Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Taming The Tiger

Ian Chappell (Drop A Format or Restrict T20 - Cricinfo) has joined a rising crescendo of media commentators, mostly led by former players, who are calling for common sense in the programming of cricket. His article calls on administrators in other member countries of the ICC to stand up against the strength of Indian sponsorship and monied businessmen and change what looks to be the classic case of having your cake and eating it too. His argument is that its not enough to constantly complain about India's power and yet still allow them to have their way.

Chappelli is always strident and often right but he doesn't stand alone this time.

Developments in the last few days underline the relative importance of the T20 game to Test cricket. Because of results in the lucrative hit and gigglefest being played currently in South Africa and the unexpected availability of players to return to the Sheffield Shield, that very clever guy Pat Howard, has been earning his high performance dollars and has successfully argued for two Shield games to be moved forward by a day. The net result is more game time in the right format for Test players about to embark of the toughest series since Michael Clarke took the reins. Had the Sydney Sixes been eliminated, the Qld v NSW game which precedes the Brisbane First Test, would also have allowed leeway for Test men from those states.

These are smart choices and although Chappell disagrees, so was the recall of Shane Watson from South Africa. Still prone to muscle tears and strains despite all of the claims otherwise, he is Australia's best cricketer ... not our best bat or bowler or fieldsman but in the top three in all aspects and forms of the game. It would be nice to have him on the field against Graeme Smith's men.

However, despite this sensible and flexible decision making, Test players are still being moved about and rescheduled around a T20 tournament which has as much relevance as all of the other shameless, money making exercises.

Dave Warner ... thumdering
Don't read me wrong. It took a lot of convincing but I've become a fan of the T20 game and so have other seasoned fans of the game. We don't count. Its the new fans who flock to it or divert their eyes to large plasma screens in pubs and clubs or in loungerooms too small for the TV's they put in them. They are people who wear the colours of their teams and whose boys and girls squeal with every Dave Warner missile switch hit with murderous intent into the seething masses. They are people bought to the grounds who would have otherwise stayed away and in doing so, they are providing the flavour that future Test cricketers will say lingered on their taste buds. They love the game because it looks a lot like the one they play around bbq's in the suburbs or in the limited urban spaces of Mumbai. Its fast, loud and exciting.

Its not the fault of the form of the game that it is causing distress on the program and the players, in much the same way as strong liquor in a parents cupboard can't be blamed for a 14 year old needing his stomach pumped. Neither can the cupboard or the under age drinker wanting the privileges of his father. Just like the parents in this scenario, so the administrators of cricket need examination. Greed and power are powerful aphrodisiacs to politicians but to men who have lived with the game a lifetime, they provide lust where love has diminished. The T20 game is thrust into holes in the program that don't exist, stretching the friendship with elements of the game which have journeyed longer and deserve greater respect. That the players enjoy and benefit from the game is beyond doubt but the men in suits are the ones whose hands rub eagerly together. Warmed by the filthy lucre, they look not through rose colours on the future of the game but through rupee, AUD or krugerand coloured glasses.

Therefore, an optimum number of playing days for players from any given country, for any given year, needs to be established and enforced by the ICC. Member nations could nominate each player as being available for two of three forms of the game and priority would be given for Test appearances. This would avoid any repeats of the Marlon Samuels, Sunil Narine situations where they couldn't play in Tests for the West Indies because they were contractually tied to the IPL. Instead of promoters running the game and slipping incentives to the ICC to waver from their dictated course of protecting and advancing the game, lets take control back.

Further, T20 matches between countries need to be scrapped and ODI's reduced so that appropriate Test series are played. Nations who are 1-4 on the ICC table should all play at least four, if not five Test series, whilst those at 5&6 would qualify for three tests but 7&8 could only demand two Test series. In our current Australian summer, South Africa get only three Tests ... that's the best side in the world against the No 3 with a bullet. No room in the program it has been said, because Sri Lanka follow immediately over Christmas and new year. ICC's program of making sure all Test playing nations play each other home and away in a five year time frame is to blame, so say Cricket Australia. Yet, after the New Year Test in Sydney, Australia play thirteen days of ODI and T20 cricket in January and early February but we couldn't find ten extra days for a five Test series against South Africa?

Meanwhile, if you are following the trends, you won't be surprised to discover the Bib Bash League will play from early December to late January and the Sheffield Shield stops for two months to accommodate it. The heart of the season has the heart of the game cut from it.

To everything, their is a season. In the best interests of the game, the highly entertaining BBL would be perfectly suited for late September and October. The early games would be played during footie finals ... so what? Close the distance between playing dates and six weeks is all you would need. Start the Sheffield Shield in November and Tests in middle December, with one before Christmas, Boxing Day in Melbourne, New Year in Sydney and two or three in January depending on whether you have one or two touring sides.

Scrap all other ODI's and T20 Internationals. After Big Bash, the public's interest would be sated and frankly, the standard of play in the BBL far outstrips what is seen at an international level anyway. If you must them, play them in February.

Of course, this relies on the truth of statements repeatedly made by Australian officials as to Test cricket being the priority. Its a chorus sung all over the world in recent months by John Bracewell, Arjuna Ranatunga, Virenda Sehwag and Eoin Morgan, to name but a few. They have all waxed lyrical and gone misty-eyed in assuring the media that Test cricket is still the game most players place as their ultimate goal. The T20 pin-up boy, Dave Warner, says Test cricket is where he wants to be more than any other. Of course, few show that in practical terms. Watson, for instance, was dragged from South Africa kicking and screaming. At least Michael Clarke has reduced his involvement to only two forms of the game, either backing his judgment or judging his back.

We don't have to be scared of the Bengal Tiger of our game. We don't even have to cage it, where it will lose its wildness but lets at least apply common sense and give it a territory to roam where it may be the beautiful, wild thing it is without sinking its claws into the slower moving but still wonderfully attractive chital that is Test cricket. To do otherwise threatens both forms of the game, killing off one and turning the other from Bengal Tiger into a sacred cash cow.

No one wants that.