No Boundaries Nirmal Shekar

Coming soon: cricket’s speciation event

Bowlers have to just grin and bear it.

There are times in the grand, old process of Darwinian evolution when something called speciation takes place as one species splits into two.

It doesn’t happen overnight, in a day or week or even a year, for geological time is deep time. It might take a longer time depending on various factors.

It is only when we look back from a far distance can we point to when or how or why speciation has occurred. We require a lot of patience and perseverance, besides the right tools to name the era when it takes place.

But if you study or have been studying the background against which speciation takes place, wrestling with all the hurdles presented by the conditions that are present — sometimes partly hidden and sometimes wholly unseen — you can confidently predict that evolution in a particular sphere of life is quickening.

In the world of sport, one game in which speciation is on a no-speed-limit highway is India’s favourite sporting religion — cricket.

And the great old game’s two-way split from its common ancestor happened long ago in terms of our lifetimes. But Charles Darwin would have seen today’s acceleration process as nothing but ordinary.

But then, the point is, we may be very close to a crossroads where cricket is concerned. This is because unlike genetic evolution, cultural evolution chooses to fly rather than walk or even drive.

Suddenly, what we thought of as eternal and timeless might go for a nosedive as a new species drives it towards extinction. And Test cricket might soon be viewed by our children or grandchildren as our Neanderthal twins, who were around till about 30,000 years ago, were viewed.

But rather than mourn the impending demise of the five-day game or dramatise the present to make for unputdownable reading, this column will concentrate on one part of the game which has made a mockery of what was once a serious and charming game where the process mattered more than the results.

Change of culture

Our cricket culture has changed so much in recent years — and thanks to its unparalleled wealth — and it is Indian cricket and the Board of Control for Cricket in India that have led the way.

While there are several factors contributing to this mini-revolution, the one that particularly hurts in the shorter games — One-Day Internationals and Twenty20 — is the plight of the bowlers. For, every rule that has been enforced in the last quarter of a century in cricket has favoured the batsmen.

As the West Indian great, Curtly Ambrose, said recently, the game is so much loaded in favour of the batsmen that they might as well use bowling machines instead of flesh and blood human beings.

Says former India spinner Erapalli Prasanna: “There has never been a balance between bat and ball. It has always been a batsman’s game. But I want it to be a cricketers’ game. There needs to be a minimum yardage for the boundaries — at least 75. Now there are bowlers trying to restrict batsmen. By and large that is the way it is.’’

Another former India spinner Maninder Singh says that bowlers have few choices. “You have no choice other than being patient. It is difficult in today’s cricket. You have to have variation and tons of patience.’’

But memes — the cultural equivalent of genes — spread so quickly that we may come face to face with the seemingly inevitable division sooner than expected. All it takes is for a country such as India to start playing, from bottom up in terms of age, with well calibrated bowling machines, futuristic ones that can be programmed for all sorts of variations such as speed, spin, line and length — that would be operated by a member of the bowling side with a limit set on speed and bounce to help the batman stay safe.

And before you can say Don Bradman, a new species might have begun its irreversible growth.

Says former India player Shivlal Yadav: “It is a pity that no one seems to be bothered about the balance between the ball and the bat. [It] has been lost by changing the rules of of the game over the years.

“When you have all sorts of restrictions on the number of bouncers and field placements, it means that only batsmen have all the protection both in terms of rules and protective gear. Why don’t we spare a thought for the poor bowlers,” he says.

In the event, soon we will get to see the era-defining division of cricket. One will be perhaps called Uber Cricket or Cricket 2.0 and the other, the great old game, will simply be The Ancient Game. In the Uber form, everything will be bright, noisy and glossy and there will be little difference between an Item Number in a Bollywood movie and the game itself.

Soon there will come a time when one brand of cricket cannot live with the other.

Talented youngsters will be the new stars of the game with sponsors standing in queues to get on board the new gravy train. ODIs and Twenty20 games will be neatly packaged up front on any tour, with a Test or two thrown in at the tail end when the teams are already worn out. This will be the norm rather than the exception.

As for talented young bowlers, they must accept that the future looks rather bleak.

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Printable version | Feb 20, 2020 9:59:31 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/columns/nirmal_shekar/Coming-soon-cricket%E2%80%99s-speciation-event/article14628359.ece

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