The just concluded World Cup has everyone’s eyes glued to the television set and India’s loss to the Aussies broke many a heart, not just its record, ten-match winning streak. The sheer volume of runs and the pace at which they were scored, were mindboggling and the batsmen (now called batters), came across as super heroes, who could lift anything off the pitch and send it flying into the stands.
Now, this brand of Cricket, where the buccaneer batsmen look to loft, everything into the vault, might be here to stay, but unfortunately, the batsmen do falter once in a while as it happened with India and the bowlers do get to shine on the rare occasion. With all due respect, the only bowling attack that looked tear-away-menacing was the Indian bowling line up and they failed just once and unfortunately so on the same day the batters did.
This World-Cup had many experts calling out for a fairer set of rules to ensure that the batters don’t runaway with the game. The Two-Ball rule, the flattened, rolled down wickets and not to forget the fielding restrictions in the first ten overs, have ensured that the one-day format has turned into a batter’s paradise, quite similar to the T-20 format, where the batsmen go all guns blazing aka a ‘Shot-Gun Murugan.’ The viewership has definitely gone up and the crowds expect the batters to deliver more, but the big question is, “Is Cricket a sporting spectacle or has it transitioned into high octave entertainment?”
To answer this question, one needs to look at the brand of cricket that was played, four to five decades ago. Frankly, if one were to look at some of the old clips, the pacers do come across as Apex-Predators, while the batsmen (not batters), were the hunted. The sheer, menace, ferocity and unbridled pace, without any restrictions, either on bouncers or beamers, ensured that the batsmen were constantly on their toes and runs were hard to come by. In fact many a test series with the top most fast-bowlers going after the batsmen, resulted mayhem and blood baths. Even the crowds would go into a frenzy, baying for the batsmen’s blood, while the batsmen, did whatever he could to save his bones, body and neck from getting smashed, mauled and destroyed.
Many careers were destroyed, but some batsmen did stand out, with little or no protective gear, in comparison with the batsmen of the modern era, they conquered not just these fearsome predators but also their own fears, after all, cricket was no sport for the weak-kneed or the fainthearted. They stood out as the very best of men, braving the blows and injuries to make their mark. A few batsmen of that generation were present during the just concluded world cup, with the one and only, Sir Vivian Richards being a revered guest.
Apparently, this God of Cricket was referred to as “Kalia”, by an ignoramus, dumbo, much to the delight of some former Pakistani cricketers on a telly-show. India’s very own, the original Little Master, also known as the Brown Bradman, the great Sunil Gavaskar, was present both as an expert and in the professional capacity of a broadcaster. They not only applauded the achievements of the present day batters, they made no, over the board comparisons, either.
However, some of the legends, did voice their concerns on the manner in which the game has evolved. While Sanath Jayasurya, the Sri-Lankan legend, minced no words, while stating that if the present rules had existed a decade or two earlier, the likes of Tendulkar would have scored far more centuries and runs. Gautam Gambhir, former Indian opener suggested that if the power-play field restrictions are persisted with, it could well result in many fast-bowlers, quitting one-day cricket. Pakistani legend, Waqar Younis suggested that the present two-ball rule should be changed, while other senior cricketers also expressed concern.
If stats and numbers alone were to tell the story, the present Generation of batsmen definitely are super-batters, but numbers and stats alone do not give the true picture. They do not speak of the covered, flat-tracks, the restrictions imposed on the fielding squad or the restrictions on bouncers and beamers and last but not the least the quality of protective gear have limited the scope for fast-bowlers to such an extent that the “Slower Ball,” which was unimaginable four decades ago has now become a key weapon in a fast-bowlers arsenal.
None of `the former players and experts are not suggesting that Cricket should revert back to the way it was played four to five decades ago, when in fact, it was a Romanesque-Gladiatorial blood sport, with the batsmen cast in the mould of gladiators, who stuck their necks out or in some cases dug in for sheer pride. Now, it is the bowlers who find themselves at the receiving end of the stick. The game has come a full circle and before it goes ‘woke,’ it is time for the experts and the apex governing body, to bring some balance back into the game and ensure that the batters are cast in the mould of mortals, not super-heroes; who treat bowlers like mere bowling machines.