Make no mistake about it, cricket is ill. It is suffering from a disease that if untreated will result in the slow and painful death of the glorious sport we love.
There are only three major sports in the world where the playing conditions impact the outcome, structure and type of match or game that is played—cricket, golf and tennis.
In cricket it is the condition of the pitch, the speed of the outfield and the rules of the game (number of new balls in an innings, fielding restrictions etc.) that have an impact.
At its very core, cricket is a battle between a batsman and a bowler. It is this core that has been disrupted... the battle doesn't exist anymore.
As an administrator of a sport, where conditions matter, it becomes the responsibility of the governing council to ensure that the game remains interesting and competitive. It is their duty to ensure that the very essence of the game remains the same. The ICC and individual country boards are not only failing in this department but are perpetuating the problem.
At its very core, cricket is a battle between a batsman and a bowler. It is this core that has been disrupted and for all practical purposes the battle doesn't exist anymore. To even say that cricket is a batsman's game is incorrect. This implies that it could be something else. The definition of cricket has become batting. Bowling and bowlers have become insignificant.
The problem is evident even in the way we are defining the game in the media. Gone are the days where the preview of a series was labelled "Tendulkar vs. Warne." Series are now dubbed as "Kohli vs. Root". This is fundamentally incorrect. "Kohli vs. Root" is not an on-field battle, they are both batsmen. At best Kohli vs. Root is a battle for statisticians. When the description of a contest is fundamentally against the core of the game and is not about an on-field battle between two players, we have gone astray. This may just be a media definition, but the media reflects and sometimes defines what is in fans' minds.
We have reached this point because of the way the game is structured. The pitches in Test matches, the rules in ODIs, the speed of the outfields in all formats are centred on one basic objective—the match must be a festival of runs. The objective of making it a fair battle between bat and ball is lost in time.
An IPL commentator once said to me, "Indian fans don't like cricket, they only like batting."
Full credit to the Indian batsmen in the recent Test match against Bangladesh, but to call that match a "Test" is insulting to Test cricket. Let's just remove the word "Test" and call it a "Five-Day International". On the ODI side we've reached a stage when a score of 380 in the first innings is supposed to be a par score.
This is harming the game because the entire system is making the sport less memorable from a bowling point of view and, believe it or not, even less memorable from a batting standpoint.
On the bowling front, ask yourself this question—when was the last time you tuned in to watch a bowler? Probably when Warne and Akram were still playing. In last five to six years there have been multiple five-wicket hauls, but the only time you really tuned in to watch bowling was probably Mitchell Johnson in the 2013-14 Ashes and may be Mustafizur Rahman bowling to a stacked Indian batting line-up in ODIs in 2015. There probably are a couple of more instances that I may have missed, but you get my point.
Batting is suffering too. A Test century used to be something to treasure. It was a battle, a constructed innings and a triumph over one of the biggest challenges in the sport. Today, the value of a Test century has diminished significantly. Why? Because everyone is doing it and everyone is doing it multiple times. Today, if three batsmen in the team score a century in the same innings you won't blink an eye. The result? Batting suffers—the more common something gets, the less memorable and prized it becomes.
An IPL commentator once said to me, "Indian fans don't like cricket, they only like batting." So granted, today, I may be in the minority of cricket fans who want to see an equal battle between bat and ball, but I guarantee you the percentage of people who would like to see the same form of the game as me is only going to increase.
How do we cure cricket?
The ICC must set down firmer rules.
In Tests the rules must be firmed up on pitch conditions and composition. The pitch condition and composition (amount of grass, cracks etc) must meet certain standards to ensure a real test for bowlers and batsmen alike.
The speed of the outfield must have restrictions in both Tests and ODIs.
In ODIs the number of balls used and the fielding restrictions must be changed. It is absurdly unfair to bowlers at the moment.
Wherever possible, venues must have a minimum boundary length and must meet international standards or else they shouldn't get an opportunity to host a match.
Unless drastic steps are taken, and soon, the game will continue its downward spiral—a trajectory that will be followed by its viewership.