This time, last year, we wrote that the Indian cricket administration, and therefore Indian cricket as well as world cricket, was in for a seismic shift. At that point in time, that’s what many of us felt was on the cards. The Supreme Court, after all, is the highest judicial forum in our land, and what it says is, well, supreme.
This year – 2017 – has been about finding out that this is not always the case. While that story didn’t go along expected lines, much did change, mostly for the better, in 2017. Here’s a look back at the year, and a look ahead at what 2018 could offer.
LOOKING BACK: WHAT CHANGED IN 2017
Laws of the game
Of the many rules tweaked in 2017, the major ones were:
– Limiting the thickness of bats and, more importantly, the edge of bats
– Tethered bails to prevent injuries to wicketkeepers
– Making bouncing bats and leaping bodies legit – not out if these things happen after the batsman has reached the safe area
– Empowering umpires to pull up or even send off misbehaving players
– Allowing teams to retain their review in case of an umpire’s call
People who don’t follow cricket might gasp at the number of rules that govern the game and then gag at the number of rule changes the game has been subjected to over the years. But that’s cricket. Zillions of rules. And, because of the constantly changing nature of the game, rule updates are vitally necessary.
The one recent change that doesn’t make any sense whatsoever surrounds ‘fake fielding’, where the fielding side manages to con a batsman/batsmen by pulling a fast one on the field. This now constitutes ‘unfair play’ when, really, it’s not. Going by the outrage among fans and experts since it was introduced, this rule might just change again. Fingers crossed.
A giant leap for womankind
It became the story of the year when just under 30,000 people turned up at Lord’s – home to the MCC, who allowed female members and opened the doors to the Long Room for women only in 1999 – to watch Heather Knight’s England take on Mithali Raj’s India in the final of the Women’s World Cup.
No one was doing the women any favours. The tournament had genuinely piqued the interest of audiences, and TV viewership for the group-stage games alone had crossed 50 million. It was a hit. And a big feather in the hat of the ICC, who had set the ball rolling with an innovative Women’s Championship followed by qualifiers leading up to the World Cup.
Back in India, the coverage of the tournament, especially the progress of the Indian team, was at an all-time high, and players were celebrated and feted to an unprecedented degree.
Admittedly, the gulf between the top three-four teams and the rest is huge, and despite their best intentions, the ICC couldn’t get DRS in more than ten games. Besides, not all games were televised, only streamed online. What happened was still big: it made gender irrelevant in the watching of cricket. And young cricketers – in at least England, Australia, South Africa and India – found new heroes to follow and even emulate. A seismic shift? Certainly.
Big Three to Big Four
There has been a lot of talk about struggling cricket boards and the need for top-flight cricket to be a more even playing field. This year, the ICC rolled out the Test championship and the 50-over league (all for much later, by which time it might not happen at all). Bafflingly, each team need only play six opponents – three at home and three away – over a cycle. How is it a championship then? Who will these opponents be?
Okay, that’s one. More crucially, while Shashank Manohar, after taking charge at the ICC, had made the right noises when it came to the ‘Big Three’, we seem to have run in to a ‘Big Four’ now, with the next Future Tours Programme provisioning long Test series only among India, Australia, England and South Africa. The little fellows can be sent off after two Tests, and even that only once in a way, most probably.
Yes, commerce is key. But, no, commerce that limits a game with supposedly global ambitions to the requirements of four teams is a lock without a key. The more things change?
Kumble or Shastri?
This was perhaps the most distasteful episode of the year in Indian cricket. Under Anil Kumble as coach and Virat Kohli as captain, the Indian team had scripted an outstanding run. But Kohli – and supposedly the top players – found Kumble’s ‘style’ tough to deal with. Well, it’s the players who have to go out and play and, unlike in football, the coach’s role is limited in cricket. But it was all carried out poorly, with news leaks and unsubstantiated quotes and a whole lot of cloak-and-dagger stuff that could surely have been avoided. At the end of it, Kumble did the graceful thing and quit, leaving the scene (maybe poorer) for Ravi Shastri to step in.
Bad taste in the mouth all the way? Of course. Kohli being given too much power? Perhaps. But the Indian team has continued to win more often than not, so all is well and forgotten.
Cricket returns to Pakistan, only just
This was so welcome. We still don’t have a shadow of a full-fledged international tour of Pakistan, but there were beginnings in 2017.
