Cricket is much more than just bat-ball and runs-wickets, and romantics insist it teaches important life lessons. One of them is humility because cricket can drag you down, and batsmen are always on zero as they can perish next ball.
Cricket prepares you to accept defeat and success, which is why it is interesting to see the reaction to England’s thrashing in the Ashes. The immediate response was anger and disappointment, understandable because it’s unpleasant to be crushed by your traditional rivals. England losing to Australia is like India losing to Pakistan, and when the scoreline reads 3-0, anger and outrage is not out of place.
After tongues were clicked and heads shaken, there was soul-searching to understand why things went horribly wrong. Despite the Ashes rout, players were generally spared—no effigies were burnt, no houses stoned and toxic content didn’t flood social media platforms.
The blame instead was put squarely on the cricket structure, ECB and those running English cricket. The post mortem was mostly sober, though calls were made to sack coach Chris Silverwood and captain Joe Root. The selectors and administrators too felt the heat for the choices they made.
A SENSIBLE RESPONSE
After the anger came honest introspection, reasoned debate and constructive suggestions. Managing Director-Cricket Ashley Giles put his hand up to accept responsibility for the debacle and Mike Atherton (former captain and current commentator/newspaper columnist/respected analyst) put out a detailed diagnosis of the illness plaguing English cricket and prescribed medicines.
The problem, according to most experts, is excessive emphasis on white-ball cricket. The ECB has deliberately gone down this path, for commercial gains and to attract new fans. This strategy succeeded as England won the 50-over World Cup and The Hundred got thumbs up from sponsors and youngsters.
But this has come at a steep price, and neglect of red-ball cricket is the reason for the Test team’s tragic slump. Atherton wants English cricket to reboot, and the ‘systemic’ change Giles suggests means more strength to the County game which was once the best cricket education for all players.
INPUTS FROM AUSSIES
Two prominent Aussies with strong links to English cricket agree. Jason Gillepsie (coach of Yorkshire and Sussex) feels County cricket breeds mediocrity whereas it should be designed to develop players for international cricket. Shane Warne (who spent years at Hampshire) favours a radical change. He wants a leaner tournament with 10 teams instead of 18 to ensure competitive games. The argument is fewer matches will raise quality, manage workload issues, sort out burnout and free up the packed calendar to create space for different formats.
Kevin Pietersen is with Warne on this but with a neat twist. He thinks County cricket is a waste of time and the way forward is converting it into an eight-team contest with privately owned franchise teams on the lines of The Hundred. KP is an ardent supporter of professional leagues and feels private investment will inject energy and purpose into a sleepy system.
It’s difficult to guess what changes England will make to improve domestic cricket, but there will be lessons in it for India as well. Unlike England, India is a highly successful Test team with an impressive track record overseas. It also has huge bench strength and an abundance of talent. Unlike England, where T20 cricket is blamed for the Test team’s decline, IPL is credited for India’s robust health, its current riches and the overall rising graph of its cricket.
INDIA’S DOMESTIC SCENE
India’s domestic game is dominated by 20-over cricket and the shortest format is supported by BCCI and the players. To such an extent that Ranji Trophy is only a convenient ladder, stepping stone and an audition to get an IPL contract. To players going through the grind, Tests are a distant dream, something desirable and ‘good to have’. But it is IPL and T20 cricket that they desperately want.
But some troubling concerns arise. Will we, at some stage in the future, experience the negative impact of trusting IPL? Will excessive T20 cricket ultimately sap quality from the Test squad instead of feeding it with talent?
There are no easy answers but Ranji surely deserves a hard look. 38 teams in the national championship are way too many. The new teams need encouragement, incentives and the tools to improve, but gifting them first-class status is not the answer. This dilutes quality from a competition that is already missing its top stars.
Virat Kohli last played for Delhi a decade ago.