For the Love of the Game…
The oldest but the strongest memory that I have from my childhood is of me holding a plastic cricket bat and my father bowling with a plastic ball in the small verandah of our house. He always reminds me that he saw cricketing signs and potential in me from the very beginning and hence made it a habit that I get a daily dose of cricket with him after he returned from office. He played the game at a respectable level and always egged me to do the same. Whether it was playing the game or watching it or following it over different mediums, both of us were cricket fanatics at least since my existence.
I was just two years old for the 1987 world cup and hardly have any account of it imprinted but, by the 1992 world cup, I was grown-up enough to remember glimpses of it. I remember how my father made me sleep by 8 pm so that we both could get up by 4-5 am and catch the day match as it was being hosted in Australia and New Zealand. Our cricket love didn’t translate only to India’s matches. We watched most of the matches and cheered on not only for India but also for cricket as a whole.
Currently witnessing my seventh World Cup, again being hosted in Australia and New Zealand life has kind of come a full circle for me. I have seen cricket in colored clothing with white balls under floodlights for the first time. I have seen Jonty Rhodes fly to run out Inzamam and have seen the same Inzamam single handedly batting New Zealand out of the World Cup. I have seen the terrific South Africa, on their world Cup debut, being robbed of their place by the rain gods and some genius that formulated the then rain affected matches’ rules. I have seen a captain’s (Martin Crowe) masterstroke by opening the bowling with a spinner for the first time and using Greatbatch as a pinch hinter in the 1992 World Cup. If I close my eyes I can still see Wasim Akram’s hatrick and then Imran Khan, the cornered tiger, lifting the shinning crystal trophy.
I have seen two Sri Lankans (Jayasuriya and Kaluwitharana) opening the batting and destroying bowling attacks in the first fifteen overs. I have seen Amir Sohail intimidating Venkatesh Prasad after hitting a boundary and then losing his off stump the very next ball. I have seen the mighty West Indies being floored by the debutant Kenya after Richie Richardson failed to get them through. I have seen the Eden Gardens being decorated by plastic bottles and stones by the spectators to get the match abandoned and an in form Vinod Kambli in tears after the match was called off in the 1996 World Cup.
I have seen a cricketer who was written off to play one-day cricket, score the most number of runs by a wicket keeper in any world cup by Rahul Dravid. I have seen Gibbs dropping Steven Waugh’s catch and then that lead to their ouster. I have seen Lance Klusener blasting attacks after attacks and then failing to score one run. I have seen a team (South Africa) draw a match and still being thrown out of the World Cup in 1999.
I have seen Sachin Tendulkar hit an upper cut to Shoaib Akhtar for a six and playing one of his best knocks though this was not one from his century of centuries. I have seen one of the greatest leg-spinner (Shane Warne) the world has ever seen, sent to home after being tested positive for banned substances. I have seen an associate member, a non-test playing nation (Kenya) reach the semi-finals of the biggest event in cricket in the 2003 World Cup.
I have seen two of the biggest cricketing nations, India and Pakistan, being knocked out in the first round of the World Cup with one of them resulting in a coach’s death which still remains a mystery. I have seen Dwayne Leverock of Bermuda shake the earth with his one handed diving catch. I have seen Ricky Ponting lift Australia’s fourth title in the 2007 World Cup.
I have seen Kevin O’brien score the fastest world cup hundred and chasing down a mammoth English total. I have seen Yuvraj Singh demolishing teams single handedly and win man of match award game after game. I have seen Australia not making the finals for the first time since 1992 world cup. I have seen the famous MSD six at Wankhede, which fulfilled Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar’s biggest dream to lift the 2011 world cup.
