The midnight lamps flickered all around the cityscape as tense faces huddled themselves around a 15-inch television set. The all-important engineering entrance exam was scheduled for the following morning but witnessing the batting heroics of Rahul Dravid and Sachin Tendulkar remained a far greater occasion than pouring hours of one’s time over study materials and equations.
With the Indian Cricket team battling it out on foreign shores, it had almost become a necessity for all cricket enthusiasts to stay glued to the small screens and transistor sets till the last ball of the match had been bowled. As superstitions gained ground, it became a blind trend that each support mattered. A match missed and an Indian loss would be inevitable. Hence, examinations were missed and sick leaves were forged as the game of cricket soon transcended the ordinary to enter a ream of religious fervour.
Whether it was the fierce battle between Shoaib Akhtar and Tendulkar or Shane Warne and VVS Laxman, each rivalry became a personal propaganda as the cries of nationalism sky-rocketed every time the Men in Blue graced the cricket field. Households carried debates and discussions for hours, with the younger children attentively giving all ears to the elder statesmen, thus incorporating their passion for the game. Every cricket match remained a family affair, with housewives volunteering to let go of their dose of daily soaps, albeit half-heartedly, and the men rushing back home just in time to catch the array of boundaries and wickets.
“He should have bowled a yorker instead of that full toss!” The exasperated screams of every cricket expert assembled in unison, culminating into a sense of silent pride or hoarse frustration by the time the victors were announced.
But as is the norm, change is an inevitable force, pushing mankind further away from his habitual deeds. As the years rolled on, the sport, that all adored, remained lost in transition. Legends that had arrived soon walked into the sunset and the new generation of superstars could not be termed as role-models in any way, not being defined by the gentleness and humility that the heroes of the yesteryears possessed. With time, the engineering exams gained prominence and cricket in India witnessed a radical change.
The average Indian could no longer spend hours exclusively glued to the live screening of a game. Caught up in the murky reality, he refused to refrain from responsibilities and shun them all aside when Virat Kohli gobbled up the opponents with yet another match-winning century. Cricket still remained a favourite sport but the hours devoted to it reduced considerably.
However by this time, the Board of Control for Cricket in India had well and truly established themselves as powerhouses in the cricketing fraternity. The broadcasters were willing to shell out crores and the revenues collected were at an all-time high. With each country preferring to play India at least once a year in whichever format that was feasible for logistical purposes, India’s Future Tour Programmes was a choc-a-block with series following another series following another. Caught up in a tussle with dwindling crowds and audiences that contrasted the increasing number of games, cricket today in India fails to invoke the same spirit as it had managed to till even a decade ago.
“Perhaps too much of everything is as bad as too little.” It would be a far-fetched reality to think that Edna Ferber was concentrated on the plight of Indian cricket when she came up with the statement years ago but it can be used in context without hesitation. Since the Test series against New Zealand last year that was held on home turf in September, the Indian Cricket team has been on the road sans intervals and breathing space. The Test series was followed by a limited-overs series against the Kiwis which gave way to a gruelling five-Test match series against England just ten days later. By the time all the formats wrapped up in February (to be fair, a 25-day Christmas break was accorded between the longer and the shorter formats to suit the visiting squad), the Indians played a needless one-off Test match against Bangladesh. A Test series against Australia was up next. The Indian Premier League. The Champions Trophy. A tour to West Indies. A tour to Sri Lanka. A limited over series against Australia. An upcoming home series against New Zealand and Sri Lanka (yet again!) before the team departs for South Africa! Did I hear someone say stop already?
With the Indian team stamping their authority in each series, it was indeed a phenomenal year for Virat Kohli’s team. As they romped their way to further glories, the title of being the highest ranked squad in the world came calling as well. But it all had its perils to offer. With excess baggage comes excess burdens and the team realised this earlier than anticipated.
Injuries crept crawling in, attacking all the mainstays of the line-up, pushing them out of action for weeks and even months. Captain Kohli himself was prey to the downslides of too much cricket, ruling himself out of Test action after playing 54 games on the trot. Ajinkya Rahane, Shikhar Dhawan, Ravinder Jadeja, Ravichandran Ashwin, Murali Vijay, KL Rahul, Manish Pandey, Ashish Nehra and Rohit Sharma all broke down in the last twelve months, which helps us raise some very important questions.
Is the BCCI more concerned with fielding the best eleven or are they more engrossed in minting revenue that each match played brings with it? Ahead of the crucial series against South Africa, which is being considered as a battle that will bear testimony to India’s real dominance in world cricket, why are two unnecessary series being played out? What if an injury to a star performer rules him out from touring South Africa?
Is money the sole criteria for the BCCI that it risks playing a senior player in a bilateral series that can put him on the injury list? Or if indeed the main players are rested and the selectors choose a second-string team, what purpose will such a series serve then? With the absence of Virat Kohlis and Rohit Sharmas, the spectators will anyway refuse to flock the stadiums. It then would have made better sense to have cotton-wrapped India’s core squad and given them the much needed breathing space, something which coach Ravi Shastri has been constantly voicing his opinion on.
From the heydays of being attached to the television sets for hours on end when India played a cricket game to just following random updates on the mobile screen in the midst of hectic schedules, the cricket viewing experience has undergone reforms like never before. The tour to South Africa had promised to bring back the much needed revelry that surrounded cricket but a packed calendar preceding it arouses fears of a player burnout, which could vastly demolish India’s growing dominance recorded since last year.