By Madhu Kshirsagar
How many codes of cricket are really sustainable at the same time? It is not practically possible for all varieties of cricket – Tests, one-dayers and T20s – to survive in the current form forever. Something has to give!
Judging by the enormous popularity of T20 in India, which is gradually spreading to other cricketing countries, as well, it is arguably the most attractive and the most sought-after form of the game. It is more than a game: it is a family event, a carnival and a lot of fun. As an added advantage, there is great scope for it to spread to other countries where cricket is not currently popular, as it conforms to the shorter ‘time parameters’ of most team sports in the world. I believe that it is a sporting bushfire waiting to happen.
IPL is a form of Soccer League, AFL or a NFL type event in India. This form of a tournament is the ideal recipe for creating a mass following in a cricket crazy country like India. The enormous divisions between various states and cities and the cultural and the economic differences of the North and the South can be exploited to the fullest, too. The tournament has given the young and the old a sport that they can all follow, and the rivalry is very localised within the country. It has become the water cooler topic in offices and workplaces; school children enter into healthy debates and feel a sense of belongingness, with house wives, grandpas and the grandmas also happily joining the cheer squad. Within a very short span of time, local T20 Clubs have become the talismans for their states and cities.
The craze and fanaticism generated in India during the IPL, and for the rest of the year, is something that no other sport enjoys anywhere in the world. Yes, the soccer fans are fanatical and the NFL/AFL football fans talk about nothing else, but the sheer size of the market in India has created a juggernaut of passion and fervour in the sports world. Suddenly Indians have a local club that they can all follow and brain wash their young ones and newborns into doing the same. The young ones can be indoctrinated to think and act in a certain way, and this will ensure that generations of followers will be created. The formula is so simple and so potent that it is scary! It is an intoxicating mixture of brand loyalty and sport following that is here to stay for many, many years.
On the other hand, we are looking at Test cricket – a form of the game that has existed for over 100 years and, as a result, has become tired – especially after the advent of T20 and IPL. Yes, the dawn of one-day cricket in the 70s was revolutionary, and some predicted that Test cricket would fade away at that stage. People who used to play Test cricket, however, took to media and since then have forever been singing the praises of Test cricket. Vested interests and the lack of alternatives have kept the fires burning for at least the last 30 years.
Test cricket is a unique form of sport that is played over 5 days – it used to be 6 days and before that it used to be timeless – and therein lies the strength and also the curse of this form of cricket. As you can see, cricket has forever tried to reduce the time period it is played over, thereby resulting in the birth of one-day cricket. Even one-day cricket is too long for the current generation and, therefore, the birth of T20. Financially, the model makes even more sense, and the Indians have lapped it up by the bucketsful!
In T20, the world has a sport to rival football. In India, they have the instant mass following and the perfect environment for the sport to thrive with divisions of all sorts between the different parts of India, and there is plenty of money for all involved in the sport. So this form of the game is well set for the next few decades at least.
What happens to Test cricket, though? The logical guess is that it will fade away in the next 15 to 20 years. If India doesn’t support Test cricket, then Test cricket will fade away sooner. Yes, there will be some who would reminisce and be consumed by nostalgia. Cricket players-turned-commentators and other vested interests will scream the loudest; but already the niche of supporters is becoming smaller, and, in another couple of decades, that niche will be so small that it would not matter.
Imagine what would happen if India increased the duration of IPL from 6 weeks to 6 months of the year and make it something like the English Premier League or Australian Football League? It will kill cricket, as we know that a sport cannot survive when 75% of its funding disappears. Cricketers from other countries will join IPL as mercenaries – as is happening to a certain extent already – and IPL will have more teams and play a longer tournament over an even more extended period of time. So what will be the cost? Test cricket will be slowly put out of its misery.
What about one-day cricket, then? Well, I think it could be the new Test cricket! It will become the new long form of the game; however, for it to work in the long term, the authorities have to make it more attractive, as it is losing some of its gloss with the advent of T20. They can introduce 2 innings of 25 overs for a start, and this would reinvigorate the sport. It will retain a lot of the Test cricket values and nuances, albeit over a shorter time period, and this would appeal to the connoisseurs of the game to a certain extent.
Time and tide waits for no one, and the only constant thing in life is change. Time is changing, and cricket is changing with the times. The new generation has succumbed to instant gratification in all forms of life, and it could very well happen in cricket, too. Old hats will complain and will find it hard to accept the disappearance of Test cricket, but they will grudgingly change over time and start enjoying the short format. After all, Twenty20 is less about cricket and more about entertainment, rivalry, brand-loyalty and a feeling of belongingness; ask any Manchester United, NFL Cowboys or AFL Collingwood supporter what that means!
And I am sorry to say that India is creating millions of such fanatical supporters in every corner of the country, or am I really?
Politics, movies and IPL: grand entertainment in a great country! Oops, sorry for clubbing politics with entertainment. But then again, why not?