March, 2018

By Ahmed Affan

In what was once a game that was the very epitome of fair play, there is now an inherent tilt towards the other side. In cricket, the dice is clearly loaded against the bowlers compared to those who face them from 22 yards away. Now, with the advent of T-20 cricket, the bats are getting heavier and the grounds are getting smaller. This helps generate the kind of thrills among spectators and television audiences alike and that means more eyeballs which translates into more advertising revenue. Everyone is a winner in this game.

The Pakistan Super League (PSL), though a new entrant into T20 league cricket, is also such a winner. It has attracted the attention of the public, the patronage of media networks and the support of advertisers because it offers what the people want.
A fair chance in T-20 cricket is for both the bowlers and the batsmen to make a contest even and intriguingly interesting. The modern game, however, is not about the intriguing, subtle interest. In an era of mass commercialization, everything of interest sells like little else. And so we have Twenty20 leagues crowding out much else from the international calendar.

This is what the T-20 format has done to cricket. There are just 20 wickets in a contest. Not all of them fall. And among those which do, many are not as spectacular. So it is easy to bring the boundaries in so that even a wild swish taking the edge of the bat can go for a sixer. And then bring in the heavy bats and start measuring how far back the ball was dispatched by the batsman. And, as against 20 wickets, there can be any number of sixes – the more, the merrier. And, finally, the icing on the cake, the cherry on the top: put a bunch of cheerleaders around the boundary to create something that supposedly carries great entertainment value. Cricket, on its own, does not carry much entertainment value, it seems. And this is what commercialisation does.

This is not much different from what happened to, say, wrestling. There is still a professional value that most of us come across in a four-year Olympic cycle and then there is the World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) variety that hogs the limelight on television screens round the year. The only difference is perhaps in the role of the cheerleaders. In cricket, they are still on the boundary, while in WWE they are thrown right in the ring!

On another level, the International Cricket Council (ICC), the game’s governing body, struggles to chart out its Future Tours Plan (FTP) because there is, at best, a shrinking room for bilateral engagements. And even when there are tours, the visitors – whosoever they may be – struggle to come to terms with the playing conditions that are alien to them. Historically speaking, playing away from home has always been tough, but it is getting tougher because, among other things, the skill set of modern cricketers is below par. The tours are getting shorter and focus almost entirely on international commitments without much exposure to competitive conditions in the shape of domestic sides.


If you are good against pace, you have little time to work out your issues against the spinning ball. Australia’s Usman Khwaja is a case in point. And vice versa. T20 is where the money is and success on that front means much more to professionals (Chris Gayle and his ilk) and the young get easily fascinated by those who chance their arms rather than plan their innings — Shahid Afridi over Younis Khan, for instance.

The results are there for all to see. Let’s pick up Ashes, which in many ways is the prime contest in the Test format. The modern era of Ashes clearly starts in 2005 when England defied everything and surprised themselves by winning the contest after God knows how many years and that too in the presence of stalwarts such as Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath, Rickey Ponting and the rest.

Just a year later, almost the same England side went Down Under and suffered a 0-5 whitewash. On the return tour, it regained the Ashes 2-1 at home. The seesaw pattern continued till the latest and the just-concluded edition; the only exception being the 2010-11 series that England won 3-1 in Australia.

Starting with the 2005 Ashes, the two sides have played 40 Tests; 20 in each country. At home England won 10 (50 percent) of them while losing 04 (20pc). Away from home, it won just 3 (15pc) and lost 15 (75pc). The numbers tell their own story, but a bit of perspective is essential. Their flip side reflects on the performance of Australia as well. If England could win just three Tests in Australia in the last dozen years, the latter could win no more than just four when they were not playing at home in equal number of attempts over the same period of time.

The problem, as we can see, is not specific to any particular team. It is a problem that has arisen out of the manner in which the game is being run and managed at the global level where commercial sponsors get to call the shots … most if not all the shots.

The problem with commercialism is simple; it never knows when to stop, where to stop. It keeps gaining and attaining momentum that converts it into a juggernaut. It becomes the proverbial bull that goes around bashing and smashing everything fine and refined in that equally proverbial china chop.

In the 1970s, the Kerry Packer phenomenon – which was purely a commercial affair, mind you – did bring in a few positive changes and added pace to the game. And things were settling down when the T20 version cropped up. And it cropped up only because there were folks who could not make the cut and decided to at least have some fun on their own. Now T20 is a global act and what is in the process of getting there is the T10 version. Commercialism, remember, does not know where to stop, when to stop. The bull of commercialism is bound to destroy everything fine and refined in the cricketing china shop. What a pity.

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