Cricket fans are a sensitive lot. We support our teams and our players to the hilt and participate in their victories and defeat as part of our daily rituals. We swear to never watch cricket when a scandal hits the game or a demigod retires leaving us with watery eyes. We also leave the stadium or turn off the TV as soon as we realise the game we are watching is a no contest, which, given the length of an ODI or a Ttest match, is a perfectly sensible thing to do.
For someone who spends a lot of time talking cricket on Twitter, I always get a sense of which series and which game people are interested in and when they’d rather not discuss cricket. During India-Pakistan contests in Champions Trophy earlier this year, the Twitter interactions on cricket went through the roof.
During India's tour of West Indies that followed, people had less interest in following the game as they were more keen on discussing the controversy surrounding Anil Kumble’s exit from the team and the selection of new coach. The time difference between India and Caribbean islands didn’t help either.
India's ongoing tour of Sri Lanka is following the pattern of most Sri Lanka-India bilateral series'. The two sides have met so often over the last decade that even the announcement of a series between the neighbours is a cue for Twitterati to crack jokes on the boredom that ensues once the matches are underway.
To make matters worse, BCCI has announced they will host Sri Lanka at home later this year as a gesture of goodwill. One can only wish the boards thought of showing similar goodwill towards their fans.
After Sri Lanka’s humiliating loss in the first ODI against India, a few fans held up the team bus shouting slogans against the players and administration. Sri Lanka is a proud cricketing nation and watching their team getting so comprehensively played out is a bitter pill for them to swallow.
The economics of cricket make the situation even more tricky. A series against India is payday for Sri Lankan players and board that is often found struggling for finances. Fans too want to watch their team play against top teams but more importantly, they want to watch their team competing instead of surrendering.
The story is no different in other parts of the world. England is hosting West Indies in a Test series where the first game ended in a no contest, with the hosts winning the game by a staggering margin of an inning and 209 runs. The margin of defeat and the gap between the teams was such that England could have put West Indies bat one more time and get them out without breaking a sweat.
The response from ex-players over West Indies capitulation is one of pain and disgust. Geoffrey Boycott said he hasn’t seen a worse team in his last 50 years of following Test cricket, while Curtly Ambrose found it pathetic and embarrassing.
Sanjay Manjrekar put the ineptitude of current West Indian batting lineup in context by noting that four out of top six in West Indian batting line up have a first-class average in the 30s and watching these average first-class players play at the highest level is fast-tracking the decline of Test cricket.
4 of top 6 WI b'men have a FC average in 30s. Thats watching ordinary FC players on Test platform. That's fast tracking end of Test cricket.
— Sanjay Manjrekar (@sanjaymanjrekar) August 18, 2017
People watching and following cricket crave nothing more than competition and context. Games involving Indian women’s team at the recently-concluded World Cup got more viewership than their men counterparts playing in West Indies and Sri Lanka. While the growth of women’s cricket is a heartening and welcome development, it still highlights the fact that fans aren’t interested in men’s team playing meaningless one-sided games.
International cricket needs to be the pinnacle of the game and authorities that govern the game need to make sure that its quality is not diluted. Domestic T20 leagues throughout the world are introducing rules and structures to ensure competing teams are equally matched. International cricket almost seems to be heading the other way. Last decade has witnessed some of the most one-sided international Test series even in the history of cricket.
A lot of cricket pundits have advocated for less international cricket to make sure its novelty isn’t lost. A lot many have advocated for a two-tier structure with promotions and relegations to ensure every game has context. As the game grows to more countries, these are ideas that need serious deliberation. This game means far too much for far too many people to allow the governing cricket boards to slay the golden egg-laying goose that is international cricket.