I have been one of the most loyal followers of cricket for almost two decades now. I simply love the game: every version of it (and no, IPL is NOT cricket) and I have grown up worshipping some of the players of my generation like Laxman, Dravid and my childhood favourite, Azharuddin while nurturing ambitions of being involved in the game professionally. Not to mention some of the classic rivalries in our era, be it the Ashes or India-Pakistan had me glued to the screen for hours. I have also witnessed some of the greatest moments in cricket for an Indian fan: the World Cup win in 2011, the T20 Championship in 2007 and the Champions Trophy in 2013. Finally I have been privileged enough to watch some of the best individual performances ever in history: Sachin Tendulkar’s Sharjah storm against Australia, VVS Laxman’s gritty innings against Australia at Eden Gardens, Sehwag’s triple century against Pakistan, Shikhar Dhawan’s delightful test debut and most recently Rohit Sharma’s one-day double century.
Which brings me to the India-Australia bilateral series that ended on Saturday, with India clinching it 3-2. It’s been a strange series, with records tumbling and both teams making it a habit of chasing down scores well beyond 300. Yes, it’s great for the spectators in the ground to see the ball flying off into the stands every over; yes, it’s great for the viewers sitting in their living rooms/pubs cheering each boundary and yes, it’s great for the administrators/sponsors who can rake in the mullah.
But is it good for the game in the long term? I seriously doubt that. If there is a ten-year-old kid watching the match, would this series inspire him to become a bowler? Chances are he would have recurrent nightmares of Ishant Sharma.
As a sincere follower of the game, I can only shudder to imagine what will happen to it ten years down the line, when bowlers get replaced by bowling machines and there is no contest between the bat and the ball and when each team will play eleven batsmen just to ensure 1000-run ODIs.
I had embraced the dynamics of the game from being a five-day Test match to a 50-over game to a 20-over game. I had accepted that more money and glamour would encourage more young people to take up cricket professionally and I had even looked away when corruption and match-fixing scandals raised their ugly heads, choosing to believe that the game was still sacrosanct despite these aberrations.
But what I see now scares me. I still want to cherish the sheer intimidation of the Waqar Younis-Wasim Akram duo, the guile of Shane Warne/Muttiah Muralidharan or the persistence of Anil Kumble. I still want India to produce world class bowlers who can hold their own in international conditions and I still like to watch a good contest rather than new batting milestones.
I still want to watch cricket as I have known cricket and as I have loved cricket which seems to be endangered now…