The non-committal comments with regard to his future as a Test player by South Africa’s stand-in Test captain have raised the “is Test cricket dying” question yet again. AB de Villiers has been making noises about having had enough of international cricket for a while now; that a player who has been involved in the grind of high class cricket for over a decade is feeling jaded should not be a surprise.
De Villiers has a young family and time away from home will only get harder. De Villiers wants to manage his “workload”, a term that is often used but perhaps not fully understood by the cricket watching public. International cricket isn’t just rocking up and playing. It involves hours of training, countless media commitments and 300 nights a year in hotel rooms.
While this might sound like a dream job when you are 16, or even as someone much older when you are day-dreaming at your office job, you can see why Skype calls to your kids for bedtime stories would take the shine off.
While De Villiers says he wants to pick and choose his international commitments, there is little chance that he will give up his lucrative IPL contract which sees him earn several times his annual Proteas salary in six weeks. Ultimately this is a simple decision, and one any person who was in his position would make.
But the issue isn’t the IPL or any other T20 league, it is the ridiculous amount of international cricket that players are expected to get through and still maintain a healthy body and family life. That players want to play less does not in itself mean that Tests do not mean what they did, just that there is an awful lot of it these days.
De Villiers has given more than a decade to his national team, barely missing a game. He is entitled to feel weary and the thing there needs to be less of is not the six-week long Indian Premier League.
The real issue, the pachyderm walking around the party knocking over the furniture, is that we have reached the point where international cricket has begun to lose its primacy. The reason for that is money, and that reason is only going to expand.
The ridiculous “Big 3” takeover in early 2014 has only made the difference between the haves and have-nots larger. For a long time now Zimbabwe have been unable to hang on to its best players. In recent times they have lost their best batsman, Brendan Taylor, and their best bowler, Kyle Jarvis.
The West Indies have the same issue. While their team were battered from Hobart to Melbourne, and everywhere in between, on their tour of Australia the best West Indian cricketers were playing in the Big Bash.
There is a real danger that the most talented cricketers will no longer populate the international game; that they will realise that while Indian, Australian and English cricketers can earn millions they are very much second class citizens.
Why should these brilliant cricketers happily accept 10-20% of what the players from the “Big 3” earn for doing exactly the same job while cricket generates billions of dollars worldwide?
This only goes to highlight just how short-sighted the money grabbing antics of the BCCI, ECB and Cricket Australia was. They need these "small" teams full of the best players to make cricket a compelling product because without opposition there is no sport worthy of the name.
While those who made the decision to siphon off the majority of the money that world cricket generates will point to the Test Fund as a means for support, the figures involved are tiny. Each year the “small seven” nations will get $1.25million. That is less than AB de Villiers will earn for a single IPL season. How that is supposed to stop a talent drain is anyone’s guess.
Some may argue that if international cricket cannot keep itself alive it doesn’t deserve to maintain its status as the pinnacle of the sport, but there is a great deal to lose if it does leave us. We have already seen a drop off in competitiveness for the teams at the lower rungs of the already tiny roster of full member teams, and while cricket should have been looking to expand the reforms that we saw implemented by Giles Clarke, N Srinivasan and Wally Edwards have exacerbated things.
De Villiers deciding that he is jaded and wants to play less cricket in itself is not that big a story, but it does highlight a bigger issue. Greedy administrators are pushing players to the point of exhaustion and the massive financial inequities between the rich and the poor is only making things worse.
Test cricket will be with us for a few years yet but as ever with the sport that we love it will be in spite of those that run it, not because of them.
And if the tour of Australia by the West Indies that took place while its best players were playing in a domestic league and AB de Villiers, the most dynamic cricketer in the world, walking away before his time are symptoms of a terminal illness for cricket, the men that will have spread the infection will be the ones who decided to give the money the sport makes to those that need it the least.
First Published On : Jan 15, 2016 07:42 IST