New Delhi: Former Australian wicketkeeper Adam Gilchrist believes that the recent bombardment of T20 leagues has left players as well as fans confused. An attacking left-handed batsman who redefined the role of a conventional wicketkeeper, Gilchrist represented Australia in 13 T20Is and was part of the Indian Premier League (IPL) in its initial years.
“It’s probably gotten very confusing for cricketers and fans because maybe too much of cricket is happening,” said Gilchrist at the launch event of Tourism Western Australia's campaign for India.
While it may be argued that such leagues give youngsters a way out of the fledgeling domestic cricket structures in countries like Zimbabwe and South Africa, it also fosters a culture where aspiring cricketers do not want to play for their countries.
A lot of players have taken the route of ‘freelance’ cricket, playing for different teams, in different leagues, for more lucrative contracts than perhaps their national sides could offer. West Indies' Andre Russell has built a career on T20 franchise cricket, having played in the IPL, Pakistan Super League and Australia's Big Bash T20, among others.
South Africa's AB De Villiers also chose to call time on international cricket, even as he continues to turn up for Royal Challengers Bangalore in the IPL, while also playing franchise cricket in Australia and the Caribbean.
As the international calendar gathers pace, franchise leagues are experimenting with different formats. England will bring out ‘The Hundred’ in June next year, which as the name suggests, will be a 100-balls per side contest. Similarly, the T10 League is set for its third season in Abu Dhabi this month.
"If we are going to try new stuff and innovate, then the shorter format is the place to do that and I’m all for breaking the norms. If it doesn’t work, we can always go back to the original,” the 47-year-old said.
It’s when the cricket calendar becomes jam-packed with players’ having to balance their international and club commitments that the constant travel becomes overbearing. One of England’s brightest batting talents, Marcus Trescothick, retired prematurely, at the age of 32, presumably due to stress-related illnesses.
It was later revealed that Trescothick was suffering from clinical depression, symptoms of which first manifested as anxiety attacks. The England batsman’s tell-all autobiography ‘Coming back to me’ further shed light on how the sport which once gave meaning to an athlete’s life, could begin to take a toll as well.
Another England batsman, Jonathan Trott retired from the sport for similar reasons. Trott later revealed in his autobiography 'Unguarded', that the prospect of facing shorter deliveries bogged him down. Every time he ducked below a bouncer he felt "I was being questioned as a man. I felt my dignity was being stripped away with every short ball I ducked or parried. It was degrading."
Recently, Australia's Glenn Maxwell announced that he was going to take some time away from cricket as he wasn't enjoying the sport. Cricket Australia announced in a statement that he will be working on his mental health during the break.
Maxwell being a modern-era limited-overs specialist — playing in franchise leagues while also representing the Australian ODI and T20I sides — his particular case highlights how the rigours of professional cricket might leave a player mentally exhausted.
When asked if he ever felt that he wasn't enjoying cricket and considered taking a break, Gilchrist replied in the negative, also acknowledging that busier schedules nowadays have necessitated that cricketers have a professional to talk to.
"I never felt that I was at a point where I couldn't play. But it's amazing that Glenn feels comfortable talking about his troubles and that he is so well supported. Such statements from players help the entire fraternity move into the game a bit more and gain knowledge of its different aspects." said Gilchrist, who was part of the all-conquering Australian teams that won consecutive World Cups in 1999, 2003, and 2007.
"All of us probably feel run-down, in all professions, which is probably due to busier schedules. I'm glad that sports psychology is gaining currency. Hopefully, Glenn can rediscover the joy which made him take up cricket," he said.
With the next edition of T20 World Cup scheduled in Australia next year, the conversation, inevitably, drifted to the global event. Gilchrist, though, refrained from picking favourites just yet.
"England are looking good in limited-overs cricket but I don’t know which team starts as favourites. It’s a wide-open competition and that’s the beauty of T20 cricket," he said.
Seasoned commentator and broadcaster Harsha Bhogle made some predictions but acknowledged that the format’s nature begets unpredictability. “If it was played just now, Australia look a bit more prepared with their line-up than India. But you don’t know what can happen over the next 11 months,” Bhogle said.
“India are trying out different combinations, in a view to getting a definite playing 11 by the end of the IPL. The No 1 side which is Pakistan struggled against Sri Lanka so the longer the game, more predictable the outcome, the shorter, more unpredictable it gets.”
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