Over the years I have seen many performances…many legends being made and destroyed. I know I am no cricketing expert but still one thing which really bothers me, is the standard of cricket that is regularly dropping. I know the numbers in the performances have been improving but that doesn’t mean that the standard of cricket that is being played is of the highest grade. Blame it on the newer and newer cricketing rules, which hugely stack against the bowlers or the pitches being prepared flatter and flatter or the grounds and boundaries becoming shorter and shorter or the cricket bats becoming bigger and bigger. Many will counter this, but to rest my case I won’t give example of Viv Richards the batsman or Wasim Akram the bowler but instead of Jonty Rhodes the fielder. I believe when Jonty burst on the international scene in the 1992 world cup he took fielding to an all different level which no one ever imagined but I’ll say, still after 23 years and six world cups later he is the greatest fielder the game ever saw. Many have come close but he is the one who still sets standards. If you observe the current world cup there has hardly been any match without a drop catch. Remember during 2011’s India Vs Pakistan match, Sachin was given three to four opportunities from Pakistan as if they were the ones who never wanted Sachin to get out.
Similarly, now if you watch other facets of cricket, the great players can be counted on fingers of a single hand whereas in earlier world cups every team had about three to four potential match winners who could single-handedly turn a match on its head. Even the same can be said about captaincy where a world cup leader was known by his decisions and performances. From Clive Lloyd’s leading from the front attitude to Kapil Dev’s inspiring a generation…From Imran Khan’s never say die attitude to Martin Crowe’s pulling a new rabbit-out-of-the-hat every other game…From Steven Waugh’s gritty attitude to Ricky Ponting’s aggressiveness…From Sourav Ganguly’s in your face attitude to Arjuna Ranatunga’s never back down strategy.
Lets talk about bowling for a moment. Every world cup team had a great bowling line up in the past, and even if they didn’t have three to four frontline bowlers, they always had one or two world-class bowlers up their ranks. Remember when Zimbabwe defeated India in the 1999 World Cup they had Heath Streak and Henry Olonga in their side. But sadly that doesn’t reflect in the recent teams. After Wasim, Waqar and Akhtar retired no one seems to fill their shoes for Pakistan, Similarly for Australia and likewise for West Indies and every other team. For me the biggest downfall for West Indies was their inability to produce Fast bowlers of the caliber and class of teams that played till 1996. The last spinner who has an awesome record in all formats of the game is Daniel Vettori but sadly he will also finish this world cup and then we will be left with some part-timers who can just roll their arms over to complete the quota of overs. I guess by the next world cup we will have all the 11 players as batsmen and whosoever scores more wins.
I don’t think so I should discuss about all-rounders because I hardly see any genuine ones at this world cup, considering the fact that you can’t even consider Afridi as one these days. Its high time that we realize what impact T20s are having over the game.
I believe that for any sport to grow it needs heroes and super stars for the younger and coming generation to idolize them. Just look at the stars playing the 2015 world cup who are tipped to take cricket forward and become the next legends of the game, From Virat Kohli to AB De’villiers, from Hashim Amla to Kane Williamson, from Steve Smith to Shikhar Dhawan, all are batsmen with a lone Dale Steyn or Mitchel Starc here and there. If the game really wants to maintain the standard of the game it needs to produce stars in all departments. Otherwise you’ll have Virat Kohli breaking Viv Richards’ records and in a months’ time Hashim Amla doing the same to Virat, without being in the same league in which you could keep Viv, Lara, Tendulkar, Dravid, Jayasuriya n the list goes on. They are legends because of the bowling they faced in that era. Viv Richards to have a strike rate of around 92 in that era is actually freaky. Just imagine what he would have done in this era when the many of the grounds don’t have 60-meter boundaries.
My humble request to ICC would be to make the game more competitive and this can only be done if there would be a balance between bat and bowl and then only there will be players who will go from good to great and great to legends otherwise it will be just like the present world cup, win the toss…elect to bat first and score more than 300 and make the match a big bore. Make it an even contest otherwise that day isn’t far away when the stars that rule the game will be very few and even fewer who appreciate the game, who follow the game and the ones like me who simply worship the game.
This blog is part of Blogger Dream Team
Manas ‘Sameer’ Mukul