The gluttony of Indian cricket

India play their first match of the Asia Cup on Tuesday against Sri Lanka, the last set of internationals they will play until the World T20 in September. It’s the last course in an enormous cricketing banquet that has seen them play a quite staggering 76 international matches since 1st October 2010, a period of less than 18 months, and that number will rise to 80 if they reach the Asia Cup final. However, the surfeit of Tests, ODIs and T20s has long since started to cloy in the mouths of those consuming the product that is Indian cricket, and seems that a long period of digestion is exactly what is needed to allow all and sundry to recover. That enough food analogies for you?

Some of the statistics from this period make the mind boggle: India have played 22 Tests, 48 ODIs and a relatively frugal-sounding 6 T20s, in the process scoring 24,506 runs, bowling 35,221 balls and taking 737 wickets. In all they’ve played 155 days of international cricket. But what’s the problem with all this? Surely more cricket for the fans is a good thing? Well, no…

At this juncture we should probably pre-empt the argument that is bound to arise that ‘in t’ good old days etc. etc.’ professional county cricketers used to play 6 or occasionally 7 days of cricket each week throughout the summer and it didn’t do them any harm. Well yes, that’s all true, except the cricket that those players played was less intense, less scrutinised, of a lower quality and a lower pace compared to modern international cricket, and it was mostly done away from television cameras and the combined hordes of the world’s press. The Indian international team is totally different. As if having several hundred million pairs of eyes watching your every move wasn’t enough, every little thing they do on the field (and quite a lot that they do off it) is pored over, analysed and criticised.

But anyway, back to the main argument, it seems that the BCCI have sacrificed all else in pursuit of television money and gate receipts. Yes the players are very well remunerated, but what they’re asked to do must, for at least some of the players and probably the vast majority of them, have turned a highly enjoyable job into a chore. MS Dhoni has played in 58 of those 76 matches and all but one of the Tests. In fact, with the exception of May 2011, Dhoni has played international cricket in every month in that period. Wow, he must be a bit knackered. It’s no wonder he kept wicket like a jellyfish wearing whites last summer.

The counter-argument that playing international cricket is the players’ job and that they should count themselves lucky is only true up to a point – high profile stars such as Andrew Flintoff and Steve Harmison have admitted recently suffering serious depression due to the highly demanding lifestyle they led. It’s a tough life. Cricket is an entertainment business, and the administrators need to protect their most valuable assets because without the players, cricket is nothing.

Aside from the mental strain on the players, the problem of so much cricket has two further main aspects to it. Firstly, it must inevitably affect the standard of play. Long tours away from home clearly took their toll on India in both England and Australia and they comprehensively rolled over in both Test series. Secondly, from the fans’ point of view, it’s just boring. Even hardened fans like us who like nothing better than a good day of cricket are getting fed up. In fact, it was a delightful surprise when England had three months away from international cricket earlier this winter. It made the Pakistan series more meaningful; more exciting. Too much of anything leads to desensitisation, apathy and boredom. If it’s bad for us, imagine what it must be like for the players.

The BCCI and ICC need to take a good look at themselves as they’re in danger of killing the goose that lays the golden eggs. The short term effect is to drive up revenues, but in the long term you just devalue the game. Nobody wants to see bored and tired players going through the motions of a dead rubber in a 7-game ODI series. International cricket should mean something. It should be the very best players putting everything into a compelling contest. Of course, it’s not just India – England have played 59 internationals since 1st October 2010 and had only 3 days at home between a four-month Ashes tour and the World Cup last year – but India control the world game at the moment and any trend that they start is going to have an effect on everybody else.

Less is more, administrators. Remember that, please. Your pockets are quite full enough. It’s time to stop the gluttony or international cricket may well go the way of Mr Creosote

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3 Comments

  1. Fully agree with the sentiment that less is more, though the ECB are scarcely less culpable. The stats are a bit skewed by India reaching a world cup final and also by your taking a period starting in October. England also played 76 games in 18 months from May 2009 and 78 in 18 months from May 2010. The ECB / England management seem to have learnt from that by scheduling a big break this winter, and to be fair to the BCCI, India are also due to have the best part of 3 months off after the Asia Cup. Let’s hope these breaks happen more often.

    Reply
  2. I agree with you, Imran, although I must admit I hadn’t realised the English figures were quite so comparable. I think the statistic that struck me most was the playing 17 out of 18 months. The CWC followed by the English summer helped pad the numbers, but the home ODI series against England in September was utterly inexplicable except from a financial point of view. The reason I focus on India is that they are likely to be the trailblazers because of the money factor – and extended periods without a break like theirs should definitely remain the exception rather than the rule.

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  3. After the Asia Cup and the IPL, the only scheduled series India players are set to take part in is the World T20, apart from the one-off T20I against South Africa. It’ll be interesting to see the schedule for the forthcoming years when the BCCI releases it.

    Reply

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