Since what seems like forever, no international team has travelled to play in Pakistan bar a short tour – only of Lahore – by the Zimbabweans in 2015. But in 2017, Najam Sethi, the PCB boss, got the fly-in-fly-out Pakistan Super League final to the city, and then both a World XI squad and the Sri Lankans to hop across.
Are top internationals teams likely to visit Pakistan as a result? Probably not. But this is a start, and that’s something. Oh, fans of the game in the country celebrated long and hard, as they should.
Leg up for Afghanistan, Ireland and the Netherlands
In 2017, world cricket got two new members in the Test league: Afghanistan and Ireland.
Are they ready? Who can tell? As things stand, they – and Zimbabwe – won’t be a part of the Test championship that the ICC have promised to start in 2019, but they are eligible to play Test cricket now.
The likely scenario is for teams travelling Asiawards to throw in a five-dayer against Afghanistan and those going to England to stop by for a week in Ireland. Another beginning. Cricket needs more teams at the top (or thereabouts) and both these teams have produced stunning results in the shorter formats over the years. There’s no way to find out how good or bad they are unless they are given a chance, right?
Similarly, the Netherlands, who had lost ODI status following a string of poor performances in 2014, clawed their way back up, won the ICC World Cricket League Championship, and will be the 13th team in the ODI league scheduled to begin in 2019. The more the merrier!
LOOKING AHEAD: WHAT SHOULD CHANGE IN 2018
Domestic issues in India
As this copy goes out, the final stages of the 2017-18 Ranji Trophy are on, and we are finally getting to watch some of the action on live television. Only just.
The broadcasting network paid an astronomical sum to bag the Indian Premier League rights this year to go with the rights they already had for Indian men’s cricket: International games in the country, the team’s tours of England, Australia and Bangladesh, and domestic cricket. Quite clearly, it’s an add-on. Star doesn’t want it. But in a network with heaven-knows-how-many channels, isn’t it possible to find time for at least one game every round? Shouldn’t it be part of the deal to begin with?
Okay, that’s for broadcasting the Ranji Trophy. All through the year, it seemed like a battle was on to try and fit the major domestic competitions somewhere. Anywhere.
The BCCI did their bit to elevate the IPL to the sort of status reserved for World Cups – a window in the international calendar. This, even as they said they wouldn’t have the Duleep Trophy and then did after a fair bit of toing-and-froing, and just about a week ago rejigged the Syed Mushtaq Ali T20 tournament, the Vijay Hazare 50-over Trophy, the Irani Cup and the Deodhar 50-over Trophy.
Dates were announced. Then it emerged that the Mushtaq Ali, the premier domestic T20 event that is not the IPL, was going to continue till well after the Big Days: January 27 and 28. Those are the days on which the Great IPL Auction will take place and, calamitously for the franchises, they wouldn’t get to see the talents they might want to buy in action. Rejig, reschedule, rework.
The IPL might be the biggest thing in Indian cricket but how about according the respect and status that these premier domestic tournaments deserve? Indeed, it’s the BCCI’s duty to do so.
Peace in the neighbourhood
India v Pakistan cricket – yes?
Controlling the cricket board of India
For this one, we need to go back to the start, to the rant left unfinished.
Did the Lodha Committee overstep its reach? Did the Supreme Court do the right thing by foisting a four-member panel on top of the BCCI and start dictating terms to the people who have run Indian cricket for so long? Did the Committee of Administrators (and then there were two!) follow their brief as well as they could have?
More significantly, the Supreme Court and its appointees have not been able to have their way with most contentious matters despite being in the saddle for close to a year. Shouldn’t the farce stop now?
Have money, won’t work
Now, and it needs to be said, cricket is probably at its rockiest worst at the moment.
The game is thriving in only a handful of countries, and even within some of those, it is not in the pink of health. In the rest of the top-flight cricketing world, there is a crisis. In Pakistan. In Sri Lanka. In the Caribbean. In Zimbabwe. Even in South Africa.
On the one hand, there are players going away to greener pastures – franchise cricket, Kolpak deals, even away from cricket altogether – while on the other, boards are getting their share of the ICC dole-out pie, and often asking for more, but doing precious little on the ground in their countries. Apart from setting up new T20 competitions, that is. What all of that has added up to – and the Windies, Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe are glaring cases in point – is that there aren’t even proper national teams worth the name, making a small sport even smaller.
Things must change, and fast. Who will change it? No idea, but it has to be the ICC, with help from the BCCI – the only people with any real power and authority in the game.