Saturday, May 31, 2014

WHAT IF?

The room was abuzz with activity. Journalists uncomfortably shifted in their chairs, murmuring among themselves. Rivals from various TV channels forgot their contractual obligation to confidentiality, and freely discussed things that had been going through the grapevine. For, if what was being rumoured was indeed true, it would change the landscape of India’s favourite sport for ever.

The murmur suddenly reached a crescendo, and then fell to absolute silence. He’d come. Lalit Kumar Modi. Some say the most powerful person in the ICC, the one who really calls all the shots.

Modi took his seat, and quietly surveyed an army of journalists and cricket enthusiasts in front of him. He spotted a few legends of the game as well, some not from India. He knew very well the implications of what he was about to say – it would draw flak from the pundits, shock among the masses and panic amongst advertisers. He knew it all. But ‘Lalz’ was a brave man. Despite a voice frequency which could make a tuning fork move on its own, he knew how to get into dangerous and controversial things. And pull them off. After all, he was the kingpin in his school Tazo mafia. A quick thought of him exchanging a worthless Cheeto Tazo for a prized international Lay’s one from a ‘gelf’ Mallu sucker flickered through his mind. He smiled briefly and then let out a puff of air. It was time.

“Ladies and gentlemen, thank you all for coming”, he delivered. “Our great sport, started by our British and Australian ancestors in the 1870s, has come a long way. From Grace to Bradman to Sobers to Lillee to Richards to Tendulkar to Murali. It’s been a journey. But change has been constant, my friends. And we must endeavour to move with the times.”

The crowd took in a small gasp. They knew what was coming.
“Ladies and gentlemen, it is my honour, privilege and deep responsibility to unveil before you, The World Test Cricket Championship.”

The crowd stared. They knew precisely this was what would happen, yet they couldn’t believe this was happening. The journalists took it all down, not wanting to miss a moment. This would shape the future of cricket as they knew it.

“The top eight T20 teams in the world will now battle it out over a period of ten years to decide to World Test champion. But, I sense unrest among a lot of you, and would like to assure you that this will have no impact on the current T20 or ODI schedules. The yearly World Cup of each will continue to happen, we will continue to have the IPL, but we must embrace this new format, which is making waves around the world. This IS the future of cricket.”

There were questions galore, but no one knew where to start. Lalit saw this all and continued to smile. Perhaps now he could continue, he had prepared a long speech for all eventualities.
“See, over 130 years ago, when England and Australia played that first T20 match, when Charles Bannerman scored the now legendary 57 not out off 33 balls, little did we know how cricket would evolve. Many things have come and gone since. The scoops and reverse sweeps have made way for cover drives and square cuts. Those of you who watch grainy images of Don Bradman’s epic 166*, the highest T20 score to date, will attest to that fact. The rebellious Kerry Packer, in a bid to increase the amount of advertiser revenue possible, staged ‘longer’ matches, which he called One Day cricket. And to the horror of many people, he started using white uniforms regularly to distinguish his so-called one-day league! But today, it is accepted practice to wear whites and no one really raises a fuss.”

“Last year, after a complaint by some of the counties in Papua New Guinea complained they were not getting enough matches, the PNGCB came across a novel idea – a three-day match of 50 overs per day... With two innings. Many of you remember that, I remember there being much criticism in the press... Your press... About the same. How the world’s top T20 country could do something that could kill the game! But the floodgates opened! People loved this new method. Cricketers loved it too! They said it didn’t have the frenetic pace of T20, and could focus on constructing an innings.”

“RUBBISH!”, screamed a legendary Malaysian T20 cricketer from the crowd, part of the 1977 World Cup winning squad. “Constructing an innings? What nonsense! It’s all this new generation and their lazy attitude! In our days, we’d just get out there in our coloured outfits and smash the bloody ball around! The worst kids would be given the ball, to teach ‘em a frikkin’ lesson. Why, we used to thwap sixes the height of the Petronas in those days...”

Modi sighed. He expected backlash. “I agree to your point, sir. But this is not 1977 anymore. Things have changed. There are more youngsters interested in building their technique and defence. And what’s more, bowlers are starting to feel marginalized, and have got better. Infact...”, and he knew this statement was going to bring the house down, “I have made it mandatory for each team to select bowlers on merit.”

The din took five minutes to subside. “Defence?!” screamed a pundit. “What new-fangled rot!” and left the room in disgust.

A journalist, known for his statistical bent of mind, took the audience mic. “Sir, this is very brave. But... Everything’s going to change. What will a good innings be now? A batsman has virtually unlimited time to score runs. Will we be seeing scores of 200s and 300s made by a single batsman?”

“It could very well happen. The idea is to give a batsman time to construct an innings and the bowler, being a vital part of the game, will aim to outfox the batsman proactively rather than hoping for an error. We’re hoping that someone will be able to better Shane Warne’s 2/4.”

Some of the audience couldn’t fathom it. A bowler taking more than 2 wickets in a game! Things would never be the same! What would happen to the IPL, the institutional tournament which was into its 23rd year? How would players be able to handle the heat and conditions for 5 straight days, for over 80 overs per day? All this fitness nonsense was going to ruin the game, many felt.

Modi smiled, realising his work was done. “On a parting note, friends. I’d just like to tell you not be afraid of change. Yes, this may seem too much and too daring. But it could have easily been the other way round. Imagine if we had started out with Test cricket instead, and slowly changed to T20 over the years. Imagine if Bradman were a Test cricketer – imagine the number of runs he would have scored! Imagine if bowlers were given competent wickets to bowl on all this while, they might actually have had a role to play. Why, some of them might have picked up all ten wickets in an innings!”

At this last point, the audience burst into laughter. Modi’s legendary wit had worked again. And at once, they knew it was alright. Change was inevitable. Yes, many could picture parody articles on cricket websites for the next few days (“Modi proposes timeless Test matches”, one satirist was already thinking up). There would be flak.

But that was how cricket had to evolve if it were to keep up with the other sports of the world. T20 cricket was for too long snubbed by Americans as being ‘mentally bland’, compared to the intellectual requirement of golf or 3-day baseball. Perhaps Test cricket was that lease of life that was required to save cricket.


In a corner in his room in Bangalore, a young cricketer who’d never been able to break into the India T20 team smiled. Rahul Dravid knew his time had come.

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This piece was originally published on Yahoo! Cricket.