Chennai: The traditional gaps between seasons and series are almost non-existent these days. On the contrary, the breaks in cricketing careers are increasingly visible.
Cricket now has three formats, Tests, ODIs and Twenty20, with the number of days to stage them in a year remaining the same.
“If it goes on like this, I fear for what will happen five years from now,” concedes Chairman of the National Selection panel Dilip Vengsarkar, speaking to The Hindu.
Someone who journeys to as many domestic matches as he possibly can, Vengsarkar is also appalled at the drop in the quality of first class cricket and the decreasing attendances.
“During most of the domestic matches I watched last season, there were not more than ten people witnessing the matches,” he anguishes. “You need international stars to take part in domestic cricket to raise the standard. Otherwise it would become very hard to judge quality and temperament for Test cricket. But where do the international cricketers have the time in a packed calendar?”
Far from participating in domestic matches, the stars — Mahendra Singh Dhoni being the latest — are pulling out of international series. There is only so much the mind and the body can take.
The total international playing days in 2007 and the first half of 2008, inclusive of Tests, ODIs and Twenty20 games, was topped by England’s Paul Collingwood (143 days). His team-mates Ian Bell (137) and Kevin Pietersen (136) followed.
On the road
Dhoni (135) is next on the list. His job is more strenuous since he keeps wickets as well. Add a day of mandatory practice ahead of matches and travelling involved and it becomes clear that these cricketers have been on the road for most part of the period.
India figured in 95 playing days in 2007, behind England’s 97, and 50 in 2008 (first half), behind New Zealand’s 55. These figures do not include the Indian Premier League.
Australia managed its series and tour programme much better than most in 2007, being involved in only 63 playing days.
“Player fatigue is an issue. It is a global problem. The stronger nations have to honour their commitments against the weaker sides as well. But how do you accommodate so many matches? Test cricket should not suffer,” says Vengsarkar.
He believes needless ODI matches can be reduced or phased out. He is concerned at the shortening of Test series. “Personally, these two-Test series do not make much sense to me. It should either be three or five.”
The IPL factor
The former India captain dismisses the theory that IPL can throw up talent. “Twnety20 is an exciting and popular format but tell me five cricketers from the IPL who can play for India? A lot of players got exposure but are they good enough to play for India.
“Only Manpreet Singh Gony, you could say to a certain extent, was a find from the IPL. Players like Yusuf Pathan were in the frame even before the IPL. Test cricket will produce players for Twenty20, not the other way round.”
The never-ending season has hurt the preparation of pitches. The surfaces are becoming increasingly slower; it’s harder to prepare fresh tracks that greet the beginning of the season. “This is true world over. Perhaps, we should have bigger grounds and more pitches. In India, the BCCI gives substantial grants to the State Associations,” says Vengsarkar.
Without periods of rest and introspection, players have little time to recognise or correct chinks that creep into their game. The traditional tour games before a Test series are becoming fewer.
Says Vengsarkar, “We play around five to seven ODI games on every tour. This takes away 14 to 20 days.”
Under the circumstances, he stresses ‘A’ tours to unearth reserve talent.
Former India paceman Javagal Srinath holds a slightly different view.
“The number of games gives the players greater opportunities and there is a chance to build reserve strength,” he points out.
He adds, “You cannot play all the games. You have to be honest with yourself and the team. Dhoni, who has self-belief, has done just that. I used to do this myself during my playing days. Dhoni is stepping out on his own and somebody like Dinesh Karthik is coming in….this is the real rotation policy,” he says.