Cricket on its road to destiny

More than half a century ago West Indies produced a cricketer by the name of Garfield Sobers – arguably the best all-rounder that the world has ever seen. Then following him our eyes were also fortunate enough see the conquests of cricketers in the calibre of Ian Botham, Imran Khan and Kapil Dev or even Richard Hadlee who could let either department of their cricketing ability make them wear the country’s national crest without much sweat on their selectors’ brows.

Then came champion batsmen like Sir Donald Bradman, Aravinda de Silva, Sir Vivian Richards, Sir Len Hutton, Graham Pollock, Zaheer Abbas and Sunil Gavaskar who spoke to the world in one common language though born in different countries, and different continents. They spoke the language of confidence, run making and the subjugation of opposing bowlers.

In bowling there was Jim Laker, Dennis Lillee, Bhagwat Chandrasekhar, Abdul Qadir, Alan Donald and Michael Holding who cast the spell of doom over batsmen in spite of how good the latter may have been.
All these players mentioned above played in a different era, had different aspirations, a different passion for the game and most of all they all trusted the game they loved -- the game of cricket and played mostly the Test version of it and not for a moment did they dream how the Indian Premier League or the T20 champions league could enhance their post national crest act.

Unlike most of the players mentioned above, the present day cricketers do have a tougher call with the respective countries playing more games. For instance Sri Lanka from November 9 to December 27 will be engaged in 22 days of solid international cricket where they will play three tests, five one-day internationals and two T20s against India.

At present a general Test cricketer is engaged in appx. 150-200 days of international cricket. Then they have to be engaged in their quota of domestic cricket that would run to another 30-50 days in their annual cricketing calendar. Officially that is the given quota and that was it.

Three seasons ago when the T20 concept was on the drawing board and when ICL - the first embryo to see the light of the day was touting names like Brian Lara, Shane Warne, I was just thinking to myself if these guys intentionally retired from the established norm of the game to take part in this new hype.
Then, once Mr. Lalith Modi conceptualized the Indian Premier League the game just stood on its head. In reality the IPL opened the doors to about 80 of the most talented cricketers besides its home India. This meant that countries like Sri Lanka, the West Indies, Australia and South Africa had an influx of players, but England players had a problem as its summer opener clashed with the IPL.

However seeing the success of the first IPL episode the cream of the English cricketers like Paul Collingwood, Kevin Pieterson, Andrew Flintoff and Dimitri Mascarenhas etc. joined the league in the second summer even for a short while.

Now the cricket world is facing a real dilemma. From one corner the players are now weighing up wage scale. There is a certain reservation in them about their obligation to their national cause.

There is no doubt that commercialism has taken over the allegiance of the modern day cricketer.
However there are a few types of them who have driven themselves into this. For instance Shane Warne who had retired from the shorter version of the game to concentrate in his Test career and its final exploit to become the highest wicket taker in the history of Test cricket, retired with a few years cricket left in him, and today he is a “Freelancer” T20 specialist. In the same vein the Australian legendary wicket keeper Adam Gilchrist still could have been a regular feature in the country’s official line up, but, opted out of it taking his first slump in form as a tool and is a regular feature in the T20 circuit and so was the former Aussie opening batsman Mathew Hayden. Then Andrew Symonds who rebelled his way out of the national crest is also in this band where they could play anywhere as long as the ‘packet was okay’.
In contrast our own Sanath Jayasuriya retired from Test cricket to concentrate on the shorter version of the game and at the age of 41 he is still a huge part of it. Now the aging cricket legend will join Muttiah Muralitharan after the West Indies tour of Sri Lanka in 2010. This is becoming the latest fad in international cricket. If you have reached the top in international fame and is bogged by a few injuries a cricketer takes the easiest path out. Retire from Test cricket which takes more time and gives less money and join the traveling circus to play monkey cricket. Andrew Flintoff and Jacob Oram are few other international cricketers who have entered this new fray of sustaining their purses.

So much so, seeing the future of this trend the Federation of International Cricketers' Associations (FICA) - the players' lobby group - has flatly rejected the ICC’s post 2012 Future Tours Programme (FTP). The Future Tours Programme was approved in principle by the game's apex decision-making body. FICA has, sent the ICC a series of counter-proposals including the setting up of annual Test and ODI championships and allotting official windows to Twenty20 tournaments like the IPL and Champions League Twenty20.

FICA claims that the proposed programme is archaic and does not address an increasingly changing cricket landscape, which demands considerations of changing priorities of players and broadcasters and the increasing need for context, not volume.

While the ICC admits that FICA is a key stakeholder in the game and has given the federation a seat on its cricket committee, it is not bound by law to accept any of its proposals. In fact, FICA strongman former Australian off spinner May admits that he would not be surprised if the ICC board rejects these proposals. But he emphasizes: “More and more players will follow Andrew Flintoff by retiring prematurely from one or all forms of international cricket,” If this happens, May said, the ICC will have to accept the blame.

The ICC will find it difficult to reject in toto FICA's proposals because the federation comprises representatives of powerful players' associations from Australia, England, South Africa, Sri Lanka and West Indies, who are also members of the ICC Board. These players' associations have a strong voice within their national governing structures on issues involving players' rights, scheduling and security.
However it is in inalienable fact that the game of cricket courtesy Mr. Modi and the IPL is at crossroads and to think what its future would be is a very horrific thought for the purist. However I yet think even the initially mentioned players who mainly played Test cricket and nurtured the game to what it is today, would have done the same in the present context.
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