“Truth be told, no matter how one carries on about the status of Test cricket, one will always hold it as a Holy Grail. A cricket lover still waits in anticipation for India to tour Australia or Kohli to iron out his flaws in England, not in the LOIs but in the white flannels”.
One glance around the world of cricket today might leave you startled; even bewildered. Each individual and each cricketer brings something unique to the table, but on further dissection, one will be able to observe a similar trend and a similar face of horror across each of these international stars. For, they all bear faces of exhaustion and tiredness – faces that desperately call for a break to take a few days off from this intensely scrutinising world to just rejuvenate their senses.
The Indian Cricket Team has been in South Africa since the last week of December for a gruelling three Test matches, six ODIs and three T20Is. The English team has had it worse for they have been packed Down Under since the last week of October to prepare for a hard-fought Ashes and an ODI series immediately after that. Just when one thought that was it for the summer, they had to engage in a T20I tri-series that took them from Australia to New Zealand and just four days hence, they engage in a full-fledged tour in the land of the Black Caps.
The Australian team that contested the Ashes was sent packing to South Africa even as half of their members were playing the tri-series and South Africa will have to swiftly shift gears from the T20I mode to the Test one as they get ready to battle the Aussies just four days after India’s sojourn ends.
One will not blame you for reading this and heaving a sigh of pity for our stars. Another bunch might just pass a snide remark about how the cricketers do not have much of a reason to complain as more matches mean more financial gains. Another might be forced to think of this as their “profession” and that if an ordinary getting no time off from their duties, it is but legitimate that they continue theirs as well.
But for once, imagine yourself in the shoes of Virat Kohli. Imagine the pressure and the media glares at your marriage and imagine how every failure of yours will be accounted to your wife. Think of the physical demands of being at the top of your game in every match every day, without having the luxury to skip a game, unless it has been asked for months before. If indeed you do skip an international series or a match due to severe fatigue and burnout a few weeks before a T20 league is about to commence, talks will swivel around your disinterest in playing for the country and how the leagues have taken over all primary focus. And if, the league in question is the Indian Premier League, then expect all hell to break loose.
The question of nationality over club and the quick bucks is not only unfair; it also tends to take away the basic freedom that each individual has been born with – the right to choose how to make his living. It is rather unfortunate how a cricketer is termed “unpatriotic” if he does choose club over playing for his country. You might never know what financial issues have befallen a cricketer who has to support his family. And also, except for a few top-cricketing nations, most Boards have paltry amounts for their players. Ordinary beings often pick and choose the pay-scale before accepting an offer. You do it. The writer does it. No one will prefer to sweat it out for meagre amounts of sum, when instead they can get just the reverse by participating in the T20 leagues all over the world. By calling this practice unfair and by criticising players who do give up international cricket for franchise cricket, we are just converting into nothing but hypocrites ourselves.
For the people who do prefer the harder route towards success, should it not be the imperative of the Boards and the ICC to reduce their burdens? On one hand, we compare Kohli to Sachin Tendulkar to Donald Bradman and on the other, we keep thrusting the former from one meaningless series into another. Sir Bradman played 52 Tests over twenty years, from 1928 to 1948. Tendulkar played 664 games in 24 years and well, Kohli has played 271 in six and a half years! At this rate, Kohli would have played 988 games in 24 years – 224 more matches than Tendulkar has! How then, can you really compare one generation from another to another?
Trevor Bayliss’ statements then, on the step to stash away T20I games and just leave the format to be played at the club level seems to make perfect sense. For one, the cricketers in question who hop and skip from one format to another are not machines. They need their rest but it has been observed that crowds hardly throng a stadium if the core members of the side aren’t present. No one will be willing to go watch a game if Kohli, Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan, MS Dhoni, Jasprit Bumrah and Bhuvneshwar Kumar are all absent. Thus the whole purpose of T20 games attracting masses is hardly true. They prefer to go watch these games due to the presence of these superstars. Remove them, and one will witness empty stands, as is what one saw in many matches in the tri-series, where the likes of Steven Smith and Mitchell Starc were absent.
Hence, the broadcasters will hardly be benefitted unless the heroes are in tow. One is pretty sure that the Kohlis and the Rohits would have wanted to skip the T20I games against South Africa to get the much-deserved break, but bound by contracts, that hardly seemed feasible. Exhaustion will, in turn, lead to a shorter shelf life of the cricketing greats, who will be expected to play round-the-clock, which will then take away the very best from the game, degrading the quality of cricket on offer the world over. Anyway, with international teams throwing in mediocre players in the T20I side as the regulars are away for the more important South Africa series, one begins to wonder how serious the Boards actually are about international cricket and how meaningless some series have become for them that they are happy to not field their best sides.
If one debates about how Tests will not help in the promotion of cricket in the smaller nations, then the ICC can alternatively, host T20I games between the associate members and every four years, host a T20I World Cup in one of these countries. Not only will this excite the citizens in those countries, the presence of international stars for a World Cup is a sure shot formula of attracting more eyeballs.
Truth be told, no matter how one carries on about the status of Test cricket, one will always hold it as a Holy Grail. A cricket lover still waits in anticipation for India to tour Australia or Kohli to iron out his flaws in England, not in the LOIs but in the white flannels. The image of a searing Starc or a menacing James Anderson unleashing their mightiest on the very best over two innings still garners up goosebumps and to ensure that one continues enjoying watching the legends in action for a little while longer, it is imperative that T20Is, whose results and losses are hardly taken to heart, are left to the franchise club lovers.