A lot has been written on India’s fabulous win over Australia on October 16, 2013. The underlying message in almost all of these articles has been very positive. As one columnist put it in the Daily News and Analysis “Make no mistake, Jai Ho! Pur is no flash in the pan. It is a sign of the things to come.”
If what happened on October 16, 2013, is a sign of things to come, then I am really worried. And so should be you, if you are an average Indian cricket fan, like I have been.
I have followed the travails of the Indian cricket team, largely on television and radio, for more than 25 years now. I have watched games, where I knew from the very beginning that it’s a lost cause. I have religiously gone through scoreboards in the next day’s newspaper after having watched the full match on television, a day earlier. I have laughed my heart out while reading Hindi newspapers, which referred to leg before wicket as pagbadha.
I have prayed to God to ensure that there is an uninterrupted supply of electricity on days India was playing. I have spent hours trying to tune in to short wave radio to listen to commentary in the late 1980s and early 1990s, before the advent of cable television, when most international tours of the Indian cricket team were not broadcast live on television. And it was on radio I heard that a certain Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar, had scored his first century and helped India save a test match against England, in 1990.
I have spent time watching an ODI series between England and India, before my tenth standard exams, and am still paying the the price for it. I have prayed to God that the other God bats well and helps India win, a countless number of times.
I was depressed for almost one week when Sri Lanka beat India in the World Cup semi final at Calcutta (now Kolkata) in 1996, on an underprepared pitch which broke down and started turning like a top, in the second innings. I still hate Jagmohan Dalmiya for it.
Sachin Tendulkar’s straight drive and Venkatesh Prasad’s slow leg cutter are two things that I can watch over and over again. I almost jumped out of my seat in office, when Joginder Sharma dismissed Misbah-ul-Haq, and helped India win the first T20 world-cup in September 2007. And I wished that I was a part of the impromptu celebration that broke out at Firayal Chowk in Ranchi, after the city’s most famous son, hit a six at the Wankhede Stadium, to help India win the 2011 fifty over world cup.
Watching cricket has been a non-stop roller-coaster ride with emotions from fear to exhilaration to hope to defeat, built into it. But on October 16, 2013, I wondered whether all these years of watching cricket has really been worth the trouble?
I saw more or less the entire match on mute(to be honest I just can’t hear Ravi Shastri saying and that went like a tracer bullet one more time). And by the end of the match I wasn’t really sure if I was watching an international cricket match or a video game.
My Samsung phone has a cricket video game built into it. In this game, the batsman knows exactly where the bowler is going to pitch the ball. He also knows the likely speed at which the ball is going to come at him. Hence, he can decide in advance which shot to play. Typically, most balls can be hit for a four or a six. In short, the game is loaded totally in favour of the batsmen. The bowler is just an insignificant part of the game.
What I saw on October 16, 2013, was very similar. The wicket was dead. It did not have anything in it either for spinners or for fast bowlers. The worst of ODI cricket where the rules and the playing conditions are totally against the bowlers, was at work.
The power of heavy bats was at display, with even mis-hits crossing the boundary line. Cricket bats have become heavier over the years. Anyone who watches slow motion replays carefully, can easily figure out that even rank mis-hits go for a six these days.
Only, four players are now allowed outside the 15 yard circle at any point of time, making it even more difficult for bowlers specially spinners. Spinners rely a lot on mis-hits to take wickets. These mis-hits can be caught in and around the boundary line. But with only four fielders allowed outside circle, the chances of that happening are significantly lower. This has made it even more difficult for captains to bowl spinners in the final overs.
Also, two white balls are now used in a 50 over game. This has led to a situation where reverse swing that a fast bowler can get from an old ball, has been more or less taken out of the equation. It is rare to see toe crushing yorkers these days, which the likes of Waqar Younis, Wasim Akram and Brett Lee, had turned into an art form. This has also made it important for spinners to be able to bowl with the new ball. While it is important to adapt, it was very interesting to see the kind of turn that spinners used to get with the old ball earlier and fox the batsmen.
Over the years, boundary lines in cricket stadiums have been brought in. The cricket administrators seem to like the idea of batsmen hitting more sixes. Apparently that is what the crowds want I am told.
ODI cricket was never really meant for bowlers. The basic fact that a batsman can keep batting till he gets out, whereas a bowler cannot bowl more than 10 overs in a match, proves that. Over the years, limits were also placed on the number of bouncers that a bowler could bowl in one over. Thankfully this has been corrected, and bowlers are now allowed to bowl two bouncers in an over. This has ensured that batsmen can’t simply jump out of their creases after the one bouncer for the over has been bowled.
But even with this, ODI cricket is now loaded totally in favour of the batsmen. And what happened in Jaipur is a brilliant example of that. The era when a team could defend a low score is more or less over (that only happens when the pitch is really bad).
The days when the Indian cricket team could score 125 at Sharjah and win the match by bowling out Pakistan for 87, are gone. One of my favourite ODIs was at Perth in 1992, when India made 126 against the West Indies, and managed to tie the match, with Sachin Tendulkar taking the last wicket in the 41 st over, after the captain Mohammed Azharuddin had used up his four major bowlers.
Sachin on that occasion had bowled medium pace and got the last wicket with a beautiful outswinger. It’s been a while since I saw such a match in which the bowlers dominated from the very beginning. These days the only way to win a match is to out bat the other team. Bowlers rarely win matches any more.
The ICC has been trying to save 50 over cricket over the last few years. It has put an artificial cap on the number of international T20 matches that a team can play during the course of a year. It has also made changes favouring the batsmen, in order to liven up proceedings in 50 over cricket.
But anyone who watched the Jaipur match carefully enough on television, would have realised that large parts of the ground were empty (the BCCI commentators of course did not talk about it). This wasn’t the case with the T20 match that happened in Rajkot a few days earlier.
Why can’t ICC make a few changes in favour of the bowlers as well? Why limit the number of overs that a bowler can bowl in a match to ten? Why not allow, lets say, two bowlers per team, to bowl even 15 overs in a match? Why not even allow bowlers to tamper the ball in certain ways?
The ICC doesn’t stop batsmen from using heavier bats, where the wood is concentrated right at the bottom. As mentioned earlier a lot of mis-hits now cross the boundary line. Given this, I don’t see any harm even allowing bowlers to tamper with the ball. Let the batsmen figure out how to play them. Also, ICC needs to seriously look at the size of the boundaries. Cricket administrators need to stop bringing in boundary lines.
As a true cricket fan, I want to see a somewhat equal contest between bat and ball, which has gone out of the window, over the last few years. Maybe, I am getting a little too nostalgic here. Maybe, I am getting old. But for me, on October 16, 2013, 50 over ODI cricket, just died.
The article originally appeared on www.firstpost.com on October 19, 2013
(Vivek Kaul is a writer. He tweets @kaul_vivek)