The T20 format, though still in its nascent stages, has already unleashed its might and the palpable threat to emasculate the aesthetics of cricket as we know it. A product of the marketing age, which only understands the language of profit and loss, cricket as a game is being increasingly reduced to a muscular brand where the sole purpose of a contest is to see the batsmen grinding the ball to dust and the bowler being treated with supreme indignity.
The greater the humiliation, the better the context, seems to be the motif of this new game designed so overwhelmingly in favour of the batsman, which makes the battle so unequal that it straightaway takes away even the pretence of pitting two sets of competing skills against each other. And what is sport, or any contest, which does not provide a level playing field to both sides, an equal set of opportunities, rules and regulations that do not favour one over the other! Can there be any fun in watching a contest whose basic rules and fundamentals have been brutally violated? The raison d'etre of any sport lies in the joy of watching two combatants trying to outwit each other with skillful interplay and not in one side being decapitated even before the contest has begun.
Today, the very DNA of cricket — Test matches — that allows a gradual but intriguing build-up over a period of a few days to reach its gripping climax — are already in danger of becoming extinct. It is a contest where the skills of players from both sides are tested to the extreme and the winner is the one whose craft is superior, can hold his nerve to conquer adverse conditions and not because the rules of the game are designed in his favour.
Those who sight the dip in Test cricket's popularity as a sign of spectators losing patience with its drawn-out format, should not forget that it is the boring draw, when the conditions again favour the batting side. That is one of the main reasons for its decline. When the conditions are even and the wicket helpful to both the bowlers as well as the batting side, the thrilling drama that unfolds brings the crowds back, as was witnessed in the recent series in India against New Zealand.
So, the fault may lie with us and not in our stars, as the advocates of this most skimpy version of the game may want us to believe. It is a million-dollar propaganda machine which has been unleashed ever since the Indian Premier League (IPL) came into existence in India five years ago.
The huge investments made by those who finance the game at all levels, and not just the IPL, needed to convince the vast number of cricket followers that they have created a new brand that combines the best of cricketing tradition with much-needed innovations that would enthrall the new and old alike. A win-win situation for the investors, the players and the spectators. Helped by India's winning the inaugural T20 World Cup, the IPL was and is still being touted as an entertainment package unrivalled by any sport, leave alone cricket.
There were many sceptics, among them a vast number of former and even present cricketers, who appealed to the voice of reason and not money, appalled as they were at the second cricket revolution — the first being the 50-over format — devaluing the very basics of their sport. But this second revolution seems far too powerful in its sweep and power and those criticising it realised that they would lose the monetary benefits their colleagues were reaping by being their masters' voice, both in print and television. Today, as the fourth T20 World Cup is drawing huge crowds and spectators are enjoying the thrill of watching which batsman is capable of hitting the maximum number of sixes and fours or the longest six, the experts are discussing the drawbacks of why minnows have been included in as major an event as this. They are the same people who were earlier worried that by changing the very core of the sport, something very new is being created which won't be cricket as we have known it to be all along.
As far as I am concerned, I still sit in front of my idiot box to watch the World Cup. But after a brief while the sheer monotony of watching a batsman attempt to hit each ball with ungainly slogs while the hapless bowler struggles to overcome the limitations imposed on his craft by one-sided rules and regulations, makes me get up in revolt. I am a lover of sport and not a sadist.