I've been following cricket ever since I was a child and I love the game more than most. It is a glorious sport and I am glad it is part of my life. Yet in recent years, I find myself alternating between great interest in it to downright indifference. It baffled me, considering what an ardent fan I'd always been.
I am currently in the "who cares" phase and it has reached a point where I frankly couldn't be bothered to watch a single ball being bowled. So, why don't I give a hoot about any of it? I decided to do some introspection.
After much thought I found that my problem has its root in the way the game is structured. It is not that there is "too much" cricket as everyone claims. I definitely don't feel the overdose. It is just that I don't know what we are playing for anymore.
"It is not that there is 'too much' cricket as everyone claims... It is just that I don't know what we are playing for anymore."
I will always cheer for India, yet I don't feel the elation of a win or the sorrow of a loss as I do for the other sports teams that I follow. As far as I can see, barring the World Cup and the World T20s, all we do is play randomly scheduled series between countries. When you boil down to it, these mean absolutely nothing.
Let's do a little comparison to other sports.
In every sport, teams and individuals are measured by one universal statistic -- how many championships/grand slams/tournaments has the team or individual won? It has been and always will be the measuring stick. Whether it is in tennis, basketball, Formula One, football or any other sport, that is the one universal thing people talk about. What is that measuring stick in cricket? Is it World Cup wins? Is it series wins? Is it individual statistics? Can it really be series wins? If so, then why do some series have three tests and some have five? Shouldn't it be consistent?
Similarly, at the start of every season (whatever the sport), fans look forward to their team's chances to win it all. What is the "all" in cricket? During years of World Cups or big tournaments it is winning those. But how will we decide if 2015 was a good year for Indian cricket? We won in Sri Lanka but what if we lose in South Africa? Is that a good, bad or average year? I have no clue.
In the grand scheme of things, series between two countries mean little. Barring The Ashes, which is the greatest rivalry in cricket, there is no real series that even comes close to having any significance. With all due respect to the Border-Gavaskar and Frank Worrell Trophies they aren't in the same league as The Ashes. India and Pakistan don't play cricket anymore, so is anything of significance left when it comes to a series between two countries? Nothing.
"I have no idea whether the year was good, average or bad. There is no yardstick to measure success."
The same is true of ODIs. How many people actually know (or, more importantly, care) whether the last ODI series we played with New Zealand, for example, was won by India, how many matches were played and what was the final series score? Besides the stats-loving diehards, not a lot I imagine.
So, then, what are these series that we are playing? What do they mean? More than any sport in the world the cricket schedule lacks any logic or consistency. The ICC may claim that standard tours happen every few years. If that is true then please check out the pattern of the last few test series between two of the big cricketing nations -- India and South Africa.
- 2010: In India, two tests
- 2010-11: In South Africa, three tests
- 2013-14: In South Africa, two tests
- 2015: In South Africa-, four tests
If you can see logic and consistency in this list then you are smarter than I am. The number of ODIs and T20s on these tours was varied as well. As Harsha Bhogle Tweeted recently "Since the turn of the century, South Africa have played a bilateral ODI series in India only twice! 2005-6 (2-2) and 2009-10 (1-2)"
So, why then should I even care whether we beat South Africa or not? Or why was the recent win against Sri Lanka important? How many of us will remember it 10 years from now?
It is important for the ICC Rankings you say? You've got to be kidding me.
The above series chart proves that the ICC world rankings mean nothing at all. How can we respect the rankings when the last time South Africa played a test in India was five years ago? Players in that Indian team included Gambhir, Sehwag, Tendulkar and VVS Laxman.
India is one of the harder places for visiting teams to play. Australia played a series here more recently and struggled. Did that not impact their points? So how am I to believe that South Africa is the best team in the world? They haven't played in one of the hardest countries for visitors to play in five years. Even in 2010 they only played two tests, versus the four that Australia played in 2013. So what again are these rankings based on? Even if you take the five-year-old series in to account, does it really matter? The teams were completely different.
Anyone with a certain level of common sense will tell you that the only way to have rankings mean anything is if you have an equal measure of comparison. This doesn't exist.
So as a fan I don't know what my team is playing for every year. Each year, the opponents change, the number of matches played changes, the home vs. away changes and at the end of the year I have no idea whether the year was good, average or bad. There is no yardstick to measure success.
There is an opportunity and quite frankly a requirement for the ICC to change it all. They need to go the FIFA way, and I only mean the scheduling. A test/one day and T20 season schedule that features all the teams against each other at home and away. This schedule should take into account the domestic tournaments of each nation, the local T20 tournaments (IPL, Big Bash) and anything else that is required. Throw in the World Cup every four years and other tournaments as well and things start to look interesting. You want non-permanent members to be part of this? Then set up a relegation system as well.
" For consistent interest, development and growth of the game, the ICC must set up a better schedule. "
Ideally, this should happen over a one-year period but because test cricket is a five-day game it can be scheduled over 15 or 18 months even.
Most importantly, the end of the year/season results in a World Test Championship Team, a World One Day Championship Team and a World T20 Championship Team.
Now we're talking!
This way fans have a season to look forward to, teams have a trophy to win and a goal to reach. Every series makes a difference in the quest to win the season-ending trophy. Every win helps and every loss hurts. We always complain that one good series erases the memory of the past few bad ones. That changes when you are playing for something rather than just a random series.
For consistent interest, development and growth of the game, the ICC must set up a better schedule. Moreover the individual country boards must support this endeavour. If we keep going like this, with other sports developing in India and around the world, the level of interest in cricket will diminish significantly in the next 10 to 15 years.