An overdose of matches across the formats have made it difficult for cricket fans to follow the sport, says Partab Ramchand
How much is too much cricket? With the growing number of matches played the world over in various formats it could well reach saturation point. In the opinion of Steve Waugh it already has. The former Australian captain, now a highly respected elder statesman at 57, feels that “the public has almost overdosed on cricket” and has exressed his disappointment at the crammed schedule. Referring to the hectic schedule of the Australian team he said that it has become very hard for a spectator to keep up with the matches.
Waugh has a point. Barely three days after the T-20 World Cup final, newly crowned champions England and Australia locked horns in a largely insignificant ODI series Down Under forcing many to criticise Cricket Australia (CA) for the manner in which it has scheduled the team’s games. Not surprisingly the turnout was poor and Waugh blamed it on the overdose of cricket. According to him it is very hard for a cricket follower to keep up with the crammed schedule. “The ODIs against England seemed a bit insignificant. I mean what were they playing for?” Besides being the hosts, Australia entered the T-20 World Cup as defending champions and yet the average attendance for five of the Super 12 games was only in the region of 37000. This includes the abandoned fixture against England at the MCG.
According to Waugh, it is hard to follow the Australian side because every time they play they have a different tream on the field. “For the fans and spectators it is hard to make a connection because you are not sure who is playing. You want to know who is in the squad every game, you want to be following it closely and it is hard to do that right now,” the 1999 World Cup winning skipper said.
Waugh was talking only about the Australian side but he could well have been speaking of any team playing right now in the world. Take the Indian team, for example. The various teams are playing in quick succession in many countries. This is nothing new for it has been going on for some time now. There was a time when Sunil Gavaskar talked about the honour and privilege of receiving an India cap. These days with so many games played in three formats – and there is also an India A team – one wonders whether there is the same honour and privilege to get an India cap.
Oh sure, it is a significant event in the life of the young cricketer receiving it but to the game’s followers with so many cricketers getting it, one wonders if its value is not lessened. To be candid, there is a lot of mediocre cricket seen in several of the bilateral contests leading one to wonder whether some players are deserving of wearing the India cap.
And this brings me to a related development involving the selectors. Recently, the BCCI sacked the entire selection committee a move I still think is uncalled for. The selection committee cannot be blamed for the failures of the players. They pick the side in good faith and if the team fails to perform up to expectations it is the players who have to be axed. To my mind the selectors were made scapegoats not just for the team’s failures but also the BCCI’s erring policy of having too many games.
Staleness creeps in and then there is also the injury angle. It was hard enough being a selector in the old days when only Test matches were played and perhaps a few ODIs every year. Now with the various formats and the plethora of games, they have to pick several players and teams and that cannot be an easy task. They deserve sympathy, not censure.
Selectors have always been sitting ducks for potshots. Most of the comments on the selection of Indian teams can be pretty harsh and uncharitable. After all, every cricket fan is an expert when it comes to picking teams and selector bashing is quite common. They clearly are in a no win situation. A few years ago, former Indian pace bowler T.A. Sekhar, then on the selection committee, told me that he was well aware of what awaited him when he was nominated for the post. “I knew there would be only criticism so I just developed a thick hide and now the adverse comments don’t really affect me.”
Selectors and thick skins have necessarily to go together. Selector bashing is one thing but one would like to think that they have the right to expect backing from the BCCI. However, the parent body has gone to to the other extreme by giving the entire committee the heave-ho.
Do selectors ever receive praise? Oh, I suppose so in a grudging sort of way. But they are most remembered for their foibles rather than any bold choices or hunches that come off. Does anyone remember the selector who pushed 19-year-old Dilip Vengsarkar into the nationsl squad on the basis of one dashing century against Prasanna and Bedi in the Irani Trophy game in 1975? Does anyone remember the selector who had the foresight to pick the relatively unknown Bedi, then only 20, on one good performance for the Board Presidents XI against West Indies in 1966?
It was under the chairmanship of this much maligned selector that both B.S. Chandrasekhar and S. Venkatraghavan were first given their India caps when they were still teenagers. Does anyone recall the selector who had the foresight to give the captaincy to the Nawab of Pataudi, then just 20 to lead the Board Presidents XI against the visiting MCC side in 1961? Does anyone recall the head of the selection committees who picked the teams for the 1983 World Cup or the 1985 World Championship of Cricket – both highly successful campaigns?
Does anyone remember the selection committee that picked the Indian teams for the 1971 tours of West Indies and England – tours that maked a turning point in Indian cricket? Who was the chairman of the selection committee when Sachin Tendulkar was given his break at the age of 16 in 1989? Indian cricket has had many such examples of inspired selections but, unfortunately, these are hardly remembered.
(The writer is a veteran sports writer who worked for The Indian Express and The Telegraph and Sportsworld.)
October – December 2022