Back to the drawing board

2011-10-29 00:00

THEY say all good things must come to an end, but who would have thought at the beginning of the season that the fallout of the International Cricket Council’s (ICC) apparent greed would come in the same season as India’s famous World Cup victory?

In India, cricket evokes the same passions that rugby does in New Zealand. Its not a sport, its an obsession. And although India has already seen nearly eight months of non-stop, top-flight cricket, some people would have bet the mortgage — and then take out a second bond to bet their life — that no matter how many more cricket games the ICC has in India, the stadium would be packed to the rafters every single time.

The ICC has taken advantage of this by forcing Test cricket to take a back seat to its more profitable ODI and Twenty20 cousins. Test series between England and India always produce thrilling cricket, yet they only played four Tests in India’s recent visit to England.

Many cricket pundits in South Africa are now crying foul, saying that two Tests against Australia is sacrilege. All of this because the ICC wants to stash as much cash into its coffers as it possibly can. And, where in the past the electric buzz reverberating around cricket stadia in India were so loud that commentators had to shout into their mikes, during England’s recent tour of India, even those on the upper pitches could suddenly discern the almost foreign sound of willow whacking leather.

In the past, Indian fans used to pack stadia so full that they seemed to be bursting at the seams. On this same tour of England to India, rows upon rows of empty seats greeted

India’s world cup heroes at the Wankhede Stadium, where only 13 000 people turned up to watch India demolish England.

This was the smallest cricket crowd in Mumbai since 1975.

Many excuses were made to explain this anomaly — high ticket prices, injury to top players like Sachin Tendulkar and Virender Sehwag, and limited concessions stands at stadia.

The excuses were all smoke-and-mirror tactics to divert attention away from the fact that — quite possibly — the ICC is holding too many tournaments and the Indian fans are growing tired of the sport they love so much. Before the goose that lays the golden eggs waddles off the ICC’s pitch, it needs to go back to the drawing board and rethink how it can grow the game.

A solution is not far off. In fact, if the ICC took the time to listen to the regular fan on the street, it would not have had to anguish about the sudden rows of empty seats at Wankhede.

For years now, cricket’s most well-known writers and analysts have been calling for a return to full tours.

When I think back to my fondest cricketing memory, it involves a Test match and, surprisingly, not one involving South Africa.

Before I tried my hand at print journalism, I was a radio broadcast journalist in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates. In 2005, an Australian cricket team featuring the talents of Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath went to England to cement their dominance of the Ashes.

It turned out to be a disastrous tour. The series was drawn 1-1 going into the final Test at the Oval.

I worked with an office full of English expats and we were glued to the BBC live online commentary of the game.

The sounds of David Gower describing Steve Harmison’s last over will always be imprinted on my mind and although it pains me to admit this, but I went on radio that night and had to come to terms with the fact that the Test where England won back the Ashes was the best Test match I have witnessed yet, and quite possibly ever will witness.

But this led me to think back and recall other memorable Test moments. Brian Lara’s magnificent innings in 2004 at the Antigua Recreation Ground where he scored 400 against England to reclaim the record that Matthew Haydon stole from him a few months earlier (against Zimbabwe of all nations), Fanie de Villiers’s victory over in Sydney in 1994, when Australia needed just 117 runs to win. De Villiers took 6/43, including the final wicket — a return catch from McGrath to lead South Africa to a five-run victory, their first in Australia since return from isolation.

De Villiers’s match figures of 10/123 saw him named Man of the Match. Cricket purists have many more memories like this which they cherished.

Perhaps the focus of the ICC is in the wrong direction.

Instead of focusing on how much money it can swindle off people in one year with a seemingly endless supply of limited-over tournaments, it should focus on how it is going to cultivate and grow the next generation of Test followers.


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