Something is rotten in the game of cricket

Amid all the brouhaha generated by Kevin Pietersen’s divisive personality, it would be easy to overlook what his rebellious actions reveal about the wider health of the game. Above and beyond his digressive complaints about the players’ schedule being too cramped and his problems within the England dressing-room, Pietersen’s sense of empowerment is a direct result of the presence of the IPL. If there were no IPL, Pietersen would have no worries about his cramped schedule, and if there were no IPL, he would not be able to treat Test and international cricket as a bargaining tool rather than a privilege he had a duty towards protecting and upholding.

His is the most high-profile case, and the thought of his retirement from the purest form of the game is startling for how young he is (32). However, zoom out and it fast becomes apparent that the IPL’s tawdry money has long begun ruining cricket. Lasith Malinga’s retirement from Test cricket at just 28 was tantamount to an admission that he was prioritising his fragile fitness for the IPL’s cash reward over any sense of duty to his career and what mattered in the game; Chris Gayle as much as blew smoke in the face of Test cricket by not turning up for a large part of West Indies’ tour of England earlier this year; Muttiah Muralitharan’s abrupt exit from Tests came as a surprise and could be attributed to the fact that easier money was to be had in the IPL in his last few years. The biggest worry is that more fast bowlers like Malinga, who put their body through a burden that cannot shoulder commitments to both the IPL and five-day cricket, will call it quits as early as their mid to late-twenties. This in turn will tilt the Test game even further in favour of batsmen, and render one of its most enthralling qualities – the contest between good batsmanship and quality, hostile fast bowling – redundant (a problem which was apparent during long spells of South Africa’s high-scoring matches with England).

When the game’s best players devote most of their training and efforts towards making sure they can participate in a month-long glamour tournament – or worse, retire altogether to announce themselves as mercenaries available for the highest-bidding T20 tournaments – it devalues Test cricket and means there is little worth in what is on display. England have been obsessing over the No.1 status and their impending battle to keep the crown from South Africa for some time now, without realising that they are big fish in a rapidly shrinking pond. The financially weaker nations of Sri Lanka, West Indies, Pakistan and New Zealand have been decimated by their inability through money to command the attention of their players away from the lure of all the T20 leagues that have mushroomed around the world. If Australia, India, South Africa and England think the Test game can survive on the limited appeal of their roundabout contests, they are more myopic and selfish than was previously assumed.

The game I watched and loved is being taken apart at the seams by the onslaught of T20 and its association with money. If even England’s position as one of the financially stronger teams can no longer keep Kevin Pietersen from jumping ship, it will serve as a further continuation of the game’s tragic slide into irrelevance at the hands of administrators who couldn’t care less.

P.S. Faith in the ICC to manage market forces or gamblers from encroaching on areas that fans hold dear to the game has long been extinguished. Indeed, their submissive reaction to the world’s media and expectations in banning three Pakistan players for match-fixing in 2011 may have seemed laudable, but they have not carried out a single initiative since then to target the criminals who represent the heart of the problem and whose involvement in the game is unlikely to be silenced by the jailing of three players. Given how far India dictate matters to the ICC through their monopoly on the game’s cash flow, it is not too far-fetched to suggest that the mafias associated with cricket may have penetrated higher up its ranks than just the players. I will examine these issues, and how the banning of Muhammad Amir in particular has dealt Pakistan a body blow at a potentially critical juncture in its cricketing life, in another post soon.

2 thoughts on “Something is rotten in the game of cricket

  1. Thank you for the controversial post Mr. Malik!

    When you look at players like KP and Malinga, you see 2 things in common – arrogance and attention seekers. I’m sure a large portion of their reason to “retire” was to look for public reassurance as well as the reasons stated above.

    Malinga’s decision to retire from test cricket is fair though. It does cause a lot of strain to his body. No doubt, the financial stability IPL offers probably had a lot to play, but I don’t blame him for trying to preserve his body for the long run.

    One good thing about IPL is that players show their true colors. It creates a division between the players who are in it for the money, and who are in it for the passion of the sport and representing their country. In the case of KP, he obviously never cared for his country and hence moved to England to pursue his career. Shows his selfish mindset so his decision to retire could have been somewhat anticipated.

    At the end of the day, KP is an awesome batsmen and competitive spirit is good, but his attitude is bad for the game and for future cricketers who look up to him.

    • I agree with you, Mr Taqi, that the first players to take advantage of a weakened Future Tours Programme will be those to whom drama comes naturally. It often seems like KP can’t do without petty squabbles of one kind or another. However, the problem goes deeper than that. Money talks in any walk of life, and even the most professional players with a well-rounded appreciation of Test cricket will be lured by it. Shane Bond sacrificed two years of his international career to play in the rogue ICL, and no-one could accuse him of being short on heart or a natural troublemaker.

      The same applies for injuries. If there weren’t so many T20 tournaments clashing with international fixtures, players would not be forced to make a decision between the two for the sake of their injury-ravaged bodies and long-term health.

      I think the end solution should be to accept that T20, in its many forms and guises (e.g. IPL, Big Bash, BPL), is here to stay and to make concessions on both sides. Perhaps international teams could reschedule their calendars to create a one-month window for the IPL, during which no international cricket will be played. In return, cricketers would need to agree not to play in any more domestic or T20 tournaments that clash with their international commitments. Such a solution would be acceptable to both the international teams and the IPL – who would be given primacy over rival leagues to feature the world’s best-known stars.

      It may seem unfair making one rule for the IPL and another for all other T20 leagues, but as the richest and most popular T20 tournament, it makes sense to work with it rather than take it on so that the international game isn’t threatened. Moreover, if other T20 tournaments continue to be scheduled in the months the IPL isn’t taking place in the interests of avoiding a commercially damaging clash, the international game will be completely squeezed out. If they want to offer players an alternative option to the IPL, they must be made to schedule their tournaments in the same one-month window. The European football leagues take place at exactly the same time, and they have all been able to stand on their feet. There is no reason why similar commercial ventures in cricket should not be made to compete directly with each other as well.

      Running with my thoughts here, if all the countries’ T20 leagues occurred at the same time, perhaps there could be a global knockout competition for each country’s winners as well. All this would need to take place over a month and a half, but it’s worth exploring. It goes without saying that such solutions require teamwork and collaboration that is probably beyond cricket’s fractured fraternity, but we live in hope.

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