Cricket aficionados have always been strange lot. When on one hand when you'd think more of the game you love is better, this lot would differ. It's quality that matters, not quantity. On the other hand, the quality is also under strict scrutiny. But one thing that generations of cricket-baptised population on this planet have seriously guarded with religious sanctity is the dignity of the white dress, aka Test cricket. But, of late, like every other age-old tradition in this world, the 'normal cricket' has a challenger. And, sadly, all that the a few old 'keeper of the game' can do is to curse it. And with Champions League T20 here - that has always been dubbed as a by-product of IPL - the groan is only going to get louder.
The times are a changin...
Having grown up with a liberal dose of cricket all through the years, one has gone through the rigours of perfecting a front foot defence and a follow-through after delivering. Yes, those are the ABCD... of your cricket literacy and must be imbibed in the minds of every student of the game. What it also does is educate young minds with the fact that good cricket is not only about hitting the ball to the fence. Over the years, it has been this education that has prompted the audience to applause every shot in five days of play, even if a batsman took 100 deliveries to score 20. Yes, it has never been about the quantity in cricket. A player's on-field exploits didn't just show his skills, but spoke about his sincerity, the strength of will and his education too. That's why one lives cricket, and not just play it.
But, the times changed. Economies opened up as the entire world became your workplace, if you had the talent. And so did everything else along with it.
Engineers never went on to become one, instead aspired to end up as fat-paid finance managers in MNCs. Scientist became educated in their birth places, but chose other countries that gave them the opportunity to flourish. Educationists had PhDs in their native culture, but chose universities in the US of A or UK to move ahead. Dads loved it when sons brought home the latest pad from Singapore and moms couldn't stop bragging what all she did when her daughter took her for a day-out at the Dubai shopping festival.
Hello, wait. What exactly do these have any relevance while talking about cricket? Or, does it?
Well, it shouldn't have ideally, if not all the hue and cry had come up when cricketers started donning some other colours than the ones chosen by their cricket boards.
Why does all these talks of 'loyalty towards country' and 'the lure of money' arise only when it comes to cricketers joining franchisee-based scheme of things that pay them in dollars. Is it the jealousy of a few who couldn't rake in the moolah in their times, or the attack on the very belief that only country-versus-country cricket is to enjoy a supreme status?
And like every gang of bad-boys has one punching bag to be scolded by the teachers every time something happens in the class, in this case it's the IPL. The country's team is playing badly - oh, IPL has spoilt the techniques. It starts playing well - now is the time to stop them from going to IPL. In sadness or happiness, IPL is always the toast!
Recently, a former West Indies captain just bluntly spelt it out that 'IPL is bad for cricket'. Well, he is not the first one, nor will he be the last.
Reason: He has just realised that in order to hold on to his home-grown boys to play for the country and continue the winning streak, all roads leading to the Indian shores should be blocked.
Oh really! Where were such precious thoughts vacationing when the man who took you to the trophy didn't have a slot in the national team, but was keeping his kitchen running by playing in T20 leagues everywhere? Chris Gayle is an unstoppable force today, but it is only a matter of speculation what would have happened to his form had he not been playing T20 leagues in the one year-three months' time that he was away from the maroon jersey. In less than that time frame, India went on to become a sorry bunch being beaten black-and-blue in overseas Tests from the world champions!
What about them?
Case 1: David Miller. This certain South African had last played for his national squad exactly a year ago in T20 match against Australia. For obvious reasons, with so many quality performers in the side to precede him, Miller hasn't managed to find his foothold in the bigger scheme of things. On Tuesday, he turned out for T20 club side Yorkshire against their Sri Lankan counterpart, Uva Next. The 23-year-old went back retired hurt, only to return and score 17 runs off six balls to see his team coast to victory.
Case 2: Azhar Mahmood. At almost 38 years old, the former Pakistan all-rounder the well past his prime days. Nontheless, he still has the power to drive Auckland Aces home in the qualifiers against Hampshire with a superb 55 not out. That, after taking five wickets for 24!
These are two absolutely recent cases, among a horde of others, but the point here is the stages of career these two men are. One has just started the quest to find a foothold in international cricket, the other has seen it-done that all. But still, when it comes to cricket, both feats are equally laudable.
Well, no one is trying to drive home a point here. But, one tries to understand, WHAT is the definition of 'quality cricket'? How does a kitty of 5000 runs gathered from playing in the T20 leagues become inferior to the ones scored in 'international cricket'? Or why shouldn't someone with 400 T20 wickets be less of a legend?
And about how IPL is the cause to many a misery for today's cricketers - well, Indians play IPL, they win the World Cup too; Sri Lankans play IPL and SLPL, and they become finalists in consecutive world cups; Australians play in IPL and they still remain the team to beat; the Calypso guys play in IPL, and go to lift the World T20...
The moral: Find some other excuse for country teams not playing well.
International cricket is no longer the last word - not for the cricketers, nor for those who pay to make it happen, and definitely not for those whom it is meant to. Club cricket is an option, and those who feel it's worth the sweat, will always go for it.
If IPL is really cricket's Silicon Valley, every cricket engineer worth it would want to be there.
So, design a cricketing calendar that has all the space for everything. That's how every other sport does in the world. Else, just sit back and let the boys play. Coz, you did the same when your mom told you to study hard and become a doctor.