricket is now more clinical, calculated, and involves far more strategizing than it ever did. Perhaps that is true, but what is equally true is that what distinguished this game from others is that it had two facets to it (with due respect to Jonty Rhodes and his ilk, I am not counting fielding), each with its own charm and brilliance.
Balance between bat and ball – what is that?
That uniqueness – the cliched “balance between bat and ball” – has perhaps been irreversibly damaged.
The reasons for this change have been repeated far too many times for us to forget – big bats, bigger biceps, small grounds, flat pitches, new fielding restrictions, powerplays, free hits, two new balls.... I have lost count. But as I watch Mitchell Johnson being thwacked for six boundaries in an over by Mr. Dilshan of Sri Lanka, I can’t help but admit I am growing old.
This was the bowler who had put the fear of God into the Poms not very long ago – his intimidating bowling matched only by the ferocity of his moustache in the five-match Ashes series. On Sunday, though, he was even less than a shadow of that fearsome fast bowler. You may say he is simply not as good in the shorter format, but that is hardly any consolation. We need to confront the bitter truth that there has been a gradual emasculation of the bowlers’ fraternity in the game.
All the improvisation, all the novelty in the past decade in the game – everything has come from the batting fraternity. How sad is that? The “slower bouncer” is all I can think of in the name of bowling innovations in the same period. Quite frankly, I am not a big fan of that either.
Craving for skill over brutality
Another argument in favour of these changes is that they “sell”. People want to watch ‘em sail out of the park – let’s give them that. Well, perhaps. But if one thinks of the most exciting of this World Cup, it was the one where the team batting first scored 150 and almost pulled off a win.
I crave for such games. I crave for that in-swinging yorker that is now nearing extinction. I crave for a game where a capable bowling unit can ensure that six an over is more than just a walk in the park. I crave for the adjectives brutal and belligerent (typically reserved for the modern-day batting performances) to be evened out by “skilful and surreal”. This sport is as much an art as it is anything else, after all.
But then, I realise I say this because I have grown old. I haven’t managed to catch up with the speed at which this game has grown younger. Maybe I need a T20 side to myself as well, something that I could switch on and off at will. Maybe we could all do with something like that. One can never be sure.
I still think the 90s were golden for all forms of the game. I still want some more of that.
In the “Associates vs No Associates in the World Cup” debate, my two cents are these – in the 13 games this World Cup where the team batting first has scored fewer than 300, seven involved an Associate team batting first against a Test playing nation. For the sake of diversity in the game, if for nothing else, let us allow the Associates to stay.