A checklist for cricket

Last Updated: Mon, Jul 22, 2013 08:34 hrs

Most humans require fulltime care after the age of 65. Games and sports may survive longer although they too need to be nursed anew after a while.

Cricket is about 460 years old. [I recommend the definitive A History of Cricket by HS Altham and EW Swanton.] It is a decent moment to take stock because the game has gotten into trouble. Here's how.

1. Desperation in the lower rungs

You don't get the PhDs if you don't have the nursery schools. You also need an eco system that breeds discipline and good attitude. As any architect would tell us, if the base is shaky the structure will fall.

In February this year came the tragic story of promising English country cricketer Tom Maynard who was found dead near railway tracks; and the even more horrific truth of his death that emerged soon after.

Now we have the weird story of once-promising left-arm pace bowler Pradeep Sangwan failing a dope test. He has tested positive for banned substances. Sangwan did well with the Indian U-19 team that won the world cup in 2008.

Doping apparently isn't the only thing Sangwan may be guilty of. Former Indian pace bowler Manoj Prabhakar tells a story about Sangwan's attitude that is hugely indicative.

When young cricketers start to fade or die because of bad habits and poor attitude, it's time to start again.

2. Money issues at club level

Cricket equipment has always been expensive. Cricket spirit is free. Thus you'll find children making do with all sorts of modified tools at play. This is a great sight especially in the non-urban centres.

There is far more money, thankfully, in the game now. But the spirit, regretfully, appears to be waning.

Club cricket is not what teens aspire to when they dream of the big time. Clubs come in handy for cricketers who are either tired of the first-class routine or who may not possess the best of skills.

The IPL is boon because it is essentially club cricket with money and glamour. But it can swiftly turn into bane if you can't trust people with money.

Here's what happened this May when the Pune team pulled out of the IPL because the owners didn't pay the franchise fee. You can read how members of the Royal Challengers Bangalore were not paid and how the players from Deccan Chargers kept waiting to be paid.

The really bizarre story is how the Sri Lanka Premier League has been scrapped this year because the franchises haven't paid up. Most of these teams are owned by Indians although the tournament is Sri Lankan.

All this is in addition to the spot-fixing scandal in the IPL and the BPL.

3. Reversal of gentleman's spirit at international level

The people at the lower end learn from those at the top. This is as true for cricket as it is for any branch of life. Look at how Stuart Broad refused to walk after being out in the first Test of the current Ashes series, and the response it generated.

Broad is born into a cricket family - his father Chris played for England and is in the panel of international ICC match referees. The father recently suspended West Indies wicketkeeper Dinesh Ramadin for falsely claiming a catch. But he says his son Stuart was right in not walking after he had edged and the catch was taken at first slip.

When the father, the team director, the captain, and former greats support a cricketer who cheats, it is time for rethink. They are saying it is fine to cheat, which reverses the centuries-old tradition in the game of walking when out.

Players have not walked when out in the past too, and there have been other misdeeds, but this is the first time the entire structure has backed an act of cheating. Stuart Broad is the England T20 captain, which probably means he expects his teammates to cheat as well.

West Indian all-time great Michael Holding is the only one to say Broad must be punished. More power to Holding for that.

4. Erosion of skill

It isn't just that the Australian batting collapses regularly these days - especially in the current Ashes series. They did the same against India in India recently. Australia was the strongest cricket nation on earth and it appears be on a steep decline.

Pakistan, West Indies and Sri Lanka too fall in a heap far too often these days. South Africa, India and England are better but they can't say claim to have all-time greats in their current teams as much as they used to.

There are barely any world-class spinners; Saeed Ajmal is the only current spinner as good as any in the past. There are only two pace bowling world-beaters playing: Dale Steyn, the fastest, and James Anderson, the swingiest.

The fielding department is the only one with consistent improvement - it is at its best with fine fielders in every team.

5. Lack of growth

Cricket is a bit like carrom in terms of the number of countries who play it with passion. India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Nepal keep carrom alive although the game is played in about 15 other nations.

Only 10 nations play Test cricket:  India, England, Australia, South Africa, West Indies, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, New Zealand, Bangladesh and Zimbabwe. The skills of the last two are always suspect and Zimbabwe has been suspended from Test cricket two times already because it's so poor at it.

In 2009, they tried to cultivate more interest in the game by playing on the Everest and in the US. The best news though is that the Chinese are aiming to enter the T20 version in 2014.

Like elsewhere, cricket too is looking to China and the US to take the game worldwide. This is not a great reflection on the ICC, which has struggled to popularise the game where it isn't played.

6. High tech hurt

They're falling over as technology shows up the flaws in decisions and skills. Commentators are able to analyse all with outstanding modern interactive tools.

They can get to the root of everything. New fielding tools include mobile nets that can angle the ball in any direction and help develop anticipation and speed.

Batting equipment has become lighter and better. Bowling skills are superbly aided by a host of tools, of which the bowling machine is the longest-surviving.

All this, however, pales when compared to the DRS. The tools used to review close umpiring decisions are excellent - the Hot Spot alone is worth the suspense -  but they can't seem to get it right.

There are views in support of the DRS, as espoused by the MCC and Steve Waugh. And there is opinion to the contrary, as articulated by cricketer-turned-columnist Angus Fraser and the finest wicket-keeper batsman so far, Adam Gilchrist.

The point is that the DRS is game-changing. It has already corrected scores of decisions; it has also eroded a fair amount of self-belief. Further DRS chaos may have big impact.

7. Umpiring values and skills

Umpires are the closest to gods on the field. Their decisions change games and they were generally considered incorruptible. When I used to play, we would complain about decisions we thought were wrong. But that was after the game.

The umpire symbolised trust, skill and respect.

Now, umpires have been punished for corruption and lack of skills. The worst blows came from the spot-fixing scandal in the IPL. Umpires from Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh were suspended soon after news of their role in spot-fixing was broadcast.

Then, they were banned, suspended or withdrawn from premier championships. In addition to all this, there is dearth of umpiring talent as may be seen in Ireland [an associate ICC member], Australia and India.

The most interesting bit of news is that the ICC is conducting trials so the third umpire may have instant replays instead of waiting for producers to choose the frames they think are appropriate.

It offers perspective on the scale of activity in cricket.

Cricket has acquired strength over 460 years and its administrators have gathered skills along the way. The game is among the most attractive and entertaining.

It would be a shame to ruin it.

More from the author: 

Vijay Simha is an independent journalist and sobriety campaigner based out of New Delhi. His most recent journalism assignment was as executive editor with The Financial World, New Delhi, and tehelka.com. 

He was a guest on Season 1 of the popular Indian TV show Satyamev Jayate, hosted by Aamir Khan.

Vijay blogs here and may be cont acted at vijsimha@gmail.com.

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