“This set-up will work in favour of the cricket loving audience, who now wait for four years to see India tour England, South Africa or Australia. If this is done constantly, cricket will not witness extended periods of boredom where two unevenly matched teams are fighting it out for long durations”.
Cricket, particularly Test cricket, was in its last stages, they said. Cricket had lost its charm, they said. People no longer stayed up glued to the television sets or the mobile screen for match updates was yet another talk doing the rounds. The only thing that sold in the cricketing arena was T20 games, and the Boards, especially the ICC were coming up with measures to promote the game further via the shortest format. With Tests and ODIs hardly garnering interest, it was but imperative to take stern steps and look at other avenues for the game’s success.
But contrary to all these beliefs and all these talks, India’s recent tour to South Africa ended on what one can say, a “successful” note. Not merely from an Indian fan’s perspective (but then again, it would be a myth to state that one did not enjoy how Virat Kohli’s men pushed back the Proteas ever since the Test in Johannesburg) but also, from the viewpoint of a larger audience. The series had tales of fightbacks and comebacks. It swayed to one side and the very next, it oscillated towards the other. The intensity never fell and each player out in the middle wanted to outperform the other desperately. It was almost like an action-packed movie that never failed to surprise – leaving one and all at the tender-hooks till it the very end.
If indeed, cricket was dying a slow death, why did the spectators wish that the Test series had another Test match? Why would they keep filling in the stands for an outstretched limited overs series that had six ODIs and three T20Is? If indeed, one gets “exhausted” from too much cricket, why did the critics and the experts never tire of analysing and dissecting the performances on offer in the Rainbow Nation? There must be a reason why Indians wake up at five thirty in the morning on a cold winter morning to watch the Ashes series, which does not even feature their own team. There must be a reason why Alastair Cook’s worrisome form bothered them as much and how Steven Smith’s insane heroics galvanised them. The debates on Mitchell Starc’s impact and James Anderson’s decline was as talked about as Kohli’s feats and Yuzvendra Chahal’s spells and one is only forced to think why and how it is said that the sport is not attracting attention.
There are two facets to the above discussion. One is the scheduling of regular meaningless series constantly and the other remains the long intervals between the hosting of two high-profile ones. If one observes the trend that has been going around the cricket circuit for long, one will not fail to observe that for months on an end, a top-ranked team plays teams that offer no challenge and hardly any contest. So, India was seen fighting it out with Sri Lanka twice in the span of three months, and even though the Lankans have made rapid strides and progress since the retirement of Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene when faced against India, they hardly are a match. So, Kohli was racing away to runs and Ashwin was picking up those wickets, but somewhere something remained amiss. The only talks that swivelled around were how the upcoming tour to Africa will be the “real” challenge, and that playing and winning against a depleted side at home hardly made a difference.
So, why not host these “real” Test matches at a regular basis? It is no secret that one will always wait in anticipation for India to play England, Australia and South Africa more than they will wait for India to play West Indies or Sri Lanka. They will wait for a team to go abroad and put up a fight rather than watching their team play sub-standard rivals at home and romping away to a Test win in three days. The level of competition matters as well and not just the assumption that people will throng the stadiums to watch the Kohlis and the Shikhar Dhawans, irrespective of the opponent they play against.
What can be done instead then, is to ensure that the top 5 ranked teams play the other at least once in two years. And this does not only mean playing two Test games and three ODI matches. By having full-fledged tours, with a minimum of four Tests and 5 ODIs, the interest amidst both the players and the audience will be sky-high from Day 1 of the tour to the very last. Scheduled in such a way that no side plays constantly at home for long periods will not only eradicate the tags of home-track-bullies but will also challenge a team constantly to adapt and change from one condition to another.
If India play South Africa at home, the next series can be played away in England or In New Zealand. The following one can be a contest in the sub-continent and this cycle can be routinely followed. On the other hand, the lower ranked teams can have similar contests and two-month long tours as well for it is but obvious that a contest between West Indies and Sri Lanka or Bangladesh and West Indies will attract more eyeballs than a series that features Australia and West Indies. To ensure that these lower-ranked teams do not miss out on polishing their skills, they can have small series (say, three Tests and three LOIs) against the top-5 sides in between their longer ventures. With adequate rest ensured between each series, for up to a month, the question of burnout and fatigue is well removed from the matter.
This set-up will work in favour of the cricket loving audience, who now wait for four years to see India tour England, South Africa or Australia. If this is done constantly, cricket will not witness extended periods of boredom where two unevenly matched teams are fighting it out for long durations. It is fun to see Kohli score a double hundred, but then, it is even more enriching to witness him score a fighting ton on hard conditions against mighty bowlers. This will not only help a player improve his skills against the very best, it will eventually even lead to a marked change in the quality of cricket on offer in the international level, which will be a sure-shot method to attract the crowds, whose interest and passion towards cricket will cause the talks of “no one watches cricket anymore but for T20s” to die a silent death.