Time to transform the game?

For more than twenty years, I have been an ardent fan and follower of the game of cricket. Like many Indians my contribution to the world of cricket includes playing the game in school, university and even trying my hands at the harmless tennis ball cricket at workplace. Along with my class mates, I bunked classes (and even examinations) to watch India performing against their arch rivals. Memorizing and recalling what exactly happened in 1987 cricket world cup semi finals or remembering how many runs were scored by a favorite batsman in a particular match and how exactly ‘technically’ he was out was a matter of pride. Debating about similar issues in friends circle, at work or even with strangers while watching live cricket in the roadside TV shop was part and parcel of my life.

Having experienced the good and bad that cricket has handed me during my studies and initial work life, of late I started thinking about the pluses and minuses of this sport – especially in the context of a developing nation. My thoughts may hurt readers from all walks of life for whom cricket is a religion. However, I request you to provide your constructive and unbiased feedback on my views.

Most people believe that the game of cricket was originated in England during the 16th century though it became popular only by the eighteenth century. The first official cricket test match was played in 1877. There is also a theory that the British devised the game of cricket based on an ancient Indian game by name gilli-danda. Regardless of the origin, it was the British people – during their colonial rule – who made the game popular around the world. Having a five day test match was probably perfectly fine in the 18th century when life was more laid back in nature. The test match cricket remained – and still remains – the longest form of sport.

The 20th century witnessed the arrival of the limited over cricket game that was more like an action packed single day of cricket. Though, many people predicted that test cricket is the ‘real form of cricket’, the one day matches became more and more popular as time passed by. This also resulted in the formation of a world cup cricket tournament that was played between major cricket playing nations once every four years. It took almost 100 years since the first international test match to change the game significantly to make it more appealing for the mass. However, one whole day of cricket still meant a lot of time though crazy followers always wished that they had more of it.

The Twenty 20 cricket – the latest avatar – took relatively lesser (30 plus) number of years to formulate since one day cricket became so popular. People started realizing that, spending the whole day in front of the TV or in a packed stadium probably meant a bit too expensive in the 21st century. Also, the Twenty 20 cricket is even more action packed and thrilling and this is where cricket is standing as of today. The five day long cricket test match and one day long game is now co-existing with the Twenty 20 version that typically gets completed in roughly three hours.

Now the question is whether this kind of transformation is good for the game as well as the fans. I feel that, definitely it is the way to be. As I mentioned earlier, I have not heard of any other sport or game that spans over several days or for that matter even one whole day. In the modern world loosing so many days means lesser productivity. A developing nation like India needs to bank on its vast human resources to shape up the future. It is a known fact that if there is a live cricket match telecast of an India match, students bunk their classes, office workers and laborers take leaves and sometimes even public security departments and essential services see shortage of attendance and hence interruption. And India plays 50 such one-day cricket matches a year. One can imagine the productivity at work, teaching/learning in schools and hence the overall productivity of a nation!

Any sporting activity relates to some focused action for an hour or two. It refreshes your mind and body, keeps you high on adrenaline for a short time-frame and helps you revitalize. But if it is a day or week long affair, it tends to make you lazier, lethargic and eventually a couch potato. It may be a good lifestyle post retirement but not definitely for the young and active. These days, five day test matches reminds me of those never ending television serials on Indian TV channels, that is mainly targeting the jobless and the retired.

Another India specific issue due to cricket-mania is the way other sports and sports persons are neglected. Cricketers are like stars in India and they make millions whereas most of the other sportsmen struggle to make a good living. Basically it has become a commercial, political and religious set up where cricketers, cricket bodies and their MNC sponsors thrive at the expense of the precious national human resources.

I would not be an antagonist to the game and say that the game should be banned in India. But it definitely needs to transform into something that makes more sense. It could be Twenty 20 format or even shorter form of the game. But definitely, India cannot afford to spend millions of person days almost every other day watching cricket for nothing. The lawmakers of the game and the nation should seriously think about it and act for a better future. This is the era where India is economically booming and we need to fire all our cylinders and mobilize the resources towards becoming a developed nation by 2020.